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Background Notes for a Eurythmy Lecture

      and Workshop with String Players

The image of the Knight developped here came to me one day as I was practicing eurythmy: as I paid attention to the qualities of my right and left arms, I thought about my violin. The evidence of what I will describe below was felt as a very strong experience, rendered possible by years of violin practice on the one hand, and on the other by the understanding of movement and gesture eurythmy alone develops.

My aim here is to look at the string instruments in such a way as to lay the foundation for a eurythmy workshop with musicians. 90% of what I will say tonight comes from my own research. I grew up playing the violin; the eurythmy training then offered me the tools with which to understand the gestures I had performed almost unconsciously.



So, what is the first thing we can say unites string players and eurythmists?

That’s right! Greek warriors and medieval knights!!

St Michael and the Dragon, 1503-05 (Musee du Louvre, Paris)

By Raffaello Sanzio




The image of the warrior has been sculpted and painted over and over again for more than two thousand years.
Whether you look at Greek sculpture or medieval knights what strikes you is the use of the RIGHT and of the LEFT side of the body.



We have an active, offensive element on the right, a protective gesture on the left - Straight /curved


Now, if one internalizes this will-gesture and puts it no longer at the service of war, but of culture, we have: the string players.

The sword had turned inward and become ‘cultured’. The shield, which formed a shell outside of the arm, has come within the curve of the arm. It is still round, but the inner space that once protected the heart is now filled with a resounding instrument.

Look familiar?



No, this wall painting does not represent an instrument, but a Mycenaean Greek "figure eight" shield from the 15th century BC (National Archaeological Museum, Athens).


So, I would like to present the knights of our consciousness era, the string players.


You see how straight the bow is. It is a line of thought. With your bow, you develop the line of your musical thought. It is with the bow that you develop your Discours Musical. What you have to say. What you send out as a thought into the world. As you would an arrow. In French, bow is said ‘archet’, pronounced like 'archer', the archer.

The will-imbued sword, made of iron, a heavy metal which needed a lot of effort to be wielded has transformed into an almost feather-light bow. You only need two fingers to hold it. And you discours musical flies.




And then on the left arm, the violin, the viola, the cello, the bass: it’s more than curved, more than double-curved. And very importantly, HOLLOW!


It resonates.

In French, we say caisse de resonnance. The string instruments have a very intimate relationship with the human chest.

While the brass, winds and woodwinds work with the breath and relate to the head element in the human being; and while the percussions relate to the will aspect of the human being, the strings are linked to the human chest. The entire orchestra is a human being spread out into space. Tonight, we are looking at its heart!

Violin, viola, cello bass, a four-fold heart – four instruments, four cavities. We will come back to this later.



In eurythmy, up and down expresses pitch, while right and left are linked to beat.



One of the first exercises a eurythmist may do to begin learning a piece of music could be to walk the beat of the piece:


For quadrupal or duple time signatures, the right foot takes a firm step on the strong beat, the left a gentle step on the weak beat. Affirmation - tenderness.

A somewhat heavy object can be held in the right arm, the arm in a controlled fall on each strong beat. The left arm makes an inviting and open gesture on each weak beat.

The downbeat of a triple time signature will be taken on the right foot; the ball of the left foot is then placed down on beat 2 and the heel on beat 3.


Now, coming back to the gestures of bowing:


DOWNBOWS are rich, full, heavy, round, full of depth, they lovingly surrender to gravity. They could spiral inward forever towards a point of inwardness that is never reached.

UPBOWS are over before the bow is drawn. They have moved on before the very first gesture has happened. Under no circumstance should you ever push your bow upward. Heaven forbid that! Gesture-wise, that would be a crime.


The upbow is drawn for you by a goal that calls the bow upwards.  If we were well made we would be able to drawn our downbows with our right hand and pull them upwards with our left.

So now the picture is a little more complicated:

The bow arm wields a straight tool, but when it goes downwards and to the right, it has a round gesture.            

                                                                            When it goes upwards and to the left, it has a straight gesture.





Warm colours – Passive action

It’s more than just relaxing your shoulder muscles: you feel as if everything has just become LIQUID WARMTH


Round gesture



Cool colours – Active passivity





Straight direction



Now, a violinist or a cellist does not relate to bowing in the same way.


The violin and viola bow are held in the same way, the cello bow already needs more involvement; as for the bass, you go even more into the hand; it’s often plucked, played with the hand. Do you see a violinist plucking with joy? It would be like getting our hands dirty in too much matter...

The plane of movement of a violinist or violist is an up/down one, while the cellist and bassist’s is right/left. 


So, in the plane of movement of their bowing, violinists tend towards the melodic element, while cellists tend towards the beat.




In our use of space, the bow with its discours musical and clear direction is to be understood as Speech Eurythmy space;

While the space associated with resounding instrument is to be felt as a dynamic, as Tone Eurythmy space.



Speech Eurythmy Space: you move in outward, social space, you are on the stage

Tone Eurythmy Space: you are only moving through space to express a dynamic; you move into your soul-spiritual being.






This leads me to looking more closely at how the four instruments of a string orchestra live and express themselves in space.
The fourfold heart of the orchestra: I mentioned it earlier, as we have four instruments: the violin and the viola, the cello and the bass.  Violin, viola, cello, bass: we begin with the smallest and shrillest instrument and move into bigger and bigger instruments, into depths of sound, into the will.


In the first cavity: violin and viola.


They are both held in the same way. The instrument is supported by the air and the player comes to it. We are not carrying the instrument, and should not play sitting down, as this causes many postural problems! We have the best access to our instrument when we stand upright, the violin supported by the air, and we simply come to it.


In the second cavity: the cello and the bass.


Here the instrument is not parallel to the Earth, supported by the air, but upright.



You see here (violin) a horizontal instrument and an upright human being. You see here (cello) a seated human being and an upright instrument.

                                               To be developped here: Veinous blood/arterial blood streams in relation to the four instruments

(The violin hands are like two counter-spaces. Olive Whicher, who worked a lot with projective geometry, called counterspaces ‘sun-spaces’, spaces that do not obey the laws of gravity, but rather, the laws of living processes. )

How do the palms of your hands relate to your feet? That is one of the first questions I ask my violin students.
I have developed exercises such as threefold walking in relation to the directions of the hand when holding a string instrument. Because if before you even begin playing, you are capable of aligning yourself between your feet and your hands simply in how your feet touch the Earth, you have already changed the quality of your sound. 


What the one does the other turns around.

Threefoldness of the bow: tip – heart – frog – SIGHT Plato/sending a ray of light
Violin shape: the three directions – inside – bow – strings/fingerboard – SOUND and the inner ear

I would like us to look at the picture of Christ in Da Vinci’s Last Supper. We see how he is wrapped up in both red and blue, red on the right as the tunic, and left on the blue, his heart protected and enfolded in the blue mantle.
The colour qualities that Da Vinci chose out of his artistic wisdom to enfold this central figure are there once again to make us feel the reality of right and left.
If we unite this right/left duality in a single eurythmy gesture, then we come to form: I – O: OY.
“Oy” as in joy. Inwardly centered, we ray out with the ‘I’ on the right and enfold with the left ‘o’.
I find it touching that of the three instrument families, the string family which has to do most intimately with the development of the human feeling realm has as an underlying gesture the ‘oy’ sound.
There is an indication by Steiner that one should never do eurythmy without Joy. That this meaning-filled art of movement must always be filled with inner joy.
I do not mean pleasure. That argument is reserved for another time. Artists do not work out of pleasure. Pleasure might occasionally be there, but that is something different, and is not our driving force. I would say that it is more an inner necessity, no?

                                                                Eurythmy Figures for I (left) and O (right)

Read more here:

Double Concerto
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