ALOYS FLEISCHMANN (1881-1964)
Organist & Choirmaster at the Cathedral of St. Mary & St. Anne
Tilly, the daughter of Hans Conras Swertz, was sent in 1901 to the Royal Academy of Music in Munich to study the piano with two pupils of Liszt. There she met Aloys Fleischmann, who had studied with the composer Rheinberger and had just been appointed organist in his home town, Dachau. He was making a name for himself with nativity plays for which he composed the music, the scenery and costumes being designed by two of Dachau's best known painters. Aloys and Tilly married there in 1905.
When Tilly's father left his post as organist at the Cathedral in 1906, she was the only one of the nine children to have finished her education. So, she persuaded her husband to come to Cork with her to apply for her father’s post in the Cathedral and support the family. Though the stay in Cork was originally intended to be temporary, Fleischmann was to serve there as Cathedral organist for over fifty years.
In 1903, Pius X Section 13 stipulated:
… singers in church have a real liturgical office, and … therefore women, being incapable of exercising such office, cannot be admitted to form part of the choir.
The Papal Instruction of 1903 which instituted a reform of church music with his Instruction The Juridical Code of Sacred Music, known as Motu Proprio. Plain chant and classical polyphonic music of the 16th and 17th centuries were to be sung at church services, and women were to be excluded from church choirs. This instruction was strictly adhered to in Cork; Fleischmann founded a boys’ choir in the Cathedral and set about implementing the reform of church music required by Pope Pius X.
The cathedral congregation, used to Swertz’s elaborate masses, was at first disappointed with the Gregorian chant and polyphonic music, and choir membership dwindled, but by 1908 Canon McCarthy, the Cathedral Administrator, praised Fleischmann as a “master” in the training of boys’ voices; in 1911 Canon Murphy testified that he had won not only the admiration of the bishop and clergy, but “golden opinions” from the laity throughout the city.
Fleischmann undertook a wide range of activities in the city to broaden the base for classical choral music. He took over the Cork Choral Union (already in existence in the city since 1902), in 1912 he founded the Filedha Ladies’ choir; he had a choir in Bandon until 1938. He taught singing and piano in Farrenferris Seminary where most of the future priests of the diocese got their schooling – one of his last students there was our present Bishop, Rev John Buckley.
Through their music, the Fleischmanns got to know people from all walks of life: talented singers from the poorest parts of the city, members of the Anglo-Irish landed gentry with an interest in music, priests such as Father Pat McSwiney and Canon Sheehan, young people involved in the Irish language movement and in the drama groups springing up in the city around Daniel Corkery and Terence MacSwiney, who were actively engaged in the quest for independence from Britain.
When the first world war began in 1914, the Anglo-Irish friends were able to protect Fleischmann, but from 1916 to 1919 he was interned as an enemy alien, and not allowed to return to Cork until the autumn of 1920. His wife, a competent organist, took on his work at the Cathedral, as well as doing her own teaching and minding their small boy, Aloys, born in 1910. Fleischmann's first big church service after his return was the requiem mass for their friend Terence MacSwiney, the republican Lord Mayor of Cork who had died on hunger strike in prison in England.
As Swertz had done, both Fleischmanns taught at the School of Music from 1920 to 1937, he teaching harmony and singing and she senior piano teacher. In 1921 he re-established the choir of the Cork Municipal School of Music, and gave many concerts.
Also in 1921 the Bishop commissioned the German organ specialists, Walcker of Ludwigsburg, to build a new organ for the Cathedral. Fleischmann negotiated with the company, who supplied a splendid instrument for a very modest price, given the post-war financial chaos in Germany. Due to a dock strike in Cork, the organ was shipped by mistake to Belfast, where it got lost for over a year. But in 1922, it was installed and blessed by the Bishop on the feast of St. Cecilia, the patron saint of music. It is still in use in the Cathedral today.
With the advent of Irish radio in 1924, Fleischmann began to give frequent broadcasts with the Choir; which grew to number about 100 singers: 60 men and 40 boys. They performed in church services for the University twice a year; and did four or five broadcasts per year from the Cork station, which was established in 1926. Occasional broadcasts on the BBC world service brought letters from colleagues and former choir members from all over the world.
Fleischmann was also a prolific composer of sacred and secular choral music, organ music, and Lieder with texts by Irish and German Romantic poets, nearly all of which was publicly performed (some of his sacred music in the cathedral of Munich) though little was published. Tilly Fleischmann gave regular recitals and occasional broadcasts and built up a large circle of advanced piano pupils whom she trained in the Liszt tradition of piano playing.
Aloys Fleischmann walking on St. Patrick's Bridge with his beloved dog Bran
The English composer and future Master of the Queen’s Music, Arnold Bax, was invited to Cork in 1929 to adjudicate at a new festival of Irish traditional and classical music, the Feis Maitiu. He awarded the Cathedral choir 100 (i.e. full) marks for their plain chant and motets and was so impressed that he wrote to the London Daily Telegraph:
"The performances of the Cathedral Choir of St Mary’s were a revelation to me, for I had no idea that Ireland, up to the present time, could show anything indicative of such a high degree of musical culture. What I heard convinced me that this Cork choir could hold its own in competition with any organisation devoted to rendering similar music in any part of these islands. … The greatest honour is due to Herr Aloys Fleischmann, the organist of the Cathedral and trainer of the choir. This gentleman is a very fine all-round musician and would be an inspiring influence in any musical circle in which he might be placed." (4.5.1929).
In a letter of thanks to Bax, Fleischmann wrote:
"We all felt lonely after you had gone. Your visit was like a part of an Irish fairy tale - your kind words have given the Cathedral choir tremendous courage and several members including myself have received letters of congratulation from England, America, Italy and Germany. This “dull lifeless music” is recognised at last after twenty years of struggle: I don’t know how to thank you for it. I feel that if those poor people got a fair chance … this gifted race would rise and become once more the first writers and bards of the world, as in the olden times of which they always dream."
A lifelong friendship was to develop out of this meeting: Bax stayed with the Fleischmanns every year except during the war; he became external examiner to the Music Department of University College Cork, and died in the Fleischmann home in 1953.
Music was an important element of most church services: there was a High Mass every Sunday and Benediction; the choir sang for the various Confraternities during the week; regular weekly practices were held in the presbytery library, with additional ones for broadcasts, the great feast days of Christmas and Corpus Christi and in particular for the ceremonies of Holy Week, for which the choir was famous.
The training given to choir members was to have an impact on the choral music of the province. The choristers came from all walks of life: Tilly Fleischmann was proud of the fact that, after her husband’s death, she received numerous “most touching letters showing how much he had influenced them spiritually and humanly”. Pilib Ó Laoghaire, the influential promoter of traditional Irish music, and the composer, Seán Ó Riada, were pupils of Fleischmann’s,; they both studied music with Fleischmann’s son in University College Cork, and were both given teaching posts in the music department.
In 1954 Fleischmann was granted a papal gold medal, Pro Ecclesia et Pontifice, in recognition of 48 years of service in the Cathedral. He continued to serve for a further six years until 1960, when he was 80, assisted by Peggy Hickey, Ned Evans and Joe Cunningham. He was an invalid for the last two years of life, and died in St Patrick’s Hospice on Jan 3rd 1964 aged 83.
Canon Bastible, who joined the Choir in 1908, wrote of him to Aloys junior:
"I shall always recall your father not alone as an outstanding musician who contributed much to the artistic life of Cork but also as a great Christian gentleman who reflected credit on the land of his birth and on the land of his adoption. His last words to me, a few days before Christmas, were: “I am happy to recall that all my life’s work was given to the service of God’s church.” May God grant eternal rest to his gentle and generous soul!"
Aloys & Tilly Fleischmann in 1960
Saturday Vigil & Eves of Holy Days: 6.00pm
Holy Days & Bank Holidays: 11.00am
Weekdays: Cathedral: Mon-Sat: 10am
A new parish assembly is currently being formed. If you are interested in sharing your time and talents please contact the parish office.
The Cathedral now has a Youtube channel. Media featuring and connected to the Cathedral will be uploaded and shared on this resource. Click here to view.