Frank Corcoran

irish composer


As found in the Oxford Music Online encyclopedia (only accessible through universities):

Corcoran has developed a distinct and complex language of aleatory macro-counterpoint

in which sound layers are superimposed polyphonically but retain independence through

distinctive polymetric, agogic and dynamic indications. This technique is evident from

the early Piano Trio (1978) to Ice Etchings no.1 and Mad Sweeney (both 1996). His

many cultural interests are reflected in the texts of his vocal works; the opera

Gilgamesh (1990), for example, is based on a Sumerian epic. The Irische Mikrokosmoi

for piano (1993) are based on traditional Irish melodies and rhythms.


This is what I wrote on Facebook (your picture and the first lines of the cmc report

come on screen)

> I know this is from last year, but thinking back on his sublime

Music for the Book of Kells and Trauerfelder/Goirt an Bhróin/Fields of Sorrow

at the Hugh Lane Gallery last December,

which reduced members of the audience (including this scribe) to tears,

I really think his international recognition should be more widely known in


Yes, it’s ‘Art Music.’ Yes, it may take a few listens to adjust the ear.

But the rewards are great.

I’m rather proud he’s my third cousin!

He will be 70 this year, so it’s no better time to discover him if you haven’t



0:00 Prisma Musik

Thema: Kleine Schule des musikalischen Hörens

Frank Corcoran hört das Cellokonzert von Edward Elgar

“Elgars langsame Passagen zerreißen mich innerlich gerade … Es ist wie das Destillat einer Träne”, gestand Jacqueline du Pré einmal, die vielleicht berühmteste Interpretin dieses Werks. Kurz nach dem Ersten Weltkrieg entstand das Cellokonzert, das man einmal die “Elegie auf eine untergegangene Zivilisation” genannt hat, in der ländlichen Abgeschiedenheit seines Landhauses in Sussex. Das Werk markiert gleichsam den Gegenpol zu “Pomp and Circumstance” in Elgars Schaffen, eine Musik des Abschieds, verhaltener und sparsamer in den Mitteln als alle Orchesterwerke der Vorkriegszeit.

20:00 Nachrichten, Wetter

22:00 Variationen zum Thema

Musikbeispiele zum Themenabend

Edward Elgar:
Konzert für Violoncello und Orchester e-Moll op. 85
Steven Isserlis, Violoncello
Philharmonia Orchestra London
Leitung: Paavo Järvi
Klavierquintett a-Moll op. 84
Pihtipudas Kvintetti

Frank Corcoran:

Martin Johnson, Violoncello

RTE National Symphony Orchestra

Leitung: Gavin Maloney



back to ….


8 IRISH DUETS Cello and Piano


3 PIECES Violin and Piano

LOSING SEAHENGE Film by James P. Graham

CELLO CONCERTO ( NSO / Martin Johnson )

QUASI UNA STORIA 13 Strings ( New York )



MY ALTO RHAPSODIES ( Contralto and Orchestra )

A DARK SONG Bass Clarinet

VARIATIONS ON MYSELF ( 5 Strings and 5 Wind. NYC North South )

5 TENORLIEDER Tenor and Piano

9 LOOKS AT “PIERROT” V / Cello / Pno / Fl / Clar

7 MINIATURES Solo Violin ( Gravesend. Luigi Di Filippi, Vln. )

3 PIECES Piano and Violin

QUASI UN GRAN DUO Cello and Harp


4 PIECES 2 Clarinets


CONCERTO for Violin and Orchestra

SONGS OF TERROR AND LOVE Barytone plus Ensemble




QUINTET for Clarinet and String Quartet ( RTE Recording )

QUASI UNA SARABANDA String Quintet, Clarinet, Horn, Bassoon

( Plus many radio broadcasts, portraits, “Different Voices” study , Festschrift

Frank Corcoran etc….. )



Slow Mov. ( 2012. Irish Nat. Symphony Orch., Christopher Warren-Green , Soloist

Alan Smale . RTE rec. )

SWEENEY’S VISION 1997 WDR commission, won the 1999 Bourges Festival premier Prix

TRAUERFELDER for 4 Percussion ( 1995 Hamburg Culture Senator

commissioned for 50 years of Auschwitz liberation ) .

Scherzo Mov. ( 2015 Irish N.S.O, Kenneth Montgomery, Soloist : Martin Johnson .

for 18 Strings ( 2007 Irish Chamber Orchestra / Anthony Marwood. Limerick

Cathedral . Shannon Festival.)

New Music from Ireland
A concert of Irish composers’ music in Cardiff takes place this St Patrick’s Day featuring Emma Coulthard, Benjamin Dwyer, and Jenn Kirby performing works by Frank Corcoran, Fergus Johnston, John Buckley, John McLachlan and Benjamin Dwyer. The event is presented in partnership with CMC.

More on the event here.


It was thirty bleeding years ago, my break-through year.
I wrote that opening page for piano solo with bleeding fingers; it had to re-invent rhythm, to fight against 0ur Western tyranny of the period. I succeeded. T
hen comes the cello with its own tempo , gestures and persona. The violin is a different actor again. I had invented – for me – macrocounterpoint, no longer note against note, but layer or musical flow against layer or flow.
( I don´t necessarily ” like” the sound of the classical piano trio, the two strings having to compromise with the tempered tuning of their a powerful piano – only with this hard-won freedom of MY layered approach could I , I felt, accept the sonorities of this deeply compromised mini-orchestra ). Out of the boiling miasma erupted bits of that Brahms theme. Yet, before it takes over too powerfully, it´s gone again- quasi una visione . This early work of mine I love for its poised layers and polytemporal richness of sonorities and gestures and lines.

QUASI UNA MISSA , after ” Balthazar´s Dream ( Berlin 1980 ) and
the Bourgs Festival Premier Prix-winning ” Sweeney´s Vision” ( West German Radio commission of 1997 ) , was my third electro-acoustic composition ( Commissioned by West German Radio 1999.
It won the 2002 Swedish E.M.S. Prize ) . Like all my ” quasi- ” works of the late nineties and since, it is a composition of this composer who is musically no longer innocent; I know – sadly – too much world-music, too much music of our Western polyphonic tradition.
I wanted to use – for my four movements – ( – but they´re only ” Quasi” KYRIE, GLORIA – CREDO , SANCTUS, AGNUS DEI ! ) as my building-blocks two thousand years of Irish God-utterances from our Irish island ,
bits of texts from the Celtic god, Aimhirgín, up through Eriugena and Mac Giolla Bride and Berkeley to Beckett and Joyce and God-only-knows what else,
an Irish stew of Irish theology, a musical archaeology of 2000 years of religious tradition.
My ” KYRIE” ( – abbreviated commas, please ! ) is my homage to Palestrina and to our Western chanted counterpoint, as my sacred syllables fugue towards a magic ” Amen!” St. Patrick beats with bony wrist St. Patrick´s Bell.
Quasi- GLORIA has the Wake´s Thunder-word and Glendalough bird-song ( – yes, authentic recordings !
Here , fetishism is all ! ) and a total theophantic eruption, Bronze Age Irish horns from the National Museum, halo and awe.
My Quasi- SANCTUS cooks a heady mix of 20th. c. God-statements plus 7th. c. St. Columbanus´s Latin ” Heia! ” – Chorus ,
his monks rowing backwards up the mighty Rhine from Cologne ( beside whose great Gothic cathedral I mixed my music ) .
Quasi- AGNUS DEI sums up : Irish sorrow, joy, the nunc stans, lullaby and dance and Aran Island keening old women , port- a-bheil , in short my Irish Circus ( – Ciao ! John Cage ! No ! ! ! ) Quasi.

Thanks for checking for the Joycespeak CD, and also for sending those other suggestions. Each of these other works might be a little long for the programme we have in mind, in so far as they might dominate the other programme items by their shear weight and duration. I’ll double check with CMC about Joycespeak.



Frank Corcoran. ( 4.2.2014 Hamburg )

I often reason it out thus: like music, I am a temporal creature , I see seventy years of my life as a kind of performances, – performance here being analogous to that of theatre, tthat of certain kinds of conceptual art .
My lived seventy years seem from yet another angle , my „ notes written on water „ , also akin to sand-art perhaps , like the snow sculptures of the certain North Greenlanders ( – am I making this up? Certainly…. Why not ? ) My life as a
„sicut fumus „ kind-of-thing arts .
As many an other rural Irish child of the time I , too, must have been sensitive to the sounds of North Tipperary nature. ( I´ll
do the re-telling of mother´s 100 pigs and my 2. Symphony later. )
I certainly was blown away by Yeats´s „ For the wet winds are blowing / High up on Cloothnabare „ ; – my child´s cochlea already knew this . ) . Our Borris saw-mill whined danger, of course, and there was the rhythmic skurting of cows´ whitish milk into the scoured milk-bucket. My childhood was full of immense, loud goings on with sheep and cows and banbhs and sows in our farm-yards.
It is not my intention here to manufacture various Seamus Heaneyesqueries between the early composed music and our farm sound-scape .
Certainly there was that ; but there was more. eg. I sang in our little school , I clapped my hands, I slapped my body around, I produced tones on tin-whistle and box-accordeon.
One private thing I was proud of: I surely did patent Corcoran´s Hands And Feet Composition Plan – I used my right or left fingers ( while pedalling down the country boreens ) to register just newly learned melody-tones; then I had the principle three toes of the left or right foot for the few basic chords I had just learned ; so it was – fingers melody, left or right foot harmony.
And every Tuesday was Fair Day; on Borrisokane´s Main Street our country roarer, Paddy Reddan, ´d roar out all his „come all yez „ ; mostly pentatonic.

Early enough I wanted to write songs, set poets, compose vocal music ( – a Quintet for accordeon and strings of my sixties in Rome was a disaster – I couldn´t get the form of the three movements ; my experience of sound was pitiful , nor had I any knowledge of musical densities ) ;
quite simply, text was always a powerful help . ( To compose one minute of music is hard, but to compose five is much harder )
I loved solo and choral singing, my own breath
and the choir´s plastic lines and chords, dark, light, densities, slender or thickly matted , high dives and depths, dark/ bright colours , Protean shapes.

DÁN AIMHIRGÍN of 1971 ( – I must have been the first Irish composer ever to use this Early Irish poem, a pantheistic God-litany; quite thrilling its climax ) calls for eight second altos improvising on the low C with the words „ Am „ „ gaoth „, „ gaoth i muir“, ( „ I am the wind on the sea“ , – Celtic God Aimhirgin´s self-definition in Iron Age Ireland ; His final „Am Brí Dána „ / „ I Am This Meaning“ – analogous to the Genesis „ Eheye Asher Eheye „ ) , then another eight altos murmuring these magic syllables on the D, eight second sopranoes on the E and then all first sopranoes on F Sharp. A vibrating, humming whole-tone chord. Then , as the high tenors enter on the G above these thirty two women´s voices with the „ Gaoth“ , my choral effect is magical .
A simple, fresh choral idea. But excellent.
Then the 1994 MEDIEVAL IRISH EPIGRAMMES which set short Japanese Haiku-like miniatures from our Irish
Middle Ages , eg. Take : „All are keen to sleep with blond Aideen . All Aideen herself will own / Is that she will not sleep alone…. „ .
Thirty years later , other terse-like texts were to spark off NINE WAYS OF LOOKING AT AN IRISH POEM BY GABRIEL ROSENSTOCK . Listen !
„ As tobar duaigh spéire / Líonann crainn / A ngoib“ .

And here I had a solo violin introduce , separate , commingle with my nine choruses.
Simple, but only after you´ve composed it. How then later would I set a for large polyphonic choir my 2012 EIGHT HAIKUS ( this time the Haikus were my own ) ?
How was I to handle texts like the Frank Corcoran haiku :
„ Deep purple twilight / In the bay lie three islands / Asleep like children „ ?

So vocal music you can hang onto the peg of the text, of the words.
But what about instrumental music, then ?
My 1974 THREE PIECES FOR ORCHESTRA ( „Scenes from My Receding Past „ ) I had the chance to re-programme years later in an Dublin orchestral concert of 2000 along with my SECOND SYMPHONY ; well , I was delighted – after over twenty five years, still fresh sounds, it was still acts of youthful courage in painting symphonic . Yes. It´s stretch your colour imagination; let the expanding forms create, explode .
Of course the musical ideas come from all over the place. The PIANO TRIO of 1977 was my break-through with macro-counterpoint ; it too dares new colours and its not quite arch-form
singing and sputtering and blazing and searing and singeing whatever it was that I had wanted to singe . A short time later I got this macro-counterpoint , the wind polyphony which I wanted into the WIND QUINTET.
That´s it. ( About the four symphonies, I´ll writhe much later. )
became clear to me that music was a metaphor, of course, for transience –
so expression and self-expression, fine, but how do you get rid of the „ I „ in the sound – forgeing ?

The computer-painted works were different again . My 1980 BALTHAZAR´S DREAM ( – why didn´t I then call it „ BALTHAZAR´S SCREAM „ ? ) , generated by the terror of Borges´s minor masterpiece , „The Gospel According to St. Mark „ – I spliced together at the Electronic Studios of
the West Berlin Technical University.
And that Guantanamo scream bursts out again twenty years later – in my digital TRADURRE TRADIRE
of 2002 for Deutschlandfunk.
Its electronic predecessors, both WDR commissions, SWEENEY´S VISION in 1997 and QUASI UNA MISSA in 1999 went on to win , respectively, the Bourges Festival Premier Prix in 1999 and the Swedish E.M.S. Prize in 2002 . Was that important for this composer ?
Of course !
Mol an óige. Encourage and praise good work . It was desperately needed in them for me bad, bad nineties.
It is the isolation. It is courage. Put the head down, progress and shove. Slap it down. Write. ( Brahms to his only ever composition student: „ You must write, write, Every day! Don´t worry about its quality ; write it all down. But stop worrying about the weak stuff – the stove will look after that…. „
Create. Burst. – All words I´d use in struggling to write about my life-long working with sound. A sound man .
It took me thirty years to see that I´d often used as a ( – unconscious, of course ) musical motive in many of my works the melodic motif
C D and E ( or Doh / Re / Mi / ) . Why ? Because they are the initial „ Requiem“ tones
in the Gregorian Mass for the Dead.
Says it all, does it ? Music as metaphors , as distress and help signals, your call into the tomb. Music as Orpheus myth. – All of this , of course, after we ´ve accepted music first as play, music as tone- carpentry , as sounding architecture.

Lutoslawski died on Monday 7. February 1994 , over twenty years ago. What courage – what exemplary musical and human courage was there in his life as a composer . You´ve got to be tough nowadays .
Myriad temptations beckon; among the most vicious are: The Genetic Fallacy ( „ Her compositions derive from her life…. „ – though , mind you, they also do…. ) or „ A Musical Work´s Worth = Its Performance“ ( Thus eg. „ My music is good because it´s played…. „, then with its charming little corollary: „ My music´s played, therefore it´s good. „ . Well, is it good? Why? ).
With the recent Concerto for Violin and then the Concerto for Violoncello, maybe I´ve sneaked around the full circle ( -my cycle of fifths ? ) and the newer instrumental works want to sing even more.
I´d like to write a Clarinet Concerto, to have a shot at an Alto Rhapsody. I´d compose a Fourth String Quartet . If .
Music to ravish. The pure line AND the pure drop, the vertical AND horizontal, sounding densities PLUS the reeling , sonorous line ( – which itself might be built out of various sub-lines ) .
It´s easier to talk than to compose .
Getting harder, too, to avoid self-quotation .
What´s left to be original about ?
Perhaps plenty. I won´t know till I do it.
At the Zagreb Biennale 2013 they did my ancient PIANO TRIO, that young Zagreb Piano Trio, huge, warm sounds from all the three players. My original scaffolding held firm, strong, because I´d built it well in 1977.
Scream and song. Surge or soar. How to get the ecstasy into the mix and wash, I continuously wonder ?
In order to make the structure secure, steady, ready .
Composing is better than decomposing, they say ; it seems to defie the second law of thermodynamics.
No bad thing this ?


Do not weaken or waver.

Keep going. Hear the musical forms.

Write them for a potential audience.
But first write for me.
For inner hearing. For the serenity of meaning . Value.

Perhaps there never ever was even a modest wave of support , understanding or acceptance here for New Music in our post-war 20 c. ? Perhaps all I had was those brave
moral heroes of the Second Viennese School before the Nazi thirties ? ( – Schoenberg’s hasty departure, Berg’s early death and Webern ‘s total lonely
loon in his Austrian Alps ?

Since then you had (im)modest little footlings of composers in Munich and Berlin , WDR’s blandishments in the sixties and seventies ( I am bracketing out Poland and Paris here, also Ligeti’s Luck ) ?

Certainly here in Ham and Burg the woeful few Hogskool Concerts in my eighties and nineties were not to be trusted … But one was thankful for a few thrown crusts. And I remember well the well-meaning Schulmusik publications, books on New Music In The Schools etc., mostly pap .

And no kind of understanding percolating down to your intellectual, public or private ; no acceptance of the lonely heroes, no kind of parallel at all with , say, the
accepted development of pictorial arts or literary productions or avant-garde theatre .

The world-ocean of musical bilge and cowardly media contributed , certainly. No journalist prepared to call popular shit as sonic shit.

Seldom analytic light cast on the marketing codology or finance-empire of punks and pricks and rocks and cunts and pricks and raps , whether American or helots.

A bit bleak .



for Fls/Clar.s / Pianoforte / Vln./ V.Cello.

Here the classical Schoenberg instrumental ensemble is used to paint NINE short pictures of the traditional ” Pierrot ” figure .

Here are 9

“Charakterstuecke ” on this important theme.

1. Short idea : all the 5 instruments.

2. Miniature – only 4 Bars ! Piccolo and Bass Clar. – We change the colouring.

3. Another colour-facette – only 8 Bars long ! – the 4 instr.s plus a FEW Piano tones !

4. “Lustingando ” – dance-like Pierrot.

5. Presto and fortissimo – all is breathlessness.

6. A Webernesque 7 bars. Repeated. Pianissimo.

7 Piccolo and BassClar. – we change Pierrot’s character once again.

9. Here is the longest . All the heard ideas are developed. – Quintuplet and septuplet figures growing .

The piano’s lowest register and the deep instruments paint also the

Catastrophic. At the end, Pierrot’s irrepressible humour – lusingando….