Frank Corcoran

irish composer


Write this down: there’s no such thing as good work without the whip, the lash, the fear of oblivion at dawn, the tax-exactor’s knock or the cruisgin lan either, the pursuit of wraiths and media and promises. Watch rotten compromise in every shape. Keep in shape through counterpoint exercises. Melt the slack off of the instrumental line, two or more. Turn off the light before midnight, certainly, the work done and the kettle de-blacked . Whistle concerto.


Frank Corcoran talks about his new cello concerto

Contemporary Music Centre

Frank Corcoran talks to CMC about his Cello Concerto, which Martin Johnson premiered on 13 March with the RTÉ National Symphony Orchestra and conductor Kenneth Montgomery.

Published on 3 April 2015


Yes, it will give me immense satisfaction to have new work premiered by great musicians at my Orvieto Concert ( Teatro Mancinelli , 31. July ) and my Bolsena Concert (  Piccolo Teatro Cavour,  2. August.) , both venues pearls of the Italian Ottocento.


Works from my new ongoing “Irish Pearls” which are little duets for cello and piano using Old Irish material – till now eight Sean Nos Airs, each one an explosive beauty;  these my settings ( say better  distillations ) are neither neo-romantic ( – that was the vicious old trap for Irish composers since James Joyce and earlier – I include Thomas Moore and Beethoven’s Irische Lieder ) ,  nor in any way neo-Bartok, nor yet neo minimalistic ( – Ugh ! ) but , well, neo-.Corcoran.

Immense. Listen.




Martin Johnson  CELLO

Adele Johnson  VIOLA

Fergal Caulfield   PIANOFORTE

31.7.2015  Teatro Mancinelli Ridotto ( Orvieto )  and  2.8.2015   Piccolo Teatro Cavour, Bolsena, Italy :

Music by Johannes Brahms, Franz Schubert, Frank Corcoran and David Popper.

JUNE 25 2015

Dear Frank,
We have been invited to submit a collection from our digital archive to the Digital Repository Ireland’s new online platform, which will launch next week, and your works Three Pieces for Orchestra and  Symphony No. 2 will be included in this collection.
Digital Repository Ireland (DRI) is a national trusted digital repository for Ireland’s social and cultural data, linking together and preserving both historical and contemporary data held by Irish institutions (see
The platform will bring together collections from a number of cultural institutions, and CMC is one of three institutions which is providing a music collection in time for the initial launch.
The collection which we are providing is entitled ‘Irish Orchestral Music – a selected list’, and brings together sample pages from the scores along with audio samples for a cross-selection of orchestral works contained in CMC’s library.
We have provided the DRI with a PDF of sample pages of the scores, along with an audio sample up to 1 minute. All materials will be clearly marked as being copyrighted by the relevant copyright holders.
We think that this is an important opportunity for the work of Irish composers to be part of an innovative platform for Irish cultural heritage, and their inclusion should help raise awareness of this important body of work among visitors to the platform.



The odd photon floating around below in the June garden; one nestling bird can’t sleep but doesn’t know quite why. Does the adder rest?

My Six Irish Duets for Cello and Piano continue to expand

( Orvieto Concert on July 31. but Bolsena Piccolo Teatro is on August 2. ).

Nr. 7, MO ROISIN DUBH, now definitely born ; and Nr. 8, PRIOSUN CLUAIN MEALA , just worked out a beaut. Yes, the piano as a Mahler orchestra , but has to do a lot more; the cello isolates, in each case, the song’ s vital , form-building interval or motiv. Noble.In “The Prison Of Clonmel” my protagonist faces his awful death – next Friday they’ll shove his head up on a Tipperary pike – with , near the end of the verse a thrilling ascent of a fourth way up to the high tonic before the whole thing collapses. In “My Dark Rosaleen”  in the initial phrase, it’s a high wire jump of a fifth as the line climbs. Then it falls. Corcoran’s inexorability. Each of these two  arch-forms, is great folk-art, each transcends its own linear material; each bursts asunder.


I have to beat time on several summery fronts. Mark it. Conquer it, if you will. You will. Beat it as if it were a tom-tom ( a tam-tam, no ) , a gong-tormented background film-score.

So this recent time has “seen” ( heard ? )  new chamber-works, the new String-quartet – with doublebass, 3 Pixels for Oboe and String Trio, 3 Pieces for Piano and Violin, my beautiful Six Irish Duets for Cello and Piano. Waiting,  too, for the Schott production of Eight Haikus for SS AA TT BB Choir, also for my Festschrift Frank Corcoran. The corncrake keeps busy in the summer harvest ( –  corn-crakes  have almost vanished in more Northern climes, THE CUCKOOS ALSO ! )  . Coffee-beans in the hot  summer sun. The adder or  the viper, wait. James P Graham’s stunning exhibition, ” Calling For The Infinite Sphere”, Curator Giorgio de Finis, in the Palazzo Cozza Caposavi in nearby Bolsena, from June 21 on. My August Bolsena and Orvieto Concerts, too. Beating time. Watch the beat. Off-beat.


It nearly finished me off , too, my finishing of the new Piccolo Quartetto Filarmonico for doublebass, cello, viola and violin. Apart from wanting to keep it light and fluffy , contrasting high and low,  balancing  the higher strings against mighty bass or cello or both, there was the awesome problem of form. I settled for a kind of rosary-beads with the chain of little sections, barred or non synchronized, grave metric music versus my ” spatters”  ( passages where each instrument plays its part as fast as possible – this brings striving forward, music with a goal , also breathlessness ) for non synchronized  four or three or even two instruments. Yes, philharmonic with high flageolettes, flight and arc and “I caught this morning morning’s minion” music. All in one multi-chaptered movement. I solved this form, its trajectory. Only eight minutes. Packed.

The dawn is up. A good, mysterious day.


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 the theatre, tthat of certain kinds of conceptual art .
My lived seventy years seem from another angle akin to films seen, my „ notes written on water , also to sand-art perhaps , a bit like the snow sculptures of the North Greenlanders ( – am I making this up? Certainly…. Why not ? ) My life as
„sicut fumus „ kind-of-thing.
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 it . ) . Our 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 Seamus Heaneyesqueries between my 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 Children´s Composition Plan – I used my right or left fingers ( while pedalling down the country boreens ) to register newly learned melody-tones; I had the principle three toes of my left or right foot for the few basic chords I learned ; so 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 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 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 a powerful help . ( To compose one minute of music is hard, but to create  five is much harder )
I loved solo and choral singing, the feel of 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 , shapes.
DÁN AIMHIRGÍN ( 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 „ Eye Asher Eye „ ) , then another eight altos murmuring these magic syllables on the D, eight second sopranoes on the E and then the first sopranoes on F Sharp. A vibrating whole-tone chord. Then , as the high tenors enter on the G above these thirty two women´s voices with the „ Gaoth“ , this 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
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“ . “From the ink-well of the sky / Trees fill / Their beaks. ”  ” Aus dem Tintenfass des Himmels / Trinken Baeume / Sich satt! “
And here I had a solo violin introduce , separate , commingle with my nine choruses.
Simple, but only after you´ve first  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 handle texts like :
„ Deep purple twilight / In the bay lie three islands / Asleep like children „ . ?
So vocal music you can hang on the peg of the text, of 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 with my SECOND SYMPHONY ; I was delighted – after over twenty five years, still fresh sounds, acts of youthful courage in painting symphonic canvases. It´s stretch your colour imagination; let the expanding forms create and explode .
Of course 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 , 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 which you´re engaged at ?
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 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, as tone- carpentry , as sounding architecture.
Lutoslawski died on Monday 7. February 1994 , just 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…. „ ) or „ A Musical Work´s Worth = Its Performance“ ( Thusagain  eg. „ My music is good because it´s played…. „, then with its charming 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 then the reeling , sonorous line ( – which itself might be built out of various sub-lines ) .
It´s easy to talkthan 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 .