How one man helped shape a tradition


Aloys Fleischmann’s life as a ‘dynamic cultural activist’ shaped many aspects of the cultural life of Ireland and his centenary celebrations in Cork mark the extraordinary impact his family have had at home and abroad, writes MARY LELAND

IN THE swirl of events marking the Aloys Fleischmann centenary celebrations in Cork and elsewhere, it’s difficult to find one still centre-point at the core of a programme that acknowledges the impact on the cultural life of Ireland of not just Prof Fleischmann, but also his parents, Aloys Snr and Tilly Fleischmann.

When retired Dáil deputy Máirín Quill toasted the Fleischmann family at the centenary birthday party at the Crawford Gallery in May, she introduced her toast to “these immigrant musicians” with an invitation to John A Murphy to sing the final verse of Clare’s Dragoons.As his robust baritone filled the gallery, and to the rousing “Vive La!” chorus, it seemed for a moment as if this was where things came together – this was the song Aloys Fleischmann Jnr set to music in 1945 for orchestra and chorus, with war-pipes played by Joan Denise Moriarty, marching on stage in her saffron kilt. The Clare’s Dragoons piece had been commiss- ioned by Radio Éireann to commemorate the centenary of the death of Thomas Davis, the song’s writer.

This later moment, shared by student harpists from UCC’s music depart- ment to indicate continuity, with a be- feathered ballerina evoking the defunct Irish National Ballet as an indication of outrage, was symbolic. It united music and the human voice with images of aspiring or resilient nationhood in a manner typical of the Fleischmann family and especially of the work of Aloys Jnr. And it was fun, another quality typifying the current outpouring of memories of the Herr (Aloys Snr) and the Prof (Aloys Jnr). But memory is easy, and often misleading. Along with many associates, what the family of Aloys Fleischmann Jnr have now ensured is that these three lives are recorded, not merely recalled. Assertions of the importance of their presence in Ireland vary according to the medium – classical, ecclesiastical, traditional – but From the Sources, at the Glucksman Gallery at UCC, is composer Mel Mercier’s assertion of “the dynamic cultural activism” of Prof Aloys Fleischmann. Head of the university’s school of music – inheritor of a position Fleischmann inaugurated and held for 46 years – Mercier has created an installation drawn from probably the most important of the Prof’s publications, Sources of Irish Traditional Music c.1600 – 1855.Gathering 100 contemporary traditional musicians – all graduates, students or tutors of UCC – and filming their performances of 1,000 airs collected in what was a life-long study (edited after the professor’s death by Micheál Ó Súilleabháin), Mercier is filling the art gallery with sound as well as vision. Even if the enthusiasm with which they are presented were discarded, the statistics of the Glucksman event, opened on June 12th by Bill Whelan, are impressive. From the Sourcesis based on 20 hours of footage capturing nearly 1,000 performances edited for six simultaneous projections, accompanied by an archive of all the recordings which will be made available for public inspection.

Mel Mercier’s aim, and that of his colleagues, in this venture – which is supported by the Arts Council and William and Judith Bollinger as well as Cork City Council – is to reveal the treasure of the collection to future generations, in Ireland and abroad. It is another legacy of the year-long programme of Fleischmann events inaugurated in January by President Mary McAleese and supported by €50,000 from the local authority.

Also included is the digital imaging of all Fleischmann manuscript scores held by Cork City Library, a digital collection of 115 Fleischmann broadcasts retrieved from the RTÉ sound archives, the typesetting and conversion to Sibelius Files (notation software) of 40 compositions and the new Lyric FM CD of four recordings of new performances by the National Symphony Orchestra conducted by Robert Houlihan.

Added to this are the family’s own digitisation of 15,000 letters and 2,000 photographs, many of which have been used in the current exhibitions as well as in the book of essays edited by Ruth Fleischmann and Joseph Cunningham on Aloys Senior and his wife Tilly, Aloys Fleischmann (1880-1954): Immigrant Musician in Ireland.

“None of this was intended when we set out to plan a celebration of our father,” says Ruth Fleischmann. Already her father’s memorial- ist – and now working on his biography – she was increasingly aware of the many different facets of his life and while, as she says, “what he would most like in commemorative terms would be to have his music performed”. This too is being accomplished. Assisted by her siblings, Anne, Maeve, Alan and Neil, she worked on a list of past pupils, including Seamus de Barra at Notre Dame, Patrick Zuk at Durham and Micheál Ó Súilleabháin in Limerick, as contributors to a programme of events which expanded as it became more widely known. The Fleischmann archive at UCC contains nearly 200,000 items. “Dad kept an awful lot,” says Ruth, as she lists all who helped explore, collate and organise the material. Not least among these is her mother, Dr Anne Madden, who sustained Aloys Jnr through what seems to have been a lifetime of refusals and rejections. “Although he and Mum had a ceremonial bonfire some years before her death, she never touched his study or any of the three rooms in which he stored all his stuff. He knew where everything was.”

That was at The Glen House on Cork’s north side where the children grew up in a household alive with music and debate, unaware that at one time the house itself had been offered (though not accepted) as collateral for an overdraft for the Choral Festival, which he had founded. “He would have considered that perfectly reasonable,” says Ruth, remembering that her father was professionally embattled all his life, driven also to make a musical education available to all-comers and to the discovery and fostering of talent among ordinary people. As Máirín Quill, chair of the centenary committee, says, “He was extravagant in his ambitions, but he never saw obstacles, only possibilities.”

IT’S HARD NOW TO EXPLAINthe difference the Fleischmanns made except through a litany of names: from Arnold Bax to Seán Ó Riada, for example, from Pilib Ó Laoghaire to Tomás Ó Canainn, from Daniel Corkery and Terence MacSwiney (who wrote texts for compositions by Aloys Snr) to Scoil Ite, the school run by the MacSwiney sisters where the Prof was the first pupil and his daughter Ruth the last. From founding the Irish Music Teachers’ Association in 1935 and the Cork Symphony Orchestra in 1938 (now conducted by Keith Pascoe of the Vanbrugh String Quartet), to the publication next year of Tilly Fleischmann’s Tradition and Craft in Piano Playingat the Bavarian State Library in Munich. This is a multi-media study based on Tilly’s own classes in Germany with former pupils of Liszt, edited and illustrated by Patrick Zuk.

So the list goes on, ancient and modern, and as the photographs unroll from Ruth Fleischmann’s retrieved memorabilia their creases seem to emit a mellow glow, a once-upon-a-time mist of meetings, concerts, campaigns evocative of all the associated personalities. Seamus Murphy, Seán O’Faolain, Gerald and Sheila Goldberg, Prof Stockley and his wife Germaine, Darius Milhaud, John Tavener, William Walton, Sir John Barbirolli, Ninette de Valois. The collaboration with Joan Denise Moriarty (who included Aloys among the 18 composers commissioned to write for her ballet company) and which introduced what Louis Marcus has described as “a whiff of the Bolshoi on the Western Road”.

Ruth is now retired as dean of studies at Eielefeld University in Westphalia, where she lives with her husband Reiner Wurgau (who designed the companion study on the Fleischmann family published by Cork City Library for the centenary). Her biography of her grandparents was launched by Niall Toibin, a past chorister in the Herr’s choir at the North Cathedral. That story begins in Dachau, the home of organist Aloys Snr, whose own father had founded the Liedertafel Dachau choir which sang Prof Fleischmann’s Song of the Provincesat the opening night of the Choral Festival last May.

The story moves to Rome and Pius X, whose 1903 edict Motu Propriodeclared that as singers in church had a liturgical office, women, being incapable of exercising such office, could not be part of a church choir. Tilly’s father, Hans Conrad Swertz, was among the late 19th-century influx of German bandmasters and organists invited to Ireland to improve Catholic church music – and had a fine mixed choir at the North Cathedral. Rather than expel his female choristers, he left for Philadelphia, where the edict was interpreted less rigidly. By then Tilly was married to Dachau’s Aloys Fleischmann and persuaded him to take up her father’s position in Cork. Which he did, beginning a commitment which ended only with the death of his son, Prof Aloys Fleischmann, in 1992.

From the Sourcesruns at the Glucksman Gallery until October 24

Fleischmann Week in Dachau opens on October 21