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Fleischmann's Personality

AFAM ballHe encountered much opposition in his many crusades; his attitude towards adversaries was determined by a rare insight: the ability to distinguish in a controversy between the person and the issue. That meant he could remain on cordial terms with people whose policies and courses of action he deplored and was vigorously combating. This was confirmed to me recently by one of the people with whom he had serious conflict. Perhaps the bitterest disappointment of his life was the Arts Council's withdrawal of funding from Irish National Ballet, an undertaking for which he had prepared the ground since the 1940s together with the valiant pioneer of dance, Joan Denise Moriarty.

He considered the Council's decision a gross error of judgement, a damaging blow to the arts in Ireland and a crass example of cultural discrimination of the regions perpetrated by an unaccountable public institution. The chairman of the Council at that time was Adrian Munnelly. He has told me that after the cessation of funding to Irish National Ballet, he continued to have close contact and friendly personal and professional relations with Fleischmann despite their differences over the withdrawal of support for the Cork Choral Festival and Cork-based Irish National Ballet, indeed that he had "great affection for him".
Fleischmann's presumption of the integrity of his opponents was not a tactical trick: he never spoke ill of them as people, though he would wax eloquently on their woeful views and policies.

Even in the few cases where he personally was subjected to mean-spirited behaviour and indignity, he continued in the interest of the issue at stake to cooperate with those who had injured him. He never discussed with the family what this cost him: we found awe-inspiring the strength of character which enabled him to stand above and disregard personal hurt in the service of the greater good. His strong sense of mission did not give rise to any notions of grandeur as to his own role: he saw himself as a servant of his cause, not as a prophet. When speaking in public of himself he made a point of underlining his ordinariness. For instance, when asked on a radio interview about his experience as a composer, how he coped if a composition was not well received, he spoke of the disappointment and self-doubt that ensued, but went on to describe it in terms of a man who puts a bet on a horse that doesn't win. The image is not that of the Misunderstood Artist, but of the common man who has taken a risk and lost out.

One of his teaching aims was to impart his own sense of mission to his students: he could not envisage his graduates regarding their profession as music teachers as a mere livelihood. On a radio programme produced by Donna O'Sullivan after his death, an unnamed student said of him: "He always asked those of us who were from the country not to stay in the city where we qualified, but to return home and give children back something of what we had got from him: to present music to them in a manner that would give them a love for it ... and bring the excitement of the whole thing to children."
His sense of duty prevailed until the end.

Fleischmann Office An image of him remembered by his daughter Maeve illustrates this. After his wife’s death in October 1990, he lived alone in the big old house with the stream running through the garden and under the kitchen. The house was flooded several times, and one tempestuous night in winter after a week of heavy rains, his daughter came up around midnight to check how high the stream was. She found the entire house in darkness, but from the back lawn saw a light in the study: the solitary desk lamp illuminated the dome of her father's head as he sat engrossed in his work, oblivious to the lateness of the hour, to the raging storm, the torrential downpour and the threat to his home. During his last weeks, his powers of concentration prevailed over exhaustion, nausea and intense pain. The frail figure sat at the dining room table, the large volumes of collected folk music piled up around him, checking the print-out of his magnum opus, Sources of Irish Traditional Music, although he was almost too weak to move the heavy tomes, and every movement caused him agony. He was proud that his fulfilled and happy life remained a working one – until three days before his death.

It is no coincidence that the Irish song he chose for the audience to sing at his last children's concert in February 1992 was Amhrán Dóchais, the Song of Hope. The text is by the Cork Celtic scholar of Danish ancestry, Osborn Bergin, one of the founding members of the Gaelic League; the music was Fleischmann's own arrangement. The song – which he believed would make a far better national anthem than The Soldiers' Song – can be read as a personal farewell and an expression of what he stood for:

Slán go deo le brón is buairt,
Slán gan mhoill d'ár gcuimhne dhuairc,
Canaim laoithe dóchais i dteangain binn na Fódhla
'Gus seassaimís go beomhar ós comhair an t-saoil!

Farewell forever to sorrow and care
Farewell at once to bitter laments.
Let's sing a song of hope
In the sweet tongue of our forefathers
And stand bravely before the world.