Frank Corcoran

irish composer


It must be nearly forty year now since I began an alternative activity of making programmes for the radio. Mostly music programmes. I have worked for RTE, NDR, WDR, BREMEN, BAVARIAN RADIO, LYRIC FM, HESSISCHER RUNDFUNK, the various BERLIN RADIOs, RAI in Rome….   and more; and I greatly enjoyed this kind of composition also. I remember in particular a few very special programmes which I produced ; for Hamburg it was Alban Berg’s 3 Orchestral Pieces, for Frankfurt there was a big radiophonic analysis of ” Sacre “, for Cologne I analysed Webern and Ligeti, for the Bavarians Irish ” sean n’os ” ; for Lyric Fm there was “Bach Came Through Borrisokane.” Great broadcaster’s fun.


To:  the Editor,


IRISH  TIMES  Nov. \6 2014


Dear Editor,

I really could  weep for the Irish Times and the Royal  Irish Academy’s  post-colonialist  ” panel of experts “  and their  pale Modern Ireland in 100 Artworks.   ”

M’or  Mo N’aire “  indeed for your experts’ expert  ignorance of  contemporary Irish art-music . Over twenty years ago now the Irish Times portraited me as an
Irish composer  abroad
with not a chance of  being understood at home  as, well,  an Irish artist working in sound , tone, silence( in a situation where an Irish  symphony, sonata,  chorus, opera,  concerto is accepted as on a pa rwith  an Irish  book, painting, sculpture, play, poem, building. )…..

For your experts  with their 100 Irish Artworks  nothing  seems to have changed . An  Irish ” cumad’oir ceoil”   has no place in their 100 post-colonial artworks. -
In 1981  my  “SYMPHONIES OF SYMPHONIES OF WIND” was premiered in Vienna with the ORFSO under  Lothar Zagrosek.  Silence at home.  (  Why ?  Because the Irish  “post- colonial”  canon of what are and are not  Irish arts has no perception at all of Irish composers and Irish composed music as  part of the Irish intellectual tradition.   ).   My   “  JOYCEPEAK  MUSIK  ”   won the German Studio  Akustische Prize in 1996.     Yawns at home..   My   “SWEENEY’S  VISION
“  won the 1999  French Bourges Festival  Premier Prix.   West German Radio commissioned    ” QUASI UNA MISSA”   which  won the 2002  Swedish EMS
Prize. A  post-colonial narration of  Ireland and Irish musical composition indeed  ?  What can not be just can not be, it seems.   Last year my choral “EIGHT  HAIKUS”  won the International Federation forChoral Music First Prize Outright .  Here I am not blowing my own trumpet  . What about the distinguished work of distinguished Irish composers, younger and older  ? 

Your  panel’s  Modern Ireland In 100 Artworks shows  post-colonial  blinkers; it is blind to  composed music on the Irish island .  This is a woeful bias, disgracefully  lazy,  unexamined definition of  the Irish arts.
Yours etc.

Frank Corcoran , Irish Composer, Member of Aosdana.


Frank Corcoran featured in

Benjamin Dwyer :  DIFFERENT  VOICES               Wolke Verlag 2014

February  15  2015  New York City  Premier of Frank Corcoran’s new  QUASI  UNA  STORIA  for String Orchestra  ( North South Consonance / Max Lifchitz  )


March    13  2015    Dublin National Concert Hall  RTE  Premiere of Frank Corcoran’s  CELLO  CONCERTO   (  N.S.O., Cond.  Kenneth Montgomery, Soioist:  Martin Johnson   )


Certainly cold. Certainly passionate as the dawn. New work. Stern stuff, the lonely activity at the forge. Forge instrumental line, fuse these lines together; expression is and is thus formed . Glue and stick . Paint the howl, the ecstasy, the surge and the passing and passage of self-reflexivity and time as me and my pixels, tones and God bless.  Cold certainly. More to come.Batten down, this winter , settle in, your kettle singing on the hob in a more complex world with James P. Graham’s strangely mysterious film, ” Losing Sea Henge” and with Frank Corcoran’s strange soundscape to ease that fine-grained film’s passage into that carpet of that woven time, film thus also reaching towards music’s natural flow, sluice, ebb; be dense and be thin and be milky and wavy and mazy and as amazing as the dawn.


January 19. 2010.  National Concert Hall. 13.00
“Horizons” Concert with the National Symphony Orchestra , Naomi O´Connell soprano, Conductor : Colman Pearce.
Featured composer : Frank Corcoran
Frank Corcoran:  FOUR PRAYERS for Mezzosoprano and Orchestra . ( World-premiere )
In these four orchestral lieder, the orchestra accompanies the singer; it “sets” and sings and  carries and colours the texts and, yes, prays them. ( Music has from the beginning had its role in the Eleusinian mysteries and, much earlier, in Old Babylon and Egypt ) .
Lied One fuses John Scotus Eriugena´s staggering God – text, ” Deus est. Non est. Superest.”  – ” God is. God is not. God is beyond ” IS”  ” )   with the Irish saying, “Aithníonn súil liath saol liath” ( ” It is a grey eye which sees the world as grey”. ) . Strings and wood-winds sing with the soprano-line; percussion washes it.
Lied Two treats Henry Lyte´s traditional Victorian hymn, ” Abide with me “. ( It was this melody the band played over and over as the great ship “Titanic” sank to its icy Atlantic grave….  ) . What once might have been saccharine has become steel. Its intervals buckle and are chromatically crushed until, at the end, brake-drums and brass  are also shrieking  the singer´s “Abide!”
Lied Three sets an amazing, anonymous two-liner which I found over the Neo-Classical lintel of a Hamburg 18th. c. villa. I use the German : ” Wir bauen hier so feste / Und sind doch fremde Gäste! Und wo wir sollen ewig sein /
bauen wir so wenig ein!”  – in my English it goes : ” We´re building here so free / Our jolly building-spree ! But where we should endure , there we´re so unsure!” with the Pauline: ” We´ve here no lasting city ! We build and build like mad – a pity ! ” which become a breathless, sardonic and bitter vocal Scherzo.
Lied Four composes Meister Eckhart´s ecstatic God – text . With its prelude , interludes and postlude of massed , muted brass it aims  for the final rapt  ” Ewig, “  ( “Eternal” ) with deep pulsing harp, celesta  and crotales.
Frank Corcoran. QUASI UNA FUGA . World-premiere of this revised version ( 2009 )  for full orchestra .
This is in no way a neo-Baroque or neo-Bach one-movement work. It is and it is not a fugue for 56 strings. It is ” quasi” a fugue; the ascending  ”soggetto” is there, also its accompanying counter-subject . All is counterpoint ; everything is built out of the interval of the second . Fragments and smidiríní of the “theme” ( really a major-minor 12-tone scale, nothing more….  )  are heard in hundreds of bits and pieces until at the end it all morphs into the Early Celtic chant, ” Ibunt Sancti”. Was this the hymn which St. Brendan The Navigator and his twelve merry monks sang before having dinner on the broad back of an Atlantic whale somewhere up there near Greenland, around the year 550 or so …. ?
NOVELETTE  for Full Orchestra . Witold Lutoslawski  ( 1978 -79 )
Fifteen times the mighty opening chord yells, announcing the five short movements of this orchestral narrative. The Polish master calls them simply ” Announcement, First Event, Second Event, Third Event” and the accumulative ” Conclusion”. His orchestral palette is , as always full of the most beautiful and refined instrumental colours.
( Composer´s Notes )


The flight towards the True North completed, the pilot’s compass pointing towards Hamburg as South yields to North and balmy clime to November’s kindly drizzle. Good impulses;  this Pratoleva Year brought in a goodly harvest of : orchestral lieder, choral works, two strong chamber-works and more. I’ll be on about music and the Pole Star anon.

Unpack now and unwind the reel conncting Lazio up to the northern Hanseatic League and all the herrings and salty barrels and the monosyllabic heartiness . Mediterranean versus North Sea, age-old question, a two seas symphony.

New Grove FRANK CORCORAN – as usual, totally incomplete

Corcoran, Frank(b Borrisokane, Tipperary,1 May1944). Irish composer.He studied music at St Patrick’s College, Maynooth (1961–4), music, philosophyand theology in Rome (1964–7) at the Pontificio Istituto di Musica Sacra andthe Università del Laterano, and composition in Berlin with Blacher (1969–71).He has served as music inspector for the Irish Department of Education(1971–9), been a guest of the Berlin Artist’s Programme (1980–81) and hastaught at the Staatliche Hochschule für Musik, Stuttgart (1982–3) and theStaatliche Hochschule für Musik und Darstellende Kunst, Hamburg (from 1983). Hewas elected to Aosdána, the Irish academy of creative artists, in 1983. He was a Fulbright visiting professor and Fulbright scholarin the U.S. in 1989-1990.  His compositionshave won a number of prizes including the Studio Akustische Kunst First Prizein 1996 for Joycepeak Music, firstprize at the Bourges International Electro-acoustic Music Competition in 1999for Sweeny´s Vision, the EMS Prize,Stockholm in 2002 for Quasi Una Missaand the International Federation for Choral Music’s Second InternationalCompetition for Choral Composition for EightHaikus in 2013.Corcoran has developed a distinctand complex language of aleatory macro-counterpoint in which sound layers aresuperimposed polyphonically but retain independence through distinctivepolymetric, agogic and dynamic indications. This technique is evident from theearly Piano Trio (1978) to Ice Etchings no.1 and Mad Sweeney(both 1996). The later was the first of a series ofworks initially inspired by Seamus Heaney’s translation of the Irish epic.His many cultural interests are reflected in the texts of his vocal works; theopera Gilgamesh (1990), for example, is based on a Sumerian epic. The IrischeMikrokosmoi for piano (1993) are based on traditional Irish melodies andrhythms. From 1999 until 2009 to he worked on a seriesof works utilizing the descriptor ‘quasi.’ These ranged from orchestral workssuch as Quasi un canto and Quasi un Visione to solo instrumental works such asQuasi un Basso.  Works(selectivelist)Op:Gilgamesh (G. Rosenstock and Corcoran), 1990 Orch:Carraig Aonair Suite, 1976; Chbr Sym., 1976; 3 Pieces ‘Pictures from MyExhibition’, 1976; Caoine [Lament], fl, str, 1979; Sym. no.1 ‘Syms. of Syms. ofWind Insts’, 1981; Sym. no.2, 1981; Conc., str, 1982; Farewell Syms.(Corcoran), spkr, orch, tape, 1982; Shadows of Gilgamesh, 1988; Cantus decalamitate hiberniorum in patria antiqua, 1991; 6 Irische Mikrokosmoi, str,1994; Sym. no.3, 1994; Sym. no.4, 1996; Quasi un canto,2002; Quasi un concertino, 2003; Quasi un vision, 2004; Quasi un fuga, 2005;Violin Concerto, 2011; Cello Concerto, 2012 Vocal(SATB, unless otherwise stated): Aifreann [Mass], unison vv, org, 1973; DánAimhirgín (old Irish), 1973; 9 Medieval Irish Epigrams, 1973; 2 Meditations (J.Barth), spkr, orch, 1973; More (J. Pupacic), 1976; Herr Jesu Christ (P. Eber),1978; 5 Liric de Chuid Rosenstock [5 Lyrics after Rosenstock], S, pf, trio,1980; Das Stundenbuch (R.M. Rilke), SATB, org, 1990; Mad Sweeney (S. Heaney),spkr, chbr orch, 1996; Quasi una melodia (Anon), S, asax, vib, mar, vn, va, pf, 2000; Beyond Beckett, S, vn, vc, b cl, 2006; Songsof Terror and Love (F. Corcoran & Jacopone Da Todi), B, fl+picc+afl,cl+bcl, pf, vn+va, vc, 2011;  Two UnholyHaikus (G. Rosenstock, F. Corcoran), 2011; Eight Haikus (F. Corcoran),SSAATTBB, 2012 Chbr:Brass Qnt, 1973; Chbr Sonata, fl, vn, va, vc, perc, 1974; Gestures of Sound andSilence, vc, pf, 1976; Str Qt no.1, 1976; Pf Trio, 1978; Shorts, vn, vc, 1978;Wind Qnt, 1978; Str Qt no.2, 1979; Rhapsodies on a Windy Night, cl, vn, va, vc,db, perc, 1981; Lines and Configurations, b cl, mar, 1983; 5 Amhráin ganFhocail [5 Songs without Words], ob, eng hn, trbn, perc, pf, str, 1984; Musicfor the Book of Kells, 5 perc, pf, 1990; 4 Concertini of Ice, fl, ob, cl, hn,vn, vc, db, perc, 1992; Dream Song, fl, cl, bn, vc, gui, pf, 1992; See-ThroughMusic, fl, vn, va, vc, pf, perc, 1993; 4 Miniatures, fl, vc, 1994; RhapsodicThinking, 4 vn, 1994; Rhapsodic Delight, 2 vn, 1995; Trauerfelder, 4 perc,1995; Ice Etchings, wind nonet, 1996; Str Qt no.3,1997; Wind Qnt  no. 3, 1999; Sweeney’sSmithereens, fl, pic, cl+bcl, perc, pf, vn, db, 2000; Quasi una Sarabanda, cl,bn, hn, 2 vn, va, vc, db, 2009; Clarinet Qnt, 2011Soloinst: Suite, vc, 1972; Sonata, org, 1973; The Quare Hawk, fl, 1974; Variationswith Air, a sax, 1976; Hernia, db, 1978; Changes, pf, 1979; Mythologies, perc,1979; Variations on Caleno Costure, hpd, 1982; 3 Pieces, cl, 1987; 3 Pieces,gui, 1990; Irische Mikrokosmoi, pf, 1993; Ice-Etchingsno. 2, vc, 1996; Sweeney’s Total Rondo, pf, 2002; Quasi un basso, db, 2005; Inthe deep heart’s core, hp, 2011; A dark song, b cl, 2011 Tape:Balthasar’s Dream, 1980; Joycespeak, 1995; Sweeney’s Vision, 1997; Sweeney’sLast Poem, 1998; Quasi una missa, 1999  MSS in IRL-Dc Principalpublishers: Naxos Selfhelp,  BibliographyKdG (A. Kreutziger-Herr) A.Klein: Die Musik Irlands im 20. Jahrhundert (Hildesheim, 1996) J. Page: ‘A Post-War “Irish” Symphony: FrankCorcoran’s Symphony no. 2’ in Cox & Klein (eds) Irish Musical Studies 7: Irish Music in the Twentieth Century(Dublin, 2002)Gareth Cox


” I will move on to the next step. And it’ll be good “  ( Irish poet James Liddy , preparing for death ) .

Wintering out in Hamburg, many flying miles on up above. There’ll be a flurry of choral activity in my 2015. The CELLO CONCERTO premiere is in Dublin in March ;  QUASI UNA STORIA for String Orchestra in New York in February. Also new 3 PIECES FOR VIOLIN AND PIANO. Also new 3 MOVEMENTS FOR OBOE QUARTET. Even a new IRISH CHRISTMAS CAROL ( Hayo – Verlag ) . And it’ll be good. New tales spun from these still quite sound entrails, musical form as its own sounding substance or ” content is shape , context, aura, composed audible structure “. Performance then gladdens. – Keep the mystery; keep the filmic. ( – No preaching allowed )  Aurora is busy dawning now, certainly, light like  milk spilled for the cats outside mother’s cow-shed so many flying miles ago.


Annual batten down of these hatches ;  quickly depart these lovely climes before the waiting Winter Solstice. Be quick ! Bi curamach ! Be still!  Bi laidir !

Yes, a good strong Pratoleva harvest .  Orchestral MY ALTO RHAPSODIES ( well, yes, once again my very own texts )  , a major Corcoran work, it will gain momentum and the needed Kathleen Ferrier contralto voice. This my summer also saw : 3 Pieces for Violin and Piano, 3 Pixels for Oboe and String Trio, a very plethora of choral works including  AN IRISH CHRISTMAS CAROL and my self-crucifying FOUR LAST WORDS FROM THE CROSS,  strong crafting , strong energy. We had then my CMC / Mark Linnane Frank Corcoran Film  THE LIGHT GLEAMS. Seventieth Birthday Castle Shenannigans  as high noon danced .

Bring all this harvest in. Hamburg awaits with bated ( not beaten ! ) breath,  merchant’s sacks full of eccentric pepper.