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Aloys Fleischmann (1910-1992) was born into a family of immigrant German musicians resident in Cork since 1879. His maternal grandfather, Hans Conrad Swertz, had come from the Bavarian town of Dachau to take up a post as organist and choirmaster, first at St. Vincent’s Church and then, from 1890-1906, at the Cathedral of St Mary and St Anne. The second of his nine children, Tilly, born in Cork in 1882, studied in Munich at the Royal Academy of Music from 1901-1905; after her graduation, she married the Dachau organist and composer Aloys Fleischmann, who came to Cork with her the following year to take over her father’s position at the cathedral.
Their son Aloys was to become a composer, musicologist, scholar of traditional Irish music, professor of music at University College Cork 1934-1980, founder of the University Art Society in 1930, founder and conductor of the Cork Symphony Orchestra 1934-1992, founder of the Music Teachers’ Association in 1935, of the Cork Orchestral Society in 1938, founder of the Cork International Choral Festival and its director for 20 years, provider of music for the Cork Ballet Company for 45 years, chairman of the Cork Sculpture Park for 24 years, and a life-long campaigner to bring classical music into the schools and lives of Irish people.
The sources of this dedicated commitment to the cause of the arts in Ireland can be traced in the diaries written by the boy during his last two years at school.
The 1926 diary reveals that Aloys’ decision to make music his profession was taken in the summer of that year, previous entries having shown him drawn in equal measure to English, history and music. The diaries provide material which explains his choice. Many entries document his pleasure at the music that he grew up with: his father at the harmonium preparing for cathedral services, his mother practising works of the classical and modern repertoire for her piano recitals. There are entries recording his delight on hearing his mother playing at home for friends, and his father playing his newest compositions for him or for special guests. He writes of the glories of the 17th century polyphonic works performed on special feast days by the cathedral choir, of choral works he became acquainted with through his father’s School of Music Choral Society, and great works from the chamber music repertoire heard at recitals given by his mother and various ensembles. The orchestral repertoire he did not get to know in live performances, but in the home of Daniel Corkery, whose love of music had brought him to acquire what were then expensive luxuries: a radio, gramophone, and collection of records. Aloys had a standing invitation to call, a generous offer regularly taken up. The diaries also give insight into the boy’s own music-making: his studies of the piano with his mother, music theory with his father and the emotions linked to his early attempts at composition, when frustration was occasionally swept away by a flood of ‘joyous ecstasy’ while working on his Prelude, a setting of a poem by Synge for voice and piano written when he was fifteen.
The decision to become a musician was taken as a schoolboy, but the resolve to devote his life to working for music in Ireland did not come until he was living in Germany between 1932 and 1934 as a post-graduate student – it was in Munich that he discovered his Irishness. This is documented in his letters to his parents and in his last interview, given to Tomás Ó Canainn for the Cork Review shortly before his death. The diaries show that he regarded himself as a Bavarian and a monarchist. The boy’s enthusiasm for Ludwig II and for Prince Regent Luitpold of Bavaria derived from his father’s tales about these monarch-patrons of the arts and in particular about the Prince Regent, who sought the company of Munich’s artists and at whose table Aloys senior had dined as a young man. Diary entries show Aloys junior unswayed by the case for republicanism put to him by Daniel Corkery, and defending Germany against his classmates, seeking to endure their good-natured derision with equanimity.
The diaries document the many encounters with the Gaelic heritage which prepared the ground for the switch of identity to come seven years later. His first school was Scoil Íte, founded by Mary MacSwiney in September 1916 on her release from prison after the rising. Aloys’ parents were friends of hers and of Terence, who met his wife at a concert of Tilly’s and wrote the text for one of Aloys senior’s choral works. The diaries contain several affectionate mentions of his Scoil Íte teachers. From 1922 Aloys went to school in the diocesan seminary of Farranferris; there, according to a diary entry of 1926, Father Christy O’Flynn introduced traditional Irish singing to his enthusiastic pupils. The strongest influences on Aloys, however, probably came from Fleischmann family friends, many of whom sympathised with the republican movement (if indeed they had not been part of it) were members of the Gaelic League, and at the same time imbued with European culture. Aloys visited Daniel Corkery regularly, enjoying the animated discussions he heard there as well as the music; one of the musicians encountered was Neilus Cronin, the renowned piper. Father Patrick MacSwiney, a close family friend, had taken his Masters’ degree in Celtic Studies under Kuno Meyer in Liverpool and (like Dr Paddy Brown) was proficient in half a dozen languages. Aloys often stayed with him in Dunmanway after the priest had been demoted by the bishop from his post in Cork for publicly standing up for Mary MacSwiney and defending her against episcopal charges of illegal republican activities. There in West Cork in 1927 Aloys reports attending a delightful performance put on by the local branch of the Gaelic League of Patrick Pearse’s play Íosagán, for which he acted as stage prompter. He was also given a class on the uileann pipes. The impact of such encounters becomes evident in a diary entry of 13 August 1926, describing an evening walk in Monatrea with Sinéad Ní Bhriain:
Miss O’Brien and I talked Irish all the way back. It was dusk, and I thought how in keeping with the lovely Irish landscape is the Irish tongue. We heard a flute-player at some Irish jigs far off, and I thought how I would love my country if I were an Irishman, but being Bavarian, I am split between the two.
That split was to be resolved when he lived among foreigners for the first time as a student in Munich. There, under the pseudonym of Muiris Ó Rónáin, he wrote his Sreath do Phiano [Suite for Piano], the first work exemplifying his vision of an Irish art-music inspired by European music and rooted in the spirit of the Gaelic heritage. At the end of his life he told his friend and colleague Tomás Ó Canainn of his feelings on his return to Ireland in 1934, Wagner’s music indicating the path to be taken:
It was on the boat coming back that I began to feel I was riding on the crest of a wave, as we approached Cobh, early in the morning. Ringing in my ears was that marvellous passage from Tristan – ‘Die Irische Konigin’ [Irish Queen] – Iseult being a Dublin princess. I suddenly began to feel that I had a job to do here.
The ‘job’ to be done was a daunting one. Ireland had no professional orchestra, no professional ensembles, music education was not part of the school curriculum, there was no requirement for music teachers to have recognised qualifications, the career prospects for properly qualified musicians were dismal and most emigrated, there were few opportunities in Irish cities outside Dublin to hear classical music, and fewer still to perform it. Anybody seeking to change this required an exceptional degree of tenacity, personal discipline and willingness to serve. The diaries show that these were already features of the boy’s character as a teenager.
The larger part of the diaries records the work done at and for school and Aloys’ enjoyment of most classes. Examinations are a dominant theme, together with his great fear of not doing well. It becomes clear that the boy’s intense application to his studies does not derive from an overweening ambition to excel, though excel he did, but from an awareness of his parents’ modest financial circumstances and a desire and sense of obligation to contribute through winning scholarships. – Aloys senior supported his widowed mother, who lived alone in Dachau during the years of the terrifying post-war inflation; neither Aloys senior nor his wife had pensionable posts in Cork, so money was set aside regularly for their old age and put in the bank in Dachau. At the end of the second world war these savings were to become worthless. – The discipline Aloys junior learnt at home and applied to school was to stand to him all his life. But it came at a price. The diaries record the headaches regularly caused by the pressures of work and post-examination depressions when the pressure abated. The headaches were to become chronic; the depressions disappeared as pressure of work was to become a constant, unrelenting feature of his adult life.
Fleischmann’s subsequent success may have been partly due to the fact that, when he set out on his career, he harboured no illusions about the challenges facing him, having witnessed from his boyhood his parents’ struggle to bring their music to the city. He records in the diaries the financial risks they undertook in putting on recitals without any outside funding and over which they usually lost money, their difficulties in keeping players and singers motivated to attend rehearsals, the fear that performances might not attain the high standard aimed at, the frustrations caused by bad houses and unfavourable reviews. He records his sense of indignation over these difficulties and his surprise at his parents’ stoicism and determination to continue. The lesson he learnt from this was that if you know your cause is worthwhile, you do not falter regardless of obstacles, opposition, apathy or risks.
Fleischmann was admired later in life by his orchestral players and acquaintances for undertaking as a matter of course menial tasks connected with his concerts such as transporting and setting up stands for orchestral rehearsals, clearing and sometimes sweeping the hall, ferrying bigger instruments for the players, collecting, cleaning up and posting back the orchestral parts to the hirer. The diaries show that he was familiar with the drudgeries of such enterprises from boyhood, having assisted his parents with the organisation of their recitals. He records requesting city businesses to display concert posters in their shop windows (a job he hated), dragging chairs into halls, numbering and arranging them in rows, transporting crockery for post-recital teas, selling programmes, turning over for the pianists at chamber music recitals, counting the money taken at the box-office etc.
But the hard labour of rehearsing and practising, the many chores, the risk of disappointment, the stress of performing were ultimately weighed lightly by the family. A formative experience is recorded by Aloys on 23 April 1926 in connection with a school drama production by Father Christie O’Flynn:
Went over ‘Macbeth’ again to-day. It reminded me when we acted it for the Bishop and a whole lot of visitors last Xmas, my rôle being Lady Macbeth. I think that day was one of the happiest of my life, because not only did I get a first prize book for senior hon[our]s and another for getting on well in last year’s intermediate [exams.], and not only was Mammie really delighted with my acting, but the wonderful feeling of good-fellowship, and enthusiasm for the general good of the school made everyone feel so content as he could possibly be, and made the whole evening a great success.
A similar view was expressed by the eighty-two year old Fleischmann at his last public appearance, some twelve weeks before his death, when opening the Choral Festival in May 1992:
Anyone who has heard a choir at work, witnessed the dedication and discipline involved, appreciated the ability to pull along with one’s fellows, and sensed the joy of being a contributor to the live production of a work of art, will understand the benefits which are brought about by such an activity. That joy found in music, described so often in the diaries, was the source of Fleischmann’s life of service to the arts in Ireland and of his quest to bring music into the lives of ordinary people and thus foster their talents and creativity.
The diaries were begun to keep a record of a decisive period in the boy’s life: the final phase of his schooling when decisions about his future would be taken. They were written for himself, but the possibility is envisaged that they might some day be of interest to others. They were probably also occasionally read by his parents. The diary-writing comes to an end in October 1927, after registration at the university, due to lack of time. Throughout 1926 the entries were jotted down quickly at the end of his long day; his father saw this as a waste of time and from 1927 only permitted a weekly entry to be written.
The overall impression emerging from the two diaries is that of a talented and intensely studious boy with wide interests, who lives in harmony with his parents, thrives in the stimulating company they keep and finds much pleasure in life. He is an obedient, considerate son, a pious church-goer, and a diligent, cheerful pupil, who relishes the friendly give-and-take with his classmates and flourishes under the influence of his good teachers. He is a passionate stamp collector, an avid reader, interested in foreign politics and cultures; he enjoys going to the cinema, as does his mother, while his father tends to disapprove of such frivolities. A somewhat surprising aspect is his keen interest in sport, and the many accounts of his delight in cycling, swimming, playing hurley and tennis, fishing, boating, and rabbit-hunting whenever the opportunity arises. Rather more unexpected are the frequent mentions of the 16-year-old driving the priest’s car on journeys around west Cork, and altogether startling the tales of the mischief he regularly gets up to with his friends the Horgan boys, unbeknownst to his parents but probably not to theirs. Though the diaries are reticent, some insight is given into his fears and worries: his embarrassment at being too small for his age, his mortification over being unable to prevent himself blushing or to suppress fits of laughing in school, his shyness, his intense nervousness when performing in public or watching his parents do so, and the nightmare of examinations. He sought the company of his friends whenever possible. With the possible exception of the Horgans, who may have deemed him a bad influence on their rather wild boys, Aloys seems to have been a welcome guest in the homes of his friends, to have thoroughly enjoyed their parties and the many exciting outings to those who lived in west Cork.
The diaries bring glimpses of life in the first years of the Irish Free State, three years after the end of the civil war. We hear of the beginnings of Irish radio, of the Cork radio station set up in the former women’s jail, of the popularity of the cinema, the emergence of jazz (to the Fleischmanns’ dismay), the first bus service established in Cork in 1926 to supplement the trams, the first telephones available in public buildings – but Aloys is constantly delivering messages for his parents on his bicycle as few private households had telephones. On one such message to a street in the impoverished north parish near the cathedral, the boy is faced for the first time with the squalor in which large sections of the city’s population live. The Catholic church occupies a central position in the lives of the community; the first public Corpus Christi procession took place that year and was a major event. We also learn that the hostility to Germans, which had been quite widespread in Cork during the first world war, is now waning and that people who had shunned Tilly Fleischmann while her husband was interned were now going out of their way to be friendly to the family. However, life in Cork is not a theme of these diaries, which focus, as the writer declares in the title, ‘on myself and my actions.’
The Fleischmann family is very pleased that Róisín O’Brien chose these diaries for her Masters’ Degree in Digital Arts and Humanities at the College of Arts, Celtic Studies and Social Sciences, University College Cork and is grateful for the meticulous care she has taken with her preparation of the project and the ingenuity with which she has devised appropriate methods of presenting the diaries in electronic form on the internet.
The images illustrating the diaries come from Tilly Fleischmann’s photograph albums and from her programme archive. These, together with the two diaries, are part of the Fleischmann Collection, housed in the Archives of University College Cork and under the care of its director, Catriona Mulcahy.