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Last Days


I think that Arnold would not have wished to die anywhere but in Ireland. He had a deep rooted love for the Irish people and their country, and was particularly fond of Cork. A few days before his death he told me he was resigning his position in England, and was coming to live here. A friend of his thought he ought to settle down in Dublin, but he preferred Cork. Dublin had become too cosmopolitan.
There were some strange coincidences in connection with Arnold's death which I think ought to be written down.
The only people I invited to meet him on his last visit to our home on Thursday 1st October were John and Mary Horgan, Seamus Murphy, the sculptor, Mairead, his wife, and ourselves. Usually on his visits to Cork I assembled three or four times this number of guests to meet him. He was with the Horgans on the day he died, on Saturday 3rd October, and Seamus Murphy made his death mask on Monday 5th October.
On Saturday, Seamus, Mairead, Aloys Óg and his wife Anne, my husband and I were to spend the evening at ‘Lacaduv’ (the Horgan house) on John and Arnold's return from the Old Head of Kinsale. When we arrived about 8.15 Arnold had already gone ‘home’. John Horgan told us that on arriving back from Kinsale, Arnold seemed in great form. He enjoyed every minute of his trip to the Old Head and was reminiscing about old times and his friends all the way back. They entered the hall and John was just about to give Arnold a drink when he stood up suddenly from his chair, and said: “Please take me home.” John looked at him and saw that he was trembling, and that a change had come over him. He called to his wife Mary, who was upstairs, to drive Arnold to Glen House, Aloys Óg's home, where Arnold was staying at the time. Aloys and Anne were to come to ‘Lacaduv’ later in the evening as Aloys had a meeting in town.
Mary was terrified as she thought Arnold might die in the car on the way. She knew that he always suffered from heart trouble.
To her amazement on their arrival at Glen House, Arnold stepped out of the car just as usual, and walked quickly up the stairs to his bedroom. Anne suggested sending for the doctor but Arnold would not hear of it. He begged her to wait until morning.
But Anne, who had qualified as a physician, felt she should not wait. She telephoned Dr James O'Donovan, who arrived within twenty minutes. After examining Arnold, he told Anne that there was no hope – he had coronary thrombosis and acute pulmonary oedema.
Arnold was half sitting up in bed. He had no pain whatsoever and was very grateful as was his wont for any little attention, saying “Thank you, thank you.” These were his last words. After Dr O'Donovan's fatal pronouncement Anne and Mary Horgan said the prayers for the dying, Anne going in and out of the room. At 10 o'clock all was over – he just fell asleep. May he rest in peace.
The last of his own music he ever heard was “The Garden of Fand”. Aloys Óg gave a ‘Bax evening’ on Tuesday 29th September with the Radio Eireann Symphony Orchestra in the Phoenix Hall, Dublin, Arnold being present. The programme consisted of “Overture to Adventure”, the “Left-Hand Concertante”, with Harriet Cohen as soloist, and “The Garden of Fand”. (The year before Aloys did Arnold's Third Symphony, also in his presence). Arnold was very happy that evening and told me how delighted he was with the whole performance. A few hours before his death on the following Saturday he was at the Old Head of Kinsale looking out on to the Atlantic. John Horgan, who drove him there, said he had never seen such a glorious sunset. The whole sky was ablaze with colour of every possible hue. Red, deep orange, yellow and far away on the horizon there was a pale blue mist. Arnold was lost in gazing at it, and John had to take him by the arm gently and remind him that we were all waiting for him at ‘Lacaduv’.
The next day, 4th October, Harriet Cohen, who had arrived from Dublin, gave me some red carnations to put on Arnold's breast. He was laid out in Bon Secours mortuary in the Western Road. Maura O'Connor, who came from Waterford the moment she heard the sad news, drove me there. I entered with deep sorrow, and with fear too, making up my mind that I wouldn't look at Arnold but just place the flowers on his breast. But I did look – fortunately. I never saw him look so peaceful and so beautiful in life. He looked thirty years younger and there was a gentle smile on his lips. I beckoned my husband and Maura to come in and see him and said: “We must get a picture of him as he is. I'll go to Seamus Murphy at once. Perhaps he can make a mask.”
Seamus didn't return home until 11.30 that night. He told me he had never made a mask but he would try. Early next morning he travelled the town but couldn't get sufficient material in any shop. Finally as a last hope he went to the Dental Hospital in the north side of the city and asked the man in charge for plaster of Paris. The man, Mr Walsh, hesitated, saying he could not possibly give him so much of it. But when Seamus told him whose mask it was going to be he exclaimed: “Take the whole lot. Take the whole house – I loved his music and always listened in to it, or I heard it on gramophone records whenever I got a chance.” Arnold would have appreciated this. A dental technician of whom none of us had ever heard – an Arnold Bax fan. Certainly an extraordinary coincidence.
It was late on Monday afternoon when Seamus arrived at the mortuary. The good nuns had already coffined poor Arnold. Seamus had to lift him up all by himself. He spent three hours all alone there. He told me he wasn’t nervous, but he kept thinking all the time of Arnold's music, and said it was the saddest work he had ever had to do.
The mask is good, but not at all like Arnold's face the day before, when he was laid out flat. The lifting of his body and the changing of the head in the new position had made his features heavier, the chin seemed to have sunken. But still, seen from the side, the left side in particular, the death mask has a contented, serene and beautiful expression.

POSTSCRIPT
The English newspapers and Arnold's friends were mystified about the place and time of his death. There was no necessity for an inquest as Dr O'Donovan certified his death from natural causes, namely coronary thrombosis. Through one of the coincidences that I mentioned at the beginning of this chapter, John Horgan was the city's coroner, and Dr James O'Donovan, a mutual friend, persuaded the Bon Secours nuns to accept poor Arnold's body that night. My son was deeply grateful for their action. His children were very young at the time, the eldest of the five being only eleven years old. Their bedrooms were on the same landing and adjacent to Arnold's room. It would have been a terrifying and unforgettable experience for them to have seen the body. They heard nothing that night and slept soundly. Aloys Óg told them next day after luncheon that poor Arnold had been taken seriously ill and had to be brought to the Bon Secours hospital, where he had since died. Ruth, the eldest, wept but Maeve, aged four, clapped her hands in glee. “Oh”, she exclaimed, “we can have all his Turkish Delight now. He only gave us some of it yesterday morning.” And this was strange too. Every year he visited us he got a little box of Haji Bey's Turkish Delight to take back with him to England. He always said: “One can get nothing like that over there.” We used to be amused and believed he thought it was so good because it was made in Cork. He always packed it away carefully on receiving it. This ritual took place for nearly 25 years. But on Saturday morning, the day of his death, he came down to the children, opened the box, and shared it with them. It was as if he knew that he would never return to England.

THE WAYWARD CHILD
After some controversy about music, I once called him ‘a wayward child’. He must have liked the name because in subsequent letters he frequently signed them “From your wayward child”.
Arnold was always violently anti-German, but in spite of this he was always a staunch and warm friend to us even during the war years. In the early twenties, he wrote a letter to The Sunday Times suggesting that all German music be banned from British programmes and that only English and American music be performed. He told me, quite innocently, that he was surprised how badly this proposal was received and that people he knew were so annoyed that they even went so far as to cut him in the street. He got no followers to pursue his idea and added: “The English composers were the most indignant of all.”
He could never understand why people were so nervous about playing or speaking to him. He himself thought he was ‘a monster of mildness’. Yet he could be severe in his comments. On hearing a certain band playing, he asked me who the conductor was. “That fellow”, he said, “ought to be imprisoned for life.”
Bach was “sewing machine” music. He admired the extraordinary skill of the fugal construction in Mozart's Jupiter Symphony. Beethoven wrote “two or three original symphonies”. All the others were repetitions of the same ideas. He said it was the same with Beethoven's piano sonatas: only a few were outstanding. Handel and Brahms were “the ruination of music in England”.. Schubert and Schumann he dismissed with a wave of the hand. I asked: “What about Schumann's Piano Concerto?” He hated it. “Pure sugar-water.”
He poked great fun at the performance of Wagner's operas. Fat men and women who couldn't embrace one another so large was their girth, and who stood bawling on one spot of the stage for hours in succession. Yet while at Lord Monteagle's seat, Mount Trenchard, with my family, I heard him play the Prelude to “Tristan” from memory with a sensitiveness and delicacy which one can only get from a first rate orchestra.
Whose music did he appreciate? “Vaughan Williams, the greatest of the English composers, Chopin and Liszt.” I asked him: “Surely not Liszt?” “Yes”, he said, “he was a great pioneer and the father of us all.”
When Vaughan Williams opened the Bax Room in University College Cork in 1955, I told him what Arnold had said about his music. To my great embarrassment he asked me: “And whose music do you like best?” After a moment's hesitation and dread, I answered: “I think I like Arnold's music best because he is more romantic.” At which he was all smiles and seemed to like the answer.

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(c) Tilly Fleischmann

(PUBLISHED IN THE BRITISH MUSIC SOCIETY NEWSLETTER 86 June 2000, editor Rob Barnett and on the Bax website)
We gratefully acknowledge the very kind permission of Ruth Fleischmann to print her grandmother's memoirs.