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GERMAN CHOIRS AND ENGINEERS FEATURE IN LEADER COVERAGE FIFTY YEARS AGO

 
 
Leinster Leader 5/9/2008
 
 
GERMAN CHOIRS AND ENGINEERS FEATURE IN LEADER COVERAGE FIFTY YEARS AGO
BY
LIAM KENNY
 
 
The Ireland of the 1950s is often portrayed as having been an insular kind of place with little enthusiasm for contact with the social and cultural trends of the wider world. However two issues of the Leinster Leader, in early autumn 1958, had a decidedly continental tone about them carrying reports of overseas influences in the locality albeit in quite distinct spheres of activity. One report was headed ‘ Germans help in turf harvesting’ and related the impact of German engineering on turf harvesting operations in the Bog of Allen. Another item, of choral rather than turbary interest, reported on a concert of the renowned Munich Boys’ Choir in the Church of Our Lady & St. David in Naas.
 
The front page item paints an atmospheric picture of the visit of the choir to the Naas church: ‘ A large congregation watched the procession of boys in their scarlet and black uniforms as, silently and with obvious reverence, they filed into their semi-circular arrangement on the Epistle side of the Sanctuary. After one of the senior boys had announced the first item, there began a feast of choral music which only a highly trained and perfectly balanced choir can give.’
The choir was under the direction of Herr Fritz Rothschuh who was described as a consummate and enthusiastic choir-master and who encouraged a performance of sublime quality from the choir whose members were all under 18 years of age. Curiously, although it was late August of 1958, the choir began its performance with a selection of Christmas hymns before moving through a repertoire related to the liturgical feasts of the year. The Leader reviewer was clearly impressed but suggested that a greater role by the soprano soloist would have added to perfection to an otherwise quality choral evening: ‘ Once or twice we got tantalising phrases of the soprano in solo in all its innocence, in its effortless and silverlike tone.’ One got the impression that the Leader reporter was tempted to take over the conductor’s baton himself and let the soprano give full voice to his talents: ‘ We appreciate that choirs must be kept fused in their parts, and individuality more or less suppressed but, Oh! Herr Rothschuh how we longed to hear the crystalline, thrilling child-voice in Schubert’s or Gounod’s Ave Maria or Franck’s Panis Angelicus.’
Despite the desire to hear the soloist the correspondent reserved particular praise for the full choir and its rendering of the Stabat Mater: ‘ What will live longest, perhaps, in the memory of the audience is Herr Rothschuh’s own arrangement, and the choir’s superb rendering, of Stabat Mater. All the sorrow, all the passion, all the faith and hope of the Liturgy was here expressed.’
Afterwards, in the church grounds, the choir sang some German folksongs surrounded by an enthusiastic and overwhelming throng of grateful listeners.   The report concluded with a tribute to the renowned Parish Priest of Naas, Very Rev. P J Doyle who had long championed choral singing in the continental style in the parish church of Naas: ‘ Very. Rev. Fr. Doyle is to be congratulated on his enterprise in arranging for the visit of this choir of international status to Naas, and music lovers of County Kildare owe him a debt of gratitude for the unique opportunity of hearing this versatile and talented choir.’
 
Returning to the other story with a germanic connection, the engineering versatility of German engineers in helping harvest Irish bogs was lauded in the columns of the paper. Mr. H. Schnittger, Manager of the Shamrock Turf Company in Edenderry, was described as a German engineer who had contributed much to the development of Irish bogs. Since he came to Ireland first he was a technical advisor to Bord na Mona and had supplied forty-two types of machine which were put in operation at various Irish bogs. Some of the machines were being used by Bord na Mona, some by the Irish sugar company, and others by private bog developers. All the machines were assembled by the Shamrock Company’s staff at Edenderry. And the German engineer’s talents did not stop at turf production as we are told: ‘ Irish farmers may yet be grateful for the inventive genius of this quiet-spoken German, who is perfecting a machine which cuts the grass in a certain way and ejects it on to a trailer.’
 
Clearly the Ireland of the late 1950s was more open to positive European influences than we might think with Germanic high culture featuring in Naas and Germanic high technology featuring in Edenderry.    Series No. 83

In his regular feature 'Nothing New Under the Sun,' Liam Kenny reflects on how the Ireland of the late 1950s was more open to positive European influences than we might think with German high culture featuring in Naas and German high technology featuring in Edenderry.


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