The Glen area of Cork will once more resound to the strains of a classical orchestra, thanks to a free concert in memory of Aloys Fleischmann, writes Cathy Desmond.
FLEISCHMANN is a name synonymous with music in Cork. As a testament to the legacy of the late composer and academic, his name is proudly borne by a choir and an orchestra that he was pivotal in establishing.
During a life dedicated to fostering a culture of music, Aloys Fleischmann trained s everal generations of educators and produced a body of work that include large-scale works for chorus and orchestra, as well as five ballets.
On Midsummer Day, a concert of popular classics and a suite by Fleischmann himself will take place in the Glen where the indomitable musical dynamo lived for 45 years.
The event was the idea of Joe Kelly, who runs Live at St Luke’s, and will feature the orchestra which Aloys Fleischmann conducted for nearly six decades, with singers Ger Wolfe and Sinéad Ni Mhurchú also playing at the event.
“The idea came when I eventually visited the Glen River Park having lived nearby since 1991,” says Kelly of an area now surrounded by housing estates. “Some people’s perception of the park and the reality are poles apart. It’s a beautiful park with herons and ducks, as well as locals walking every type of dog.”
Kelly put the idea to Keith Pascoe of the Cork Fleischmann Orchestra, and funding was sorted through Cork City Council and the Creative Ireland Programme.
The fascinating history of the Fleischmann family in the city stretches back through four generations. The family first established a footing in Ireland in the late 19th century when a German musician based in a small Bavarian town read a job advertisement for an organist position in Cork.
Hans Conrad Swertz answered the call and arrived with his Bavarian wife in 1880. They set up home in the Mardyke where they went on to have nine children. His second child, Tilly, went to Munich to study music where she met Aloys Fleischmann Senior. They became engaged and moved back to Cork where Aloys Senior stepped in to his father-in-law’s shoes and became organist and choirmaster in the North Cathedral.
World War I had terrible consequences for the young organist that he could not have foreseen when he left the European mainstream for the Atlantic periphery. As a German citizen in a British dominion, Fleischmann Senior was interned for five years before being deported to Germany.
By the time he returned to Ireland, his only son, also Aloys, was ten years old. Tilly Fleischmann, a concert pianist schooled in the Liszt tradition, kept the show on the road, taking her husband’s place in the organ loft with the young Aloys in tow.
When Fleischmann clan gathered in Cork recently, they also made a pilgrimage to Oldcastle, Co Meath, where their grandfather — whose family had been involved in the choir in his home town of Dachau — had been interned in the former workhouse with hundreds of other ‘enemy aliens’.
Ruth Fleischmann explains: “We spent one night in the town where poor grandfather spent over 800, we in the comfortable Currans B&B, he in the workhouse with 600 strangers. Our B&B was actually on the site of the former camp. We presented the artefacts we had which had been made in the camp to the County Meath Archive to Ciarán Mangan, the County Librarian.”
SPHERE OF INFLUENCE
Aloys Junior took a different musical path, studying composition and conducting, eventually becoming the youngest chair holder at UCC and a key figure in so many aspects of musical life in Ireland.
He and his wife Anne Madden began their married life in a house on Hop Island (Oileán Ruadh) near Rochestown. In 1947 they moved to a house in the middle of Goulding’s Glen. Glen House originally had served as a flax mill with a stream running through the garden and under the house. “It was a great place for walks,” remembers Ruth. “We children fetched milk every evening from Murphy’s farm there; we were treated with much kindness by Mr and Mrs Murphy and Mrs Buckley, who didn’t mind us watching them as the animals were fed, the cows milked and who sometimes put us on the back of their gentle white horse Diamond.
“On the other side of the Glen lived Miss McEvoy, the Crowley family in Mill House, and at the end of the Glen near the Fox and Hounds crossroads was Mrs Hayes, who had a small shop where we bought threepenny bars of Cadbury’s chocolate or Cork Rock as often as we could afford to, though we were not very good customers as our modest pocket money usually ran out the day after we had been given it.”
Over the years, hundreds from arts and political circles visited the house. Ruth recalls a visit by renowned English composer Arnold Bax.
“Towards the end of the meal my father was in the hall on the phone, my mother in the kitchen getting the pudding and Sir Arnold staring out of the window ignoring us. Maeve, who was 2 or 3 at the time decided it was time to break the silence, reached for a heavy soup spoon and smartly smacked the three corners off the little triangular desert bowl in front of her as though she were a trained percussionist.
“That had the desired effect of catching Sir Arnold’s interest, who looked at the child and exclaimed with respect and admiration: ‘What a little tigress!’”
Among the other visitors to the house were longterm couple, composer Benjamin Britten and tenor Peter Pears. “When they were to be driven home, our ancient car refused to start, but they were not in the least put out, and shoved it up the lane with sufficient verve to get it going.”
After being subjected to flood and fire, the Fleischmann’s old house in the Glen has now been demolished.
Though the building has vanished, its owner is still fondly remembered. “How astounded he would be were he to see the orchestra which he founded in 1934 giving a public concert in the Glen,” says Ruth. “We thank all those who have made this possible.”
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