The term Bauhaus evokes functionality, social utopia, maybe even novel pedagogical thinking, but this is often associated with its role as a school of design. However, the Bauhaus developed out of a movement that was split between the rational and what PĂĄdraic E. Moore refers to as the âcosmically-inclinedâ. This yearâs Bauhaus centenary gives pause for thought to the contrasting utopianisms at the heart of the school, and to the esoteric elements, which have been given less attention in its historiography.
These elements are often reduced to the influence of Wassily Kandinsky, who articulated a âspiritual visionâ for 20th-century art. Kandinsky sought to unite form, colour, sound, and movement in âthe gradual forming structure of the new spiritual realmâ. Der gelbe Klang (âThe Yellow Soundâ) is one such âsymphonic compositionâ that paved the way for a new theatre. It first appeared in Der Blaue Reiter Almanac (Munich, 1912; C.107.h.16) and comprises six âpicturesâ almost without dialogue, detailing elaborate staging and actor movements.
Kandinsky was a key influence on Lothar Schreyer, pioneer of expressionist theatre, who, according to David F. Kuhns, âbuilt a whole theory of performance on the expressive process first suggested in The Yellow Soundâ.
Title-page of Lothar Schreyer, Kreuzigung (Hamburg, 1920) C.180.cc.8.
Where Kandinsky offers lengthy stage directions as a surrogate for synesthetic art experience, Schreyerâs Kreuzigung: Spielgang Werk VIII attempts to represent a spiritual experience in a singular score, employing a distinct set of signs and symbols, colours and forms. Its publication triggered Walter Gropius to invite Schreyer to the Bauhaus, where he led the stage workshop between 1921 and 1923.
Lothar Schreyer in 1918. (Picture from UniversitĂ€tsbibliothek Heidelberg, CC-BY-SA-3.0, via Wikimedia Commons)
Kandinsky was influential but Schreyerâs Bauhaus experience was shaped more by Johannes Itten and Gertrud Grunow, two less familiar names. Schreyerâs thinking around rhythm maps onto ideas simiular to theirs. Itten led the Bauhaus Preliminary Course [Vorkurs] and Grunow the course in âPractical Harmonizationâ [Praktische Harmonisierungslehre], both forming the foundation of a studentâs education. Ittenâs devotion to Mazdaznan opened his practice to regulating physical exercises, including breathing and rhythmic drawing. Likewise, Grunow encouraged rhythmic breathing and a response to colours through movement. Both were committed to strengthening studentsâ âself-awareness in relation to both the corporeal and the spiritualâ (Linn Buchert). In the focus on fundamental words, tones, colours, forms, Schreyer also encourages in each of his practitioners an inner harmony, sound, or rhythm, which pushes to a limit the experience of âwordâ. This is more than the âtransmission of a messageâ; it is the evocation of spirit.
Kreuzigung developed out of Schreyerâs work with Der Sturm, the most influential journal of German expressionism, an offshoot of which, Die Sturm-BĂŒhne, he edited in collaboration with the Hamburg KampfbĂŒhne, his parallel theatre project. Schreyerâs expressionism went against the overly literary dramatic tradition, which he declared defunct: in his 1916 essay âDas BĂŒhnenkunstwerkâ, he wrote: âIt is necessary to forget theatre. [âŠ] A stage art [BĂŒhnenkunstwerk] is necessaryâ. That stage art privileged performance over print, synesthetic experience over dialogue. Kreuzigung then returns to the print medium in order to explode the representative possibilities of literature.
The book is not described as a playscript [TheaterstĂŒck], rather Schreyer prefers the neologism Spielgang. Whereas the usual term refers to a piece, the new term draws attention to the mobility of the text through Gang (path, walk, derived from the verb gehen, to walk or go). It is the only Spielgang to materialize from a workshop process that was usually reserved for the KampfbĂŒhneâs community of artists. Schreyer only rarely allowed outsiders into performances and practically no reviews. Yet Kreuzigung became the exemplary work âto grant others the knowledgeâ of this creative experimentation through, in Schreyerâs own words, âthe system and sign, in which a stage work was given the stability of form [die BestĂ€ndigkeit der Gestalt]â.
The text is evocative rather than wholly readable. It works in connection with the representation of movement, figures (as coloured forms), and sound. That is apparent from the title page, headed with the motto, âSturm dir Sturm allen Sturmâ, which might be translated as âStorm to you Storm to all Stormâ but also works on the level of sonic rhythm and visual symmetry, especially in the heightened artistry of the wood-block setting.
âWhat the reader must knowâ, from Kreuzigung
The next page sets out what the reader, performer, and spectator âmust knowâ. Schreyer writes in the essay âBĂŒhnenwerk Spielgang und Spielâ that âin order to learn the Spielgang system and its signs, no particular course of study is necessaryâ. Yet, the universal pretensions are qualified in the work itself as âAnyone can read the score who can hear word-tones [Worttone] internally and see the movement of coloured formâ. Likewise, âThe play can only be seen and heard with a circle of friends as a shared experience, as a shared act of devotion, as a shared workâ. On one level, Kreuzigung acts as a representation of performance but, on another, it points to the impossibility of that very representation. It is at once readable by all and penetrable only by the initiated.
The system and symbols from Kreuzigung
The system is unpacked on the following page. Three levels are represented on a stave: word sequence, tone sequence and movement sequence. A zigzag line on the tone sequence denotes pitch based on its position and on the yellow (high) or blue (low) lines. The bracket symbols refer to volume and the target signs to pauses in both sound and movement. Words are stretched and contracted as appropriate to the bar by way of the woodcut text. The cross-like symbol relates to the âManâ character, the single red circle to the âMotherâ character, and the two red circles to the âBelovedâ character.
The figures of âManâ and âBelovedâ from Kreuzigung
These symbolic referents point to the âde-individuated âart-bodyâ stripped of socially conditioned speech and movement patterns [âŠ] capable of expressing universal truthsâ (Buckley). In fact, the Spielgang was a communal creation based on an original process of meditation and vocal practice to identify the performerâs ground-tone [Grundton], becoming word-tones [Wortton] when applied to language and Sprachtonspiele when in sentence combinations.
Schreyer glosses the play itself as a âdesperate struggle for humanity against daemonic forcesâ. It evokes a post-war apocalypse, around which man wanders wounded in the company of two female characters in the conventional guises of mother and mistress, ultimately seeking escape through spiritual transcendence.
âMan: Wounded feet of men carry us | Woman: My heart is bloodâ, from Kreuzigung (all translations by Mel Gordon)
Ultimately, while salvation is demanded, it does not arrive, as the figures are left to call for the world to wake, to realize itself beyond the material desperation. Yet, Kreuzigung is not just the representation of some failed transcendence; that would neglect the formal purity of a project less concerned with content. Rather, âthe actual logic of the work of word art [Wortkunstwerk] is more of an artistic logicâ. Spiritual transcendence is a process entered into in the performance and experience of such universal stage art.
Complex movements: âBeloved: I am (Beloved alternately moves arms up and down four times) | Man: All tasks we perform. Flames break at midnight. (Mother quarter turn left, right arm horizontal sideways. Hand behind, then in front, opens left hand on breast; Beloved quarter turn right, right arm horizontal sideways. Hand behind, then in front, opens left hand on left breast; Man forearm on cross, straight in front; Mother right hand on right breast; Beloved right hand on right breast)
âSaviour!â (All together)
The End: âAwake. World. Awake.â (All together)
Kreuzigung is an attempt to encapsulate the anti-literary in print, what Buckley terms the manifestation of Schreyerâs âanxious utopianismâ, which enacts the tensions âbetween its knowledge and its hopes â between the Werk as commodity and the Arbeit of the community, between mediation and immediacyâ. A contemporary of Schreyer, Robert Musil, articulated this negotiation between spirit and rationality a year after the publication of Kreuzigung, as âan abiding miscommunication between the intellect and the soul. We do not have too much intellect and too little soul, but too little precision in matters of the soulâ. In the urge to leave something material, âout of which creative people in the future could understand what forces had moved and shaped our playsâ (Schreyer, Erinnerungen), Schreyer and the KampfbĂŒhne showed their precision in works of the soul and underlined that tension at the heart of the Bauhaus. Kreuzigung is thus the result of precise printing craft and a meticulous pedagogical process that might just also tend towards the divine.
Pardaad Chamsaz, Curator Germanic Collections
References / Further Reading
Wassily Kandinsky, On the Spiritual in Art, edited and translated by Hilla Rebay (New York, 1946), 7813.b.1.
Lothar Schreyer, TheateraufsĂ€tze (Lewiston, 2001), YC.2002.a.12966
ââ, Erinnerungen an Sturm und Bauhaus. Was ist des Menschen Bild? (Lewiston, 2002), YK.2002.a.21881
Robert Musil, Precision and Soul: Essays and Addresses (Chicago, 1990), YC.1991.b.1058
Hans M. Wingler, The Bauhaus: Weimar, Dessau, Berlin, Chicago (Cambridge, MA, 1979), f80/0186
Mel Gordon, âLothar Schreyer and the SturmbĂŒhneâ, The Drama Review, vol. 24, no. 1 (1980), pp. 85-102. 3623.197000
David F. Kuhns, German Expressionist Theatre: the Actor and the Stage (Cambridge, 1997), YC.2002.a.15612
Jennifer Buckley, âThe BĂŒhnenkunstwerk and the Book: Lothar Schreyerâs Theatre Notationâ, Modernism.modernity, vol. 21, no. 2 (2014), pp. 407-24. 5900.120000
PĂĄdraic E. Moore, âA Mystic Milieu: Johannes Itten and Mazdaznan at Bauhaus Weimarâ, bauhaus imaginista, edition 1
Elizabeth Otto and Patrick RĂ¶ssler (eds), Bauhaus Bodies: Gender, Sexuality, and Body Culture in Modernismâs Legendary Art School (New York, 2019), ELD.DS.381646
Linn Buchert, âThe spiritual Enhancement of the Body: Johannes Itten, Gertrud Grunow, and Mazdaznan at the early Bauhausâ, in Bauhaus Bodies