Born in 1869 in Australia, Frederick Matthias Alexander got involved with acting as a teenager. By the time he was 22 Alexander was receiving good reviews of his performances in Melbourne but he had developed problems with hoarseness and volume in his speech. At times it was so bad he could barely speak after performances. Consultations with voice teachers and doctors did not result in the desired relief of his symptoms, so Alexander set about making detailed observations of what he was doing when he spoke to determine what was causing his problems. As a result of his experiments and observations, Alexander was able to improve and even eliminate his voice and respiratory issues and began to teach his concepts and methods to other actors and speakers. For the next 60 years, until his death in 1955, Alexander continued to develop and teach his ideas, first in Australia, then in London.
Alexander’s investigations did not start from scratch; he was using and expanding upon the work of others of his time. Alexander was a student of the Delsarte techniques for acting and speaking and had worked with several famous actors and elocutionists. This experience encouraged him to examine how his thought process contributed to his movement patterns. At the time there was also significant interest in “physical culture” – various systems of exercise, breathing and mental control aimed at improving various health problems caused by the increasingly sedentary lifestyles in the Western world. Numerous forms of breathing exercises in particular were advocated for improving the functioning of the human body and Alexander tried many of them to help his vocal problems. In this context his investigation of movement was also a part of the cultural interest of his time.
A theory developed by Francois Delsarte (1811-1871) for improving musical and dramatic expression through the mastery of various bodily attitudes and gestures. The core of his theory states that there is a connection between mental attitudes, emotions, physical postures and gestures.