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Thoughts on Aloys Fleischmann by Séamas de Barra

Aloys Fleischmann is unquestionably one of the most important figures in Irish music during the last century.  For complex historical reasons, the tradition of Irish art music has been somewhat retarded in its development compared to elsewhere in Europe.  When Fleischmann was a young man, concert life in Ireland was very restricted as there were so few professional musicians in the country. Educational opportunities were also very limited and there were few composers to speak of. With remarkable vision and enterprise, Fleischmann devoted most of his career to transforming these dispiriting circumstances and creating the conditions in which a national musical life of greater richness could begin to flourish. 

Born of parents who were both distinguished musicians in their own right, Fleischmann read Music, English and German at UCC before completing his studies in Germany between 1932 and 1934.  His brilliant academic gifts were abundantly in evidence even as an undergraduate and on his return to Ireland he was appointed to the Chair of Music in University College Cork at the age of only twenty-four — becoming one of the youngest professors in the history of the National University.  He promptly threw his energies into building up the music department of the College and enriching local musical life by means of a variety of important practical initiatives.  Persuaded that the only means of ameliorating the state of music in Ireland lay with improved education, he sought to recruit graduates who could be sent out into the community as properly equipped music teachers.  He devoted much time to lobbying politicians and campaigning for radical reforms to the primary and secondary school curricula to enhance the provision for the teaching of music, founding the Music Teachers Association in 1935.   He believed passionately that university music departments had a wider commitment to society and to this end sought to foster music making in all its forms in the city. 

CSOIn 1934 he founded the University Orchestra, which he trained to a sufficiently high standard to give regular broadcasts on Radio Éireann (it later became the Cork Symphony Orchestra, which is still in existence).  In 1938, he initiated the Cork Orchestral Society, which brought distinguished national and international performers to the city to participate in its professional concert series.  With the choreographer and dancer Joan Denise Moriarty he established the Cork Ballet Group in 1947 (later becoming the Cork Ballet Company) which eventually enabled the foundation of the professional company Irish National Ballet.  In 1954, he set up the Cork International Choral and Folkdance Festival, which acquired an additional dimension in 1962 with the inauguration of the Seminar on Contemporary Choral Music.  Some of the most distinguished figures in contemporary music accepted commissions to write works for the latter event over the years, including Zoltán Kodaly, Darius Milhaud, William Walton and many others.   

Fleischmann also made an extremely distinguished contribution as a scholar.  In his youth, he produced notable work on medieval Irish liturgical manuscripts, and in 1952 he edited Music in Ireland: A Symposium, a book that is now generally regarded as marking the beginning of modern musicological studies in Ireland. In later years, however, his attention turned increasingly to Irish folk music. His magnum opus is the posthumously published Sources of Irish Traditional Music, a comprehensive annotated catalogue of some 7,000 folk tunes which appeared in print between 1583 and 1855.

Perhaps most importantly, he was also a gifted composer, who left a corpus of work of unusual significance.  His output is not large, but includes orchestral works, several ballets, choral music and songs.  Some of these compositions rank amongst the finest achievements of any Irish composer at this period.  He was one of the first composers to make a serious attempt to evolve a distinctive modernist mode of musical expression derived from Irish folk music and to engage with a variety of themes relating to Irish subject matter, both historical and contemporary.  This aspect of his work offers an intriguing parallel to the activities of generation of Irish writers active during the Irish Literary Renaissance.

Further Reading:

Barra, Séamas de, Aloys Fleischmann (Field Day Music 1), Field Day Publications, Dublin  

Barra, Séamas de, 'Aloys Fleischmann and the Idea of an Irish Composer’, Journal of Music  
 in Ireland, Vol. 5 No.5, September/October 2005, pp. 25-29

Barra, Séamas de,‘Arnold Bax, the Fleischmanns and Cork’, Journal of Music in Ireland
Vol.5 No.1, January/February 2005, pp. 24-30

Cox, Gareth and Klein, Axel eds., Irish Musical Studies 7: Irish Music in the Twentieth 
, Four Courts Press, Dublin 2003

Fleischmann, Aloys, Music in Ireland: A Symposium, Cork University Press, 
Basil Blackwell, Cork and Oxford 1952

Fleischmann, Aloys, Sources of Irish Traditional Music c.1600-1855, 2 Vols., 
Garland Publishing Ltd., New York and London 1998

Fleischmann, Ruth ed., Aloys Fleischmann (1910-1992): A Life for Music in Ireland  
Remembered by Contemporaries
, Mercier Press, Cork and Dublin 2000

Fleischmann, Ruth ed.,Cork International Choral Festival 1954-2004: A Celebration,
Glen House Press, Cork 2004

Fleischmann, Ruth ed., Joan Denise Moriarty: Founder of Irish National Ballet,
Mercier Press and Irish American Book Company, Cork and Colorado1998

Klein, Axel, Die Musik Irlands im 20. Jarhundert, Georg Olms Verlag, Hildesheim 1996