Search this site

powered by FreeFind
Sir Arnold Bax Website
Sir Arnold Bax
Sir Arnold Bax
Sir Arnold bax
Home
Photo Gallery
Biographical Sketch
Score Information
Discography
Interviews
Essays and Articles
Reviews
Links

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

SOME REMINISENCES OF ARNOLD BAX
by Tilly Fleischmann

THE SIR ARNOLD BAX WEB SITE

Last Modified September 1, 2000

GHOST STORIES
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 progress.

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 Nikisch.
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 more technique.

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 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, 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 October.

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 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 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 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.

(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

 

[1] [2] [3] [4]

 

 

Back to Essays and Articles