SOME REMINISENCES OF ARNOLD
by Tilly Fleischmann
THE SIR ARNOLD BAX WEB SITE
Last Modified September 1,
Arnold loved listening to ghost stories. Anne Crowley told us while
we were staying at Vale Cove in 1937 that there was an old man
living up in the hills at Borlin, one of the loneliest districts
near Glengarriffe, and that he had marvellous stories. He was over
eighty years of age, and lived all alone in a little cottage. There
wasn't a living soul anywhere near him. Anne went up to him a few
days beforehand to ask him if she might bring us, and if he would
tell us some stories. He said he would, provided of course that he
was "in the humour for telling them." She had to tell him
who we were, and he said that he wouldn't open his mouth if he
thought we were coming out of curiosity or to make fun of what he
had to relate. Anne reassured him of our integrity. So we purchased
a bottle of whiskey, tobacco and matches and set out on our journey.
It was a lovely drive right up
the mountain. One could see little farms and cottages here and there
far away below in the valley. (Poor Jack Moeran liked Borlin better
than any place in Kerry). We were all keyed up on entering the
cottage. He welcomed us as all these peasants in the west of Ireland
do in a dignified, simple, I might even add, royal manner. He didn't
look his age. I would have thought him about 60 years old. Erect in
figure with a kindly voice, but with extraordinary penetrating eyes.
He spoke in Irish first, and addressed himself to Anne. Then a few
words to us in English. We sat around the turf fire where there was
a cauldron simmering, hanging from a hook. Arnold spoke a few words
to him in Irish, and we did likewise in English. He pulled out an
old clay pipe, signifying that Arnold and Aloys should do the same,
and lit his pipe with a sod of turf. We waited in suspense. No
story. Anne reasoned with him in Irish and in English, so that we
could understand. Not a word out of him even after we had helped him
to some whiskey. He just made ordinary remarks about the weather,
and enquired about some people he and Anne knew. After staying about
an hour or so we went home, he sending us away with the warmest
farewells in both Irish and English. Anne could never make out why
he didn't talk. He was known to be the best storyteller in that part
of Ireland. It was a mystery to her and to us. She saw him a few
times in later years but whenever she asked him what had happened to
him that night that he wouldn't tell us "all sympathetic
people" his life's stories, he gave her no answer.
THE HAUNTED PIECE OF MUSIC
One of the nicest and most intelligent pupils I ever had was M - .
When she came to me she was married and had three children. All her
life she was anxious to study music, but her parents would not allow
her to do so, although she loved it more than any of the other arts.
She was practically a beginner but her innate love of music combined
with a brilliant mind and hard work enabled her to make rapid
After about 5 years of study
one day in 1916 she brought me a piece of music -
"Threnody" (song of lamentation on a person's death). It
was composed by Ludwig Thuille of Munich. Where she got it I don't
know. Technically and musically it was beyond her but as she was so
keen on studying it that I agreed. She told me she wanted to play it
as a surprise for an uncle in Birmingham, the only one in her family
who encouraged her and of whom she was more fond than of her own
parents. This uncle was very musical himself, and a friend of Arthur
There were three movements in the work: Allegro Appassionato, Adagio
and Allegro Molto. She got as far as she could with the first
movement, and after some weeks she said that she would like to study
the Adagio for the next lesson. She didn't turn up for it owing to a
death in the family - that of her uncle! Later on she said she would
never play it now: that it would always remind her of him, of how
she had been looking forward to his hearing it, and how she would
never really recover from the shock and grief of his death. So the
piece was laid aside.
Two years afterwards, early in 1918, she brought it to me again,
saying she liked it better than anything she had ever studied or
heard, and would like to go back and study the first movement. She
thought she might be able to play it better now she had acquired
About a fortnight afterwards
she should have played the Adagio for me. She didn't come, neither
did she telephone, an unusual procedure with her. On my enquiry she
got agitated, wouldn't speak about it, and played a Mozart sonata
instead. From that time onwards I thought she had changed somewhat
towards me, When I asked her about my sister Wally, her answers were
curt and rather hard. I must explain here that Wally was the eldest
in our family of nine children, and was my favourite sister. Besides
having a most angelic character, she was a brilliant scholar, and
after studying at University College Cork, Heidelberg, and the
Sorbonne was appointed Professor of German in Cork. At the outbreak
of the First World War in 1914 she was on holidays with an aunt in
Crefeld, Germany. She couldn't get back to Cork. Sir Bertram Windle,
President of the University, would not accept her resignation, which
she sent him through the War Office, and he told my mother that if
the war lasted ten years he would keep the position open for her.
After the first year of the
war, we heard no more. My husband was interned in January 1916, and
as all prisoners of war were allowed to correspond with their
relatives in Germany he heard from Wally from time to time. After
1918 he ceased mentioning her in his letters to me but he evidently
wrote to M about her. I remember going to see M one afternoon in
May: I went to her especially to get news of Wally. She left the
room abruptly saying she was going into town, and would I come with
her. At that time I had a flat in the Western Road (we had to give
up our home when my husband was interned). Next day about eleven
o'clock after finishing my practising I was going out through the
sitting room door when I saw a huge spider, a "Kreuzspinne"
with a cross on its back, creeping down the wall and it stopped just
near me. I still remember how I shuddered. A few minutes later I saw
Mrs Stockley, and Professor Elizabeth Sullivan coming up the garden
with a large basket of beautiful roses. When I opened the door -
they didn't have to tell me - I knew poor Wally was dead. For years
after I couldn't bear the sight of roses.
Now comes the strange part of the story. The hour that M took out
the Adagio, and was just sitting down to study it her maid brought
her a letter from my husband in the POW camp, telling her that Wally
had died on the 12th January 1918. He told her on no account
whatsoever to let me know until after the church services of the
Holy Week were over (I had the Cathedral Choir while he was
interned). And that was the cause of M's strange behaviour. I was
always asking her for news of my sister. The day I arrived and she
went down to town with me, she went straight to Mrs Stockley at
Woodside and told her that she could stand it no longer. Mrs
Stockley should break the news to me.
Well, "Threnody" was
put aside for the second time until 1920 when one day early in July,
to my amazement, she brought it again. This time I didn't like it.
"Oh" she said, "nothing can happen now". The war
is over and Aloys is coming home in September. What a surprise he
will get when I play for him!" So she started the Adagio for
the third time, and came to play it for me at the following lesson.
I shall never forget it. It was as if she had written it herself.
She played it in perfect time and rhythm, and with an extraordinary
depth of feeling and concentration. I couldn't make one suggestion.
It was incredible for she really was not advanced enough in her
playing to play it at all. She was delighted with herself and so was
I with her.
We had a "Play Day"
as usual the last week of July. M was third on the programme. She
had asked me if I would allow her to leave out the other two
movements, and play only the Adagio. A strange request - however I
agreed. These play days were always held in my home, the pupils
waiting below in the sitting room until their turn came.
The music room door was opened, and she came in. She was dressed in
a deep red silk afternoon gown. No ornaments of any kind. Her face
was as pale as death, but I had never seen her look so beautiful.
She looked like someone from another world. And so was her playing.
It was not M - it was her spirit - and that was the last time she
put her fingers on a piano.
She went to London on a visit
to her sister a few days afterwards, in the best of health and
spirits. On her return from there she was taken ill and never
recovered. She died on November 10th 1920 in her 33rd year. May she
rest in peace. After hearing this story Arnold said to me:
"You must write that story and call it the 'Haunted Piece of
Music'." Later he told me he had incorporated the mood into his
Sixth Symphony - or was it in his Threnody and Scherzo? - it is so
long ago now I forget which.
CHOPIN PRELUDE No 15
This story has no direct connection with Arnold, but he and Jack
Moeran were the very first people I told it to. They were very much
impressed, and Arnold said it was the most extraordinary and
interesting ghost story that he had ever heard, and that I should
write it down. Arnold knew Doctor H personally, the latter having
driven him to some beauty spots in Kerry in 1930 and judging from
the doctor's character he knew that the story was a true one.
Dr H. was a well known medical practitioner in Cork. He came to
study with me when he was well over middle age. He was passionately
fond of music, and had been playing all his life, but had never
studied music seriously. Owing to his mature mind, deft fingers and
artistic temperament he got on remarkably quickly. He was the only
professional gentleman in Cork who ever gave a public piano recital.
He gave it for the Art Society of the University in 1931. His
programme was of Mozart's Sonata in A (K330) and Chopin's 24
Preludes. Some years before this event he was studying the Preludes
with me. One day he came to his lesson as usual and I told him to
bring the 15th Prelude for the next one. I didn't see him for some
weeks, and when he returned to resume his work he brought me No 16.
I said: "What about No 15; I haven't heard that yet". He
said curtly: "I can't play it". I was surprised, and was
just going to ask him why, when he interrupted me and said, I
thought rather rudely: "I am not going to study it." It
was so unlike him, I couldn't understand it. However I said no more,
although I felt rather annoyed. I would like to say here that Dr H
was a quiet self-possessed gentleman, not an emotional, airy or
romantic character. Being a surgeon and a scientist in his own
particular branch of work (gynaecology) he had his head well on his
shoulders, in fact to people who didn't know him he seemed rather a
Philistine. But he was always appreciated as one of Cork's best and
most conscientious doctors.
About two years afterwards we
had finished the Preludes, and he was working on a Beethoven sonata,
when one day he said he would like to study Prelude No 15 for his
recital. I had forgotten the incident in relation to it, but he
reminded me of his apparent rudeness and refusal to study it.
"Well," he said, "it is only now that I can tell you
the cause of my behaviour. I had a terrible experience and it upset
me so much I thought I should never recover from it. But I have and
now I will tell you my story."
"Some years after the
first world war, my best friend, of the same age as myself, retired
from the Army and bought an estate near Cork, a lovely house with
some land and a farm. He came to see me the day he went to live
there, and said: "As soon as I am settled down you must come
and spend a weekend with me."
"To my surprise, two days
afterwards I got a wire asking me to come and see him at once. I
thought he might have been taken ill although he always enjoyed rude
health, and I had never seen him looking better and happier than
when we parted two days before.
"I arrived in time for
luncheon and he was delighted to see me. On my enquiry about his
health he said he had never felt better. Well, he showed me over the
attractive lovely old house. I then said I must be going as they
were expecting me at home but he asked me as a great favour to stay
for tea, which I did. After tea I got up ready to go, but he
implored me to stay for dinner. I looked at him closely but he
showed no trace of anxiety or worry of any kind.
"However I stayed for
dinner, he enjoying the good food as much as I did. After dinner I
said I must really be going now. They would be wondering at home
what was keeping me. He begged me to stay a little longer. We spoke
about old times when we studied together at Oxford, mutual friends
etc etc. It was coming near midnight and I said determinedly that I
must go immediately - he implored me to stay and for the first time
I noticed that he had become agitated.
"At about half past
twelve he came down the broad staircase with me to the hall door.
There was a porch outside it with glass windows, flowers and plants.
The hall door was open. Half way down the stairs I saw a figure
standing in the porch. "My goodness," I said, "what
an hour to have a visitor!" He trembled and pushed me over
towards the figure. It was a monk with his cowl over his head. He
had his back towards me but he slowly began to turn round. I felt
that at that moment if I saw his face and looked into his eyes I was
a dead man. So with all my strength of mind and will I grasped my
friend by the arm, and rushed him upstairs. We were both in a state
of collapse. I looked around for some brandy, and though we were
both teetotallers, I made my friend drink some.
"He told me that the
first day he spent in the house was a happy and uneventful one. He
was busy all day and it was late, long after midnight that he went
downstairs to close the hall door. (The porch door was locked much
earlier on). He saw a figure standing in the porch and asked him
rather indignantly what he was doing there at this time of night.
There was no answer but the figure began to turn around slowly. Then
he had exactly the same experience as myself. He couldn't move and
felt chilled to the bone.
He rushed back upstairs
shivering all over, and couldn't make out what had happened to him.
He never thought of a ghost because he didn't believe that such
existed. He reasoned with himself. Was he overworked or overstrained
- was he going mad? So he determined to go down again the same time
the next night and see what this was all about. He had the same
experience. He was transfixed. He tore himself away without looking
at the figure. He felt ill and spent a sleepless night. Next morning
he thought perhaps it was all imagination although he could not
recall anything like that having ever happened to him before. So he
determined to send me a wire, thinking: If H sees nothing, then it
must be an overstrained mind.
"I stayed the night with
him. Neither of us slept, but when in the morning the sun shone
through the windows of the lovely old house, we felt normal again
but not cheerful.
"I had to leave after
breakfast, as patients were waiting for me in Cork. But I wired as
soon as I got there to his brother to come at once, as the matter
was an urgent one. He didn't arrive until the following morning, not
being able to get away earlier. Next day at luncheon I received a
wire saying that my friend was dead. He was found sitting in an
armchair in the drawing-room, fully dressed. At the coroner's
inquest the verdict was "heart attack". But I knew that
that was not the cause. Whether he went down into the hall again or
whether the figure appeared in the room, nobody will ever know.
"When you suggested the
15th Prelude you had already told me of its origin when you spoke of
the tradition connected with the monks of Valdemosa and I couldn't
bear the thought of playing it."
Some time ago I met Dr H in town. He told me the house was closed
up, and so were all the rooms except a few on the ground floor at
the back and that an old rector and his wife lived there. He knew
them personally. They had often asked him to come and see them but
he couldn't go within miles of the place. He also told me where the
house was and the name of the old couple, but asked me not to
disclose either name or place for the present.
THE 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
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, Maigread, 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
On Saturday, Seamus, Maigread,
Aloys Og 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 Og'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 Og 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
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 Og 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
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
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
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
(c) Tilly Fleischmann
I gratefully acknowledge the
very kind permission of Ruth Fleischmann to post her grandmother's
memoirs on the Sir Arnold Bax Web Site. I would also like to thank
my good friend Colin Scott Sutherland who acted as intermediary to
make contact with Ruth. You may like to note that Tilly
Fleischmann's book "Aspects of the Liszt Tradition" ed.
Michael O'Neill is available from Roberton Publications, The
Windmill, Wendover, Aylesbury, Bucks HP22 6JJ (price £12.00). This
book represents a selection from a much larger work now in the
Archives of the University College, Cork, with the Fleischmann
Papers. Rob Barnett
  
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