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SOME REMINISENCES OF ARNOLD BAX
by Tilly Fleischmann

THE SIR ARNOLD BAX WEB SITE

Last Modified September 1, 2000

DINGLE PENINSULA (Nonet)
In the late Autumn of 1938, Arnold, Aloys, Aloys Og and I were motoring with Arnold in the kingdom of Kerry. This time he told us early in the afternoon that he would like to hear the first broadcast performance of his Nonet. He was doubtful whether we could get any reception "so far west". We arranged to be back in time. As far as I can remember the broadcast was at 9.30 pm. On our return journey, however, we lost our way and had no notion of where we were. It began to rain. The night became dark and stormy and it poured in torrents. After driving about for some time in and out of laneways that led to nowhere we saw lights shining through the trees at the end of an avenue. We drove up to the house and I rang the bell, (with fear and trepidation, I must confess). After some minutes a maid opened the door and I enquired if I might see the lady of the house. At that moment she came down the stairs. I told her our story. She invited us all in, but not without an air of uneasiness. And no wonder. We were all carelessly dressed and it was just not the time for a visit from complete strangers, the rain and the storm adding to the queer situation.

We were taken to the library, where there was a crystal set with earphones. As with the Fourth Symphony, we were just in time. The transmission could not have been better. It was as if the nine players were in the room. The atmosphere outside had evidently something to do with it. And what a lovely work it was: exquisite lyrical music. Arnold was delighted with the performance. We got up to leave immediately afterwards although the lady was kind enough to offer us food and drink. When we came into the hall two children came running down the stairs in flowing nightdresses with autograph books tucked under their arms. Their mother had evidently told them whose music we were listening in to. A gentleman also appeared: a parson, the lady's husband, for the house was a rectory. I told him we came from Cork. He said: "Perhaps you know my brother, the Rev Mr Hobson, head teacher at the grammar school." I said: "Indeed we do. He lives quite near us." He smiled and said: "When you meet him again greet him for me, and tell him of your adventure." Which I did, to his great amusement and pleasure.

STAIGUEFORT
Many years ago, I think it was in 1931, Arnold, my husband, Aloys Og and I were motoring in Kerry. En route we stayed at the Staiguefort Hotel near Sneem. We had not been there more than a few hours when a messenger arrived with a letter from the Hon Mrs Broderick (a sister of Lord Middleton) inviting us all to afternoon tea. Arnold hesitated to go, so I did not press him. And of course my husband, who loathes all kinds of parties, was only too delighted to have the excuse of having to keep Arnold company. So Aloys Og and I sauntered forth alone. When we arrived at the hospital - a huge rather ugly structure, which Miss Broderick had built for wounded soldiers in 1914 - the big gate that led right into the kitchen was open. A long table surrounded by wooden chairs was set for tea. On it there were large mugs without handles, evidently some kind of Irish pottery; also wooden platters with lovely white and brown home-made bread.

There was no sign of our hostess or of anyone. We began to feel slightly embarrassed and wondered what we should do. We saw no bell or knocker anywhere. However after a little while our hostess appeared through a door in the kitchen and welcomed us very warmly indeed. She was dressed in the costume of a Princess Christian nurse and was very charming and simple, as most true aristocrats are. I thought she might have been in her middle fifties.
After a most delicious tea with home-made butter and heather honey Miss Broderick opened a drawer in the table and took out some pamphlets, which she handed us to read. It was Republican anti-treaty literature and written in the most violent language denouncing "traitors, cowards" etc. She mentioned Michael Collins, the "arch-conspirator." That gallant soldier had been ambushed and shot some time after the conclusion of the Treaty and I had felt terribly sorry for him. I said poor Michael Collins had to accept the Treaty to prevent his people being completely eliminated, and surely to goodness Ireland had suffered enough deaths having lost her noblest and best sons. Also that he probably accepted the Treaty as a stepping stone, hoping that in the years to come partition would be abolished. This brought forth some very heated remarks from Miss Broderick. She said she was greatly surprised to hear me talk like that. She had heard from Mary MacSwiney that I was a great friend of hers and Terence's - her brother the Lord Mayor of Cork, who had died on hungerstrike in Brixton Prison in 1920 - and that she had thought I was wholeheartedly with the cause. I answered that naturally every Irish woman would have sympathy with the ideals of Ireland's heroes and martyrs but personally I thought that there was nothing more tragic than fraternal strife and that when peace came I felt relieved. I added that artists seldom take part or interest in politics; that they live principally for their work, that questions of nationality or politics didn't interest them, that it was the individual and what he stood for that was of importance. After this Miss Broderick took her pamphlets from me and put them back into the drawer. From then onwards the atmosphere was a bit strained.
Suddenly there was a noise of wheels on the gravel outside, and in came a lady with a bicycle who might just have stepped out of Denis Johnston's play "Moon on the Yellow River". She was of medium size, and had short clipped hair, wore dark glasses, was dressed in plain tailor-made tweed suit and spoke in a rather loud high-pitched voice, with a pronounced English accent. We were introduced. I don't remember her name. She took little notice of us, and only spoke to Miss Broderick, who offered her a cup of tea. Shortly afterwards our party broke up, and Miss Broderick accompanied us up the hill outside the hospital. On the right there was a field with a ditch running up the whole way. When looking over there casually, I thought I saw rifles on the ditch. I looked more carefully, and to my amazement six or eight heads appeared on top, and the rifles were pointed at us. I laughed and said to Miss Broderick: "I hope they are not going to shoot us." "Oh no," said Miss Broderick seriously, "these men are always on the alert when any strangers appear. It is only a matter of practice for them."
Returning to the hotel in a rather excited frame of mind, we were glad that Arnold and my husband had not come with us. I heard later that Miss Broderick had "gone native". Hence the kitchen which served as reception and dining room. The chairs were very comfortable. I cannot remember now if they were the traditional sugan chairs made of woven straw. But the cups were impracticable: one couldn't drink hot tea without burning one's fingers. I was told too that Miss Broderick besides being "a great patriot" was the kindest and most charitable person that ever lived among those people. She had a little store near the village where only home made goods were sold: hand knitted woollen articles, mugs, baskets, chairs, every kind of article made by the villagers and people in other parts of Ireland. This gave employment and encouraged people to stay at home. So we left Staiguefort full of admiration for Miss Broderick and felt rather sorry that she should have been so disappointed in us.

AT THE ROCK OF CASHEL
(The following anecdotes illustrate Arnold's dual personality.)
Once I told him that I could never understand why England didn't abandon partition, that an all-Irish Republic would stand shoulder to shoulder with her in any trouble. He answered jocosely that "England couldn't trust Ireland" that the latter might turn round and conquer her. That remark reminded me of an amusing story and I told him how an old priest, Dr Hennebrey, a Celtic scholar, related that when he was dining in New York one day, a waiter serving him at dinner said "In fifty years time England will be Ireland's coaling station." I took it as a joke, but to my surprise Arnold seemed both annoyed and upset. He had a dual personality. His loyalty remained with England but his heart was in Ireland.

In 1933 Maura O'Connor took Arnold, my husband and myself to see the Rock of Cashel. I had never been there before and knew nothing of its history. We wandered round the place admiring the Hiberno-Romanesque architecture with the wonderful 10th century Cormac's chapel, reading the inscriptions on the old tombstones etc. After some time a man came on the scene, I think he must have been an official guide. He spoke to us and gradually unfolded the history of the church. We were all most interested but when he came to the massacre of the women and children within its walls, I noticed Arnold getting very uneasy. In fact it was the only time I ever saw him change colour. Only then did I realise how painful the story was for him. I tried to interrupt the man and put him off the track, but I didn't succeed and he kept on until he had finished his tale.When we gathered to leave the rock Arnold was missing. We searched for him for nearly an hour. Finally Moira found him in a field a good bit away and in a very agitated and depressed condition. She brought him back to the car, and we drove home talking about everything and anything to distract him but it was useless.
For some days after this episode he didn't return to his old self. He knew the history of Ireland and in 1916 he felt it was a repetition of what had gone on centuries before. Hence his striking patriotic and fiery poem which he wrote under the name of Dermot O'Byrne beginning with the lines:

 O write it up above your hearth
 and troll it out to sun and moon
 To all true Irishmen on earth
 arrest and death comes late or soon.

 

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