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Gertrud Grunow's Theory of Harmonization

A Connection between European Reform Pedagogy and Asian Meditation?

“This week we had the first rhythmic dance lessons, I like it very much and it is also a further development, completely in the direction already taken by Vorwerk and Itten; in the formation of the body the heavy mass is completely dominated by the spirit, by the feeling that a line—a feeling of hardness or sharpness—really goes through the whole body and does not get stuck in the head.”

Portrait of Gertrud Grunow, 1936, © Emma Bouché (photographer), estate Erich Parnitzke, Bauhausuniversität Weimar/Archiv der Moderne Weimar.

The Bauhaus student and later Bauhaus master Gunta Stölzl wrote this in her diary on 1 November 1919.1 She described Gertrud Grunow’s (1870–1944) harmonization lessons as rhythmic dance lessons. However, the 50-year-old music teacher was not offering dance lessons at all. Rather, what she offered was an extraordinary practice intended to harmonize body and soul—a practice apparently difficult even for contemporaries to describe in words or assign to a category.

In this essay I would like to shed some light on the darkness obscuring Grunow’s practice by presenting the background and details of Grunow’s teaching, concluding by examining the striking parallels between her harmonization teaching and meditative and yogic practices, which had already been introduced at the Bauhaus in Johannes Itten’s preliminary course.

From 1919 to 1924, Grunow’s class was an obligatory part of the Bauhaus preparatory course curriculum. Accordingly, she worked closely with Itten. In the catalogue for the major Bauhaus exhibition of 1923, rector Walter Gropius described harmonization theory as a fundamental and continuous accompaniment to teaching: “Throughout the entire duration of the training, a practical harmonization theory is given on the basis of the unity of tone, color and form, with the aim of balancing the physical and psychological characteristics of the individual.”2

Not only did all pupils attend Grunow’s lessons, through her written evaluations of beginning students she also influenced who was accepted after the initial trial semester,3 assessing the creative potential of each beginning student in her evaluations, addressed to the council of Bauhaus masters. These reports were based largely on her estimation of individual student’s inner and outer balance. Over the course of her lessons, students were instructed in reducing physical and emotional tension, to find a new approach to the relationship between body and soul, and thus achieve physical and emotional harmony. Grunow regarded such a recalibration as a prerequisite for good artistic practice.4

From whence did Grunow derive her peculiar teaching practice? While Johannes Itten’s preliminary course is well known and researched,5 Grunow’s teachings have only recently discovered.6 That Grunow and Itten worked closely together and, at first glance, there are many similarities between the two should not obscure the fundamental differences between their respective approaches. While Itten’s teachings were oriented towards the visual, Grunow’s starting point was music pedagogy. Nevertheless, they met in a holistically conceived pedagogy in which each attached great importance to bodily movement and breath, soul and spirit.

Born in Berlin in 1870, Grunow already had many years of teaching experience when she joined the Bauhaus in 1919. In fact, she was already teaching aspiring singers and musicians in Düsseldorf as early as the late 1890s. But following her exposure in 1908 to a course on rhythmic gymnastics (“Eurhythmics”) led by the Swiss composer, musician and music pedagogue Émile Jaques-Dalcroze, she began to develop the pedagogical ideas which later formed the basis for her teaching at the Bauhaus. The key innovation of Delacroze’s music pedagogy was having students express music through body movements,7 informed by his observation that most of them were physically and mentally unbalanced, with their musical expressiveness suffering as a result.8 Dalcroze assumed that movement had an effect on musical consciousness.9 Therefore he conceived a rhythmic-gymnastic training intended to “control … physical expression.”10

Émile Jaques-Dalcroze, The Dalcroze System: Huntly Carter, The New Spirit in Drama and Art, London 1912, © Wikicommons.

Some of Dalcroze’s ideas were directly manifested in Grunow’s teaching practice: she also noticed that most of her students were nervous and unbalanced. She believed she could help them find psycho-physical balance and thus achieve greater creative power not through music but through individual tones and, later, through colors as well. Grunow found that her students adopted a certain posture and facial expression depending on the tone they played on the piano. From this observation she began to formulate a set of objective laws concerning sound’s effect on human beings.11 The fact that she later transferred this system to color, creating an idiosyncratic color wheel, was of great interest to many protagonists of the early Bauhaus: among others, Johannes Itten, Wassily Kandinsky, Lothar Schreyer and Paul Klee were all prompted to think about synaesthesia and the correspondences of tone and color, possibly even more after being exposed to Grunow’s teachings.

At the Bauhaus Grunow extended her ideas to a consideration of the various correspondences between color, tone, form and materiality, integrating the essential elements of artistic practice as taught at the Bauhaus into her teaching.12 Reciprocally, she also had a direct influence on the work undertaken in the Bauhaus workshops. Her essay, “The Creation of Living Form through Color, Form, and Sound,” published in 1923 in the accompanying catalogue to the Bauhaus exhibition makes clear that she cooperated closely, for example, with the weaving class.13 There is, however, a great need for further research concerning Grunow’s connection to the weaving classes and other disciplines taught at the Bauhaus. Lothar Schreyer, who headed the Bauhaus stage design class from 1921 to 1923 always emphasized Grunow's influence at the school, but was unique in attributing to her a significant influence over the school’s direction:

“She … gave us the impression of being one of the great knowledgeable people of prehistoric times. Out of an inner clairvoyance, the spiritual connections between color, form and tone arose [in her pedagogy], evoking the structure of the living figure. She had recognized and worked out the harmonization exercises through which these connections can be awakened or restored in every human being. In this way she brought people inwardly and outwardly ‘into balance.’ … I know that neither the preliminary teaching nor the main teaching would have succeeded without Gertrud Grunow, and the Bauhaus would not have accomplished its creative work without her example.”14

Alfred Arndt, Color circle from the lessons of Gertrud Grunow, c. 1921, Bauhaus-Archiv Berlin, VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn 2019.

For Schreyer's stage class and his complex theatre concept, Grunow's lessons obviously played a central role: coordinating the so-called Klangsprechens (“sound responses”) with the student performers executing dance movements while adorned in full-body masks demanded an extraordinary sensitivity both to the body and the musical accompaniment. “Gertrud Grunow often helped [in Schreyer’s class] with her ‘harmonization exercises,’” recalls Schreyer’s student Hans Haffenrichter.15

Schreyer emphasizes that Gropius, Kandinsky and Itten, also had “decisive things” for which to thank Grunow’s teaching.16 In addition to synaesthesia, correspondences between the various Bauhaus positions can be found in the dynamic concept of harmony, which Grunow theoretically represented and practiced. In her teaching, students were instructed to seek an inner balance in the alternation of positions and postures, so that harmony was not something immobile, but was located, rather, in the creation of physical and emotional mobility. This approach can be found in both Gropius’s and Klee’s pedagogical approach.17 With Klee, for example, Grunow talked about common pupils: both also lived in the same house.18 However, like many of his male colleagues, Klee did not directly or publicly acknowledge Grunow’s work on the Bauhaus. Kandinsky, who was always looking for proof of the special physical and psychological effect of color as analogous to the power of music, must have found essential impulses in Grunow’s work. This is also supported by the fact that they were still in contact in the 1930s.19 But even Kandinsky fails to mention Grunow in his writings.

The fact that the achievements of women at this time and at the Bauhaus in particular were scarcely recognized is, not least, a major problem for research today.20 In 1923 Grunow was awarded the title of “Master” but shortly afterwards had to leave school.21 In addition to financial reasons, the pragmatic reorientation of the Bauhaus towards industry and technology played a decisive role here. Grunow's sensitive teaching was found in this second incarnation of the Bauhaus to be ineffective and lacking purposiveness.22 In light of her position at the Bauhaus, as well as with regard to contemporary research, it is extremely disadvantageous that Grunow left no visible work behind. As a teacher, she helped her students to develop their creativity and showed them new approaches to their own bodies, feelings and minds. But there are only three photographs by her assistant Hildegard Heitmeyer and the 2009 documentary on Grunow’s teachings featuring contemporary witness René Radrizzani to provide a visual idea of her lessons.23 How her practice was reflected in workshops and, more specifically, in the works of her students, remains a purely speculative matter.

For the Bauhaus training of 1923, the Grunow apprenticeship model appeared too irrational. According to Grunow, in order to help students gain greater access to body and soul, it was necessary to let consciousness and intellect recede into the background: Feeling one's own body and emotions was to open up completely new experiences and sensations. This was done by deepening into the played tones, by looking at or imagining certain colors. Grunow, for example, instructed her students to imagine a color as an inner light and to integrate it deeply into body and soul.24 In so doing, Grunow adjusted to each of her students individually. Her teaching is thus clearly fed by reformist pedagogical ideas of the nineteenth century. The training of the “whole person,” which cannot be reduced to the intellect, was at the forefront of reform pedagogy: soul, body and spirit were thought of as a unity.25

Grunow assumed that her practice would open up the pre-conscious worlds of perception that otherwise remain blocked by reason, contributing to the inner healing of the human being. But these teachings did not only move at the interface of medicine and artists’ education: they also found favor with science.

Lothar Schreyer, Crucifixion: Spielgang Werk VII, 1920/1921, wood print, from: Werkstatt der Kampfbühne, Hamburg, wood print, Digital Public Library of America, © in the public domain.

Beginning in 1924 Grunow cooperated with the developmental psychologist Dr. Heinz Werner of the University of Hamburg.26 Werner was interested in her practice precisely because it opened up completely new worlds of experience. Her work also promised insights for the then flourishing field of synaesthesia research. Werner’s Introduction to Developmental Psychology (1926) accorded Grunow a respect and importance she did not receive in the art:

“Interestingly enough—after discoveries by GERTRUD GRUNOW, which we continued in the Hamburg laboratory—one can expose layers in the cultural human being that are genetically superior to perception and are partially buried as original modes of experience in the ‘objective’ human type. In this layer, the stimuli of the environment do not come to consciousness as objective perceptions, but as expressive feelings which fulfil the whole ego.”27

By opening up “original ways of experiencing,” Grunow put her students into a kind of “trance,” in which reflection was switched off in favor of pure sensations—a practice akin to yoga and meditation. While we know Itten used Mazdaznan and yoga as models for developing his physical and breathing exercises,28 nothing is known of Grunow’s concrete reference to these teachings. She did not appear interested in the Far Eastern-inspired breathing and health teachings of Mazdaznan, although breathing was central to her practice.29 Grunow’s theories have instead been passed down to us in an incomplete form that leaves ample room for speculation—partially because she, unfortunately, could not finish a planned transcript of her teaching before her death. She had worked intensively on this book in the late 1930s but left the unfinished manuscript to her former Bauhaus student Gerhard Schunke, at the time an esoteric natural healer in Switzerland, who used the material for lectures and articles promoting his own medicinal practice instead of organizing and publishing it as promised. He also made additions that can no longer be clearly separated from Grunow’s own thought.30

Hildegard Heitmeyer during Grunow lessons, 1917 or 1922, reproduction, ca. 1968, Bauhaus-Archiv Berlin, © unknown.

Hildegard Heitmeyer during Grunow lessons, 1917 or 1922, reproduction, ca. 1968, Bauhaus-Archiv Berlin, © unknown.

Grunow’s long-time assistant Hildegard Heitmeyer observed Schunke’s machinations helplessly, writing an angry report in 1956 where she accused him of being a charlatan:

“His (Schunke’s) essays as well as his healing method are based on the research of G.G. and are mixed with all kinds of different schools of thought—astrology, yoga etc.! The ingenious research on sound and color, Gertrud Grunow’s life-work, for which she fought and suffered, is in the hands of a charlatan and an honor-seeker!”31

Heitmeyer regarded the injection of astrological and yogic ideas as a falsification of Grunow’s ideas. The fact that she wasn’t quite right, however, is proven by a previously unpublished Grunow quote from her later years. In the estate of the former Grunow student and art teacher Erich Parnitzke there is a letter from Grunow to Itten in which she refers to yoga practices:

“What you report about the ultimate union of all the senses in one as the highest level, I spoke about in London with one of the first (naturopathic) doctors there, Dr. de Right, who was born in London, lived there until his fourteenth year and then again 10 and 12 years later, who has a deep love and knowledge of yoga teachings, also practically. He worked with me and claimed that of all the European practices, my method of working was the only one that corresponded to the right kind of yoga. …”32

In fact, the unity of the senses was central to Grunow’s ideas. She found this unity realized in the preconscious and the unconscious—in the world of sensation. She and Dr. Werner investigated such “primal synaesthesias” practically and experimentally, as original modes of perception. The developmental psychology of the time assumed that these “primitive” sensations, in which the senses do not appear differentiated, were still active in so-called “primitive peoples”—in Egypt, Babylonia, China and Mexico—as well as in children, artists and “mentally ill” people.33

Although Grunow closely associated her ideas with the problematic psychological research of the time, her recounting of this London anecdote makes it clear that she by no means rejected the comparison to yoga or considered it abstruse. A non-intellectual, meditative concentration on something imagined or something outside the world—a candle or a color—is something Grunow’s practice shared with other meditative practices then current. The use of sound—a piano or a singing bowl—can be found in such practices. The flow of prana as a respiratory flow and life energy does not seem far away from her teaching. These are commonalities on a very general level and it is not at all surprising they found their ways in Grunow’s pedagogy. And in many respects Grunow’s work departed from yoga and meditative techniques: for example, her forms of movement differ greatly from yoga. Grunow’s students did not have to twist or strain themselves greatly, nor did they sit or lie on the floor in her exercises as far as is known. In addition, and this also distinguishes her pedagogy from yoga and meditation, Grunow practice was aimed at supporting artistic-creative work, and thus pursued a practical purpose determined individually for each student.

Current discussions regarding the growing significance, even instrumentalization, of yoga and meditation in Western societies nevertheless opens up one of the central beliefs informing Grunow’s teachings. She believed modern man’s nervousness stemmed from the urban environment, which had consequently led to a loss of inner balance. Nevertheless, Grunow did not proselytize or advocate exiting society or a radical return to nature. After her time at the Bauhaus Weimar, she commuted between Berlin, Hamburg and London, consciously leading an urban life. Grunow created exercises that helped individuals to “come to oneself” within an environment characterized by speed and time pressure—to gird oneself to face the hectic life-world instead of changing life from the ground up. This approach appears more relevant than ever considering the flood of techniques for harmonizing body and mind offered today—from purification treatments to yoga and mindfulness classes to various forms of “retreats.”

●Footnotes
  • 1 Quoted by Ingrid Radewaldt and Monika Stadler, “Gunta Stölzl. Biographie,” in: Gunta Stölzl. Meisterin am Bauhaus Dessau. Textilien, Textilentwürfe und freie Arbeiten 1915–1983, Stiftung Bauhaus Dessau/Städtische Kunstsammlungen Chemnitz/Museum für Kunst und Gewerbe Hamburg 1998, pp. 10–86, (here p. 22).
  • 2 Walter Gropius, “Idee und Aufbau des Staatlichen Bauhauses,” in: Karl Nierendorf (ed.): Staatliches Bauhaus Weimar 1919 bis 1923, Weimar 1923, pp. 7–18 (here p. 10).
  • 3 Volker Wahl, Die Meisterratsprotokolle des Staatlichen Bauhaus Weimar 1919 bis 1925, Volker Wahl and Ute Ackermann (eds.), Weimar 2001, pp. 167–169, pp. 300–302.
  • 4 For a basic introduction, see Linn Burchert, Gertrud Grunow (1870–1944). Leben, Werk und Wirken am Bauhaus und und hinaus, e-doc, Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin 2018, pp. 11–32, available at: https://doi.org/10.18452/19512.
  • 5 See for example: Rainer K. Wick, Teaching at the Bauhaus, Hatje Cantz Verlag, Ostfildern-Ruit 2001; Rolf Bothe, Peter Hahn & Hans Christoph von Tavel, Das frühe Bauhaus und Johannes Itten, Hatje Cantz Verlag, Ostfildern-Ruit 1994.
  • 6 The website http://www.gertrud-grunow.de/ presents the current state of research.
  • 7 Verena Senti-Schmidlin, Rhythmus und Tanz in der Malerei. Zur Bewegungsästhetik im Werk von Ferdinand Hodler und Ludwig von Hofmann, Georg Olms, Hildesheim, Zurich & New York 2007, p. 18.
  • 8 Melanie Gruß, Synästhesie als Diskurs. Eine Sehnsuchts- und Denkfigur zwischen Kunst, Medien und Wissenschaft, transcript Verlag, Bielefeld 2017, p. 138.
  • 9 Senti-Schmidlin, Rhythmus und Tanz in der Malerei, 2007, p. 18.
  • 10 Ibid., p. 19.
  • 11 Gertrud Grunow (1923), “The Creation of Living Form through Color, Form, and Sound,” in: Hans M. Wingler: The Bauhaus: Weimar, Dessau, Berlin Chicago, The MIT Press, Cambridge, Massachusetts 1969, pp. 69–73.
  • 12 Burchert, Gertrud Grunow (1870–1944), 2018, pp. 27–30.
  • 13 Grunow, ‘The Creation …,” 1923.
  • 14 Lothar Schreyer, Erinnerungen an Sturm und Bauhaus, Albert Langen Georg Müller, Munich 1956, p. 187.
  • 15 Hans Haffenrichter, “Lothar Schreyer and the Bauhaus Stage,” in: Eckhard Neumann (Ed.), Bauhaus and Bauhaus People, Van Nostrand Reinhold, New York 1993, pp. 46–47, here pp. 46f; see also: Linn Burchert, “Body, Emotion and Originality on the Early Bauhaus Stage: Lothar Schreyer and Gertrud Grunow,” Bauhaus100-Newsletter, December 2018. Available at: http://www.bauhaus100.com/magazine/understand-the-bauhaus/body-emotion-and-originality-on-the-early-bauhaus-stage-lothar-schreyer-and-gertrud-grunow/.
  • 16 Schreyer, Erinnerungen, 1956, p. 191.
  • 17 Burchert, Gertrud Grunow (1870–1944), 2018, pp. 45–46.
  • 18 Ibid., pp. 51–55.
  • 19 Ibid., pp. 41–44.
  • 20 Anja Baumhoff, The Gendered World of the Bauhaus, Peter Lang, Frankfurt am Main 2001.
  • 21 Wahl, Die Meisterratsprotokolle des Staatlichen Bauhaus Weimar, 2001, p. 316.
  • 22 Burchert, Gertrud Grunow (1870–1944), 2018, pp. 36–39.
  • 23 Die Harmonisierungslehre von Gertrud Grunow. Meisterin am Bauhaus 1919 –1924, a film by and with René Radrizzani, 2009, www.gertrud-grunow.de/film-kunst-forschung/film/dokumentarfilme (accessed on 27th of January 2019).
  • 24 René Radrizzani (Ed.), Die bewegende Kraft von Klang und Farbe. Die Grunow-Lehre, Florian Noetzel, Wilhelmshaven 2004, pp. 26 and 28.
  • 25 Ibid., p. 111f.
  • 26 Melanie Gruß, Synästhesie als Diskurs. Eine Sehnsuchts und Denkfigur zwischen Kunst, Medien und Wissenschaft, transcript Verlag, Bielefeld 2017, pp. 203–206.
  • 27 Heinz Werner, Einführung in die Entwicklungspsychologie, J. A. Barth, Leipzig 1926, p. 68, see also: Heinz Werner, Comparative Psychology of Mental Development, International Universities Press, Inc., New York 1940.
  • 28 Johannes Itten, “Autobiographisches Fragment,” in: Anneliese Itten & Willy Rotzler (Eds.), Johannes Itten. Werke und Schriften, Orell Füssli, Zurich 1972, p. 32; see also: Pádraic E. Moore: “A Mystic Milieu - Johannes Itten and Mazdaznan at Bauhaus Weimar,” Bauhaus Imaginista Journal, http://www.bauhaus-imaginista.org/articles/2210/a-mystic-milieu.
  • 29 Burchert, Gertrud Grunow (1870–1944), 2018, p. 43.
  • 30 A version of the Grunow manuscript revised by Schunke was published in 2001 under the title Der Gleichgewichtskreis under the misapprehension that it was an authentic text. See: Burchert, Gertrud Grunow (1870–1944), 2018, pp. 139–146.
  • 31 Otto Nebel Estate, Swiss National Library, Bern.
  • 32 Estate of Erich Parnitzke, Archive of the Bauhaus University Weimar.
  • 33 Gruß, Synästhesie als Diskurs, 2017, pp. 203–206.
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●Exhibition Slide Show
From the Preliminary Courses by Johannes Itten and Josef Albers

The emphasis on material experimentation was reflected in the Vorkurs or “preliminary course,” where the fundamental principles of the Bauhaus were introduced: a corresponding emphasis on craft took root in the Bauhaus’s newly-established workshops. → more

●Exhibition Slide Show
Workshops at the Bauhaus

Views into the mural painting, metal and weaving workshops in Weimar and Dessau, 1923–27. → more

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