Jaques Dalcroze

Jaques Dalcroze

Swiss originator of rhythmic gymnastics

In some ways the life of Emile Jaques-Dalcroze was a paradox: he was born in Vienna, but is associated with Geneva, and his greatest popularity in his lifetime arose from his work in Hellerau, Germany; as a young man he worked as an actor and trained at the Comedie Francaise, but he is justifiably known as a composer and music teacher; and the name by which he is known was not the name given him at birth.

Dalcroze was born Emile Henri Jaques in Vienna on 6 July 1865. His father was a middle-class business man. Emile’s mother, Julie Jaques; had been a teacher in a Pestalozzi school. His mother’s work as a teacher provided a strong early influence on Emile’s ideas about teaching; his own teaching certainly agreed with Pestalozzi’s methods.

Emile’s introduction to music commenced with piano lessons at age six in 1871. The family moved to Geneva, Switzerland when he was ten. There he showed interest in composing as well, writing his first opera, "La Soubrette," at age sixteen in 1881.

Dalcroze possessed an active sense of humor throughout his life.

Throughout his youth, Emile displayed an active interest in theatre. In school, Emile joined the Belles-Lettres, a student society. He regularly appeared as an actor in the club’s plays. As a nineteen-year-old in the summer of 1884, Emile joined a touring stock company run by his cousin. He then traveled to Paris to study acting at the Comedie Francaise with tragedian Denis-Stanislaws Talbot, comedian Francois St. Germain, and Francois Jules Edmond Got. Also while in Paris, Emile attended lectures given by Dalsarte (whom, incidentally, seems to have been the uncle of Georges Bizet).

During this period, Emile also pursued music studies with composer and teacher Mathis Lussy. Lussy had studied and written at length on the subject of musical rhythm. Many of the concepts taught by Dalcroze found their basis in the work of Lussy.

Emile had developed a system of movements called “eurythmics,” based on his research into the relationship between body movements and responses to music, especially rhythm. He claimed that the aim of eurythmics was to enable students at the end of their course to be able to say, not ‘I know,’ but “I have experienced.” Jessmin eventually gained her guardian’s permission to leave her violin studies and in 1912 registered at the Institute of Dalcroze Eurythmics as a full-time student thus beginning her lifelong involvement with movement, dance and body technique. At the Institute she met fellow student, the young Jeanne Allemand (just married to the painter and stage designer Herr von Salzmann) who was to become a lifelong friend and colleague.

In 1920 thanks to Alexandre Salzmann, Gurdjieff receives a letter from Jacques-Dalcroze in Geneva, inviting him to settle at Hellerau near Dresden which he accepted. In 1921 in Berlin Gurdjieff gives his inaugural lecture in Europe. Accompanied by the Salzmanns, Gurdjieff visits the Dalcroze Institute at Hellerau, and through Harald Dohrn seeks part possession; a legal case ensues.

1922 Gurdjieff brings his pupils from Germany to Paris, hires facilities at the Dalcroze Institute. http://www.gurdjieff.org.uk/gs9.htm#Chronology)

When Jaques-Dalcroze was forced out of Germany for protesting against the German bombing of Reims Cathedral the Salzmanns returned to Georgia (in the Caucusus) and Jessmin Howarth moved to Geneva where she shared an apartment with another Dalcroze pupil, Annette Ponce (who later married Jean Herter). Here she received notice from her guardians that nearly all the money held in trust for her and her brother (who was killed shortly after in the war) had been lost. She was confronted with what became a lifelong experience, the necessity of supporting herself by teaching, first music and later eurythmics and movement. While in Geneva she was introduced to Jacques Copeau (1878-1949) who invited her to work with him in Paris. Copeau had been working before the War with a group of actors and technicians gathered together under the name of the “Vieux Colombier” which was responsible for bringing French theatre into the modern age and he was looking to reform the group and adding “new blood.” Jessmin joined the group in Paris in 1917 and taught body technique, some eurythmics, beginnings of solfege, games, pantomine and dance to the actors, while also training in Copeau’s improvisation techniques. When the United States entered World War I an American group “Friends of the Vieux Colombier” invited Copeau to bring his company (including Jessmin) to New York for the two theatrical seasons, 1918-1919. In March 1918 she moved into the Dalcroze School at 9 East 59th Street where she also taught eurythmics. With the return of the Vieux Colombier to France Jessmin was encouraged to go to Paris and try her luck with theatrical activities. On arrival, the director of the Paris Opera, Jacques Rouche (1862-1950), who’s daughter was an ardent “rhythmicienne,” asked to see her. He was considering Operas with more modern music and felt that his dancers and extras were not capable of moving in the more natural way required and asked Jessmin to form a special “corps de ballet” and prepare them for eventual performance. She received permission to bring over two gifted American Dalcroze pupils and her own pianist.

Jessmin Howarth was another important woman in the Gurdjieff Movements scene and with a connection to Jaques-Dalcroze, Gurdjieff's first English student. Jeanne de Salzmann taught in France, the American Rosemary Nott taught in England and the English Jessmin Howarth taught in America.
The strongest parallel with Gurdjieff's Movements is to be found in Dalcroze's approach, especially in his rhythmically orchestrated body movements that liberated his dancers from the constraints of classical ballet.