Note-perfect memoir of Tilly Fleischmann: Tradition and Craft in Piano-Playing
Review: A beautiful volume that sheds light on the remarkable Cork woman’s life and playing and teaching techniques
Music lovers (1929): Tilly Fleischmann (centre) with Daniel Corkery (left) and Fr Pat Macswiney (right); (first row, l-r) Sean O’Faolain, Professor Stockley; (back row, l-r) Germaine Stockley, Aloys Fleischmann, Hans Marcus, Clare Engelmann and Dr Heider.
“Tradition and Craft in Piano-Playing
I would have liked to have known Tilly Fleischmann. Even as a child in Dublin I knew of her, and she was a legendary figure in the musical life of Cork. But she died in 1967 when I was only 20, so the opportunity never arose. Reading her book Tradition and Craft in Piano-Playing has brought me closer to her than ever before.
Tilly Fleischmann was born Tilly Swertz, in Cork, in 1882, the daughter of Hans Conrad Swertz, who had come to Ireland to take up an appointment as organist and choirmaster in Cork. From the age of 12 she practised the piano three to four hours a day, and her father was sufficiently confident of a musical career for her that he sent her to study at the Royal Academy of Music in Munich, in 1901. There she was fortunate to be accepted into the class of the renowned pianist and pedagogue and director of the academy, Bernhard Stavenhagen, until he retired in 1904 when she studied with another famous teacher, Berthold Kellermann. Both were students and associates of Franz Liszt in his later years, when he taught extensively and they carried on the traditions and aspirations of the world-renowned virtuoso, who had died in 1886.
Tilly became a favoured student in Munich playing at many concerts and became so well-known that she was even invited to play for the family of the kaiser at Nymphenburg Palace. In 1905 she married a fellow student, Aloys Fleischmann, and, in 1906, she brought her husband back to Cork where he took up the position her father had just vacated at the Cathedral of St Mary and St Anne. They became intensely involved in the musical life of the city and Tilly Fleischmann played many recitals, becoming the first Irish pianist to broadcast on the BBC. She was much sought after as a piano teacher and taught at the School of Music in Cork from 1919 to 1937. She was a close friend of many composers, including Arnold Bax, to whom this book is dedicated, and EJ Moeran.
It was Herbert Hughes, who wrote so many wonderful Irish folk-song arrangements, who suggested she write this book, allowing us to learn from the experiences and traditions that she absorbed during her training in Munich. She started writing the book in 1940 and, with the help of her son, Aloys jnr, who was himself such an important figure in the musical life of Cork all through his life, she completed it about 10 years later.
However she was unable to find a publisher for the book in her lifetime. Shortly before her death, as her grand-daughter Ruth Fleischmann says in her preface, she “remarked sadly to one of her students that perhaps in a hundred years’ time somebody might come across the manuscript in a drawer somewhere and might then be able to find a publisher for it”. We should be grateful to Dan Farrelly of Carysfort Press for producing a handsome volume that would have given Fleischmann such joy.