Frank Corcoran

irish composer


I wrote this Musing below all of ten years ago. In Lazio. What did it mean at all ?

Well, I was ten years younger. I had not yet composed the Cello Concerto, the Violin Concerto, Four Orchestral Prayers, Quasi Una Fuga and several other Corcoran works.
Nor had I yet learned serenit’a, calmness, accept it all. Nor written my recent Sc’eal Beag. Nor discovered wild garlic, thyme, basil or origano.
Nor written certain focal Haikus.
Nor even thought of publishing the Festschrift Frank Corcoran ( or indeed its sub-title : “An Irish Composer Invents Himself.” )
Nor presented my Seven Theses On James Joyce And Music in the Dublin James Joyce Centre.

So whose used-up yarn is this spinning ? How is this writing voyeur ? My own e – entrails?
2006 was no bad year.
The voyeur is always in me?
looking–glass declares an interest?
Evening–questions seldom going away, let my fine fingers sing it:
Take Euclidian parallels.
Take: ‘‘Can music ever be completely
Now if your answer is ‘‘Yes’’, why can’t we make a case also for the
occasional, programme–free Musing? This here is one such: perhaps in the
whole flaming firmament, this e–mail might be only the second known case of
an Uncaused Cause (lower case, please).
E–scutter floweth as it will,
meandering magma loitering, causing at least a civilized smile.
It’s not actually enough to fob off Our Great E–typing Author with
‘‘uncaused causation’’ or with
‘‘let–it–flow–if–or–where–it–magmatically will’’
either. Bad enough to be caught anywhere near this theory of
‘‘any possible programme’’ (– eg. Our Muser–Author’s ounds, the scrofulous breakfast, gene
versus Jane versus Holy Joe in early boyhood).

If idle is as idle strives to be, if (as here) it be
meta–musing on and on how to see behind its own very behind, then, there, be the
art of comedy chided.
This e–centred, this I–centred e–thrust, swallowed up in victory, all very
well that ;
– by the way, who’ll fork out the cheque–book when the
celestial nuptials for ‘‘I’’ and for ‘‘Me’’ draw nigh, this very night and all, oh my ‘‘Musing’’, my very sawl?

What be e–writing at all, mused or fused tohuwabohu?
Then suffices no ‘‘It’s only snorting self–expression’’.
As is the humble courtier’s microtonally tuned fart.
And the humbler’s
(eaten well prior) white–beans for lunch after the early morning’s quartering
up at Hangman’s Square, a mere finch in the turnip–pie, causing this (then
this in its turn, then, further causes) uncaused exhuding, this very

I wasn’t it. He there. Master Magma himself, careful, boy.
Not every musing could keep up concealing the awkward given of the
e–mail reflexive, the e–mail at play,
the e–mail confessional, Gödel’s E–mail,
the e–cry or the e–caoine, e–haiku and e–mourn.
They’re on the prowl, our
dear anti – ‘‘Musing’’ police. Have to be. You couldn’t allow total e–licence to the e–plebs.
O Inner circle, sneak closer. Either a ‘‘Musing ’’ amuses or, in its musing, it bemuses. Either it’s an Uncaused Cause (– but ‘‘LOWER CASE, PLEASE’’)
or is eén now causing wryness, a dry throat, reach for red pencil, sure the
man’s mad as a muser?
Exhausted WHO is emailing exhaustive whom the following
text: ‘‘This e–message is in love with itself’’?

What makes our homo e–scribens so different, we left the wall–paintings and
Sumerian crúisgín l´n behind a long time ago?
Out with it, your cheap
attacks on e–courage! Beat intransivity, slash the e–knot of reflexiveness!

Quod scripsi non really scripsi, true or Gödel–true? Could it be that,
e–quill and e–ink put tranquilly aside, we never, never, never love
Who said you can’t be e–mailing ‘‘In Paradisum’’?
Is Paradise my mode of
existence while I mutate into my own e–mail?
All changed, changed utterly, I
now am subsumed in what I have written.
I have become this e–text.
Naw… My actual existence is also virtuality.

What is behind my behind,
then? How’ll I have a look?


Dear Editor,

I used to think it was the Genom Celticum, this continuing inability to tolerate art music in the arts-corner. One tactic is to refer to it as squeaky-gate music.
Music as extended time-art. Time out. Time bent, buckled and trimmed to attack the subcutaneous heart.

I used to see Ó Riada´s (rightly lauded – his problem lay elsewhere…)
bringing ceol traidisiúnta back into the Pale in so conquering a fashion, so confidently,
as the main obstacle to our Irish continued automatic exclusion (Oh yes!)
of our music from the canon of the thinkable arts.

This unability to allow this sound-art to exist, to BE – (even as mere) possibility in my human consciousness- extended , always COMPLEX (but simultaneously SIMPLE) challenge to my ears´ retention: Sounding Form.

You can’t bate Time.

I was very wrong. Take the New Germany, where I work in these difficult vine-yards these long twenty years or more.

Forget Beethoven. Forget Goethe and Schiller. Hamburg´s most popular theatre-piece at the moment,
titled Bite Me, Take Me, Fuck Me, Suck Me, says it better.
The locals cannot imagine music as a (yes, demanding – what´s wrong with courage?) shaping of temporal form that
jogs your ears after the first eight bars have subsided.

Art-music is no longer secure here. The Faith has been lost.
Was it ever really here? My belief – that you must fashion sound-in-time or time-in-et-cetera as a poet, sculptor, dramatist, painter, neon-artist – is now an endangered species of Faith.
We Irish meet us Germans in a curious, innate inability to hang in there after those first seven, glorious,

assymetrical bars of beaten, bashed, sung, stroked, licked or bitten sensuous material.

Readers of JMI, why this alignment of Irish aphasia with teutonic musical dyslexia ?

Frank Corcoran

Published on 1 March 2002

Since 1983 Frank Corcoran has been Professor of Composition and Theory in the Staatliche Hochschule für Musik und Darstellende Kunst, Hamburg. His CDs include Mad Sweeney (BBM 1026) and Symphonies Nos. 2, 3, & 4 (Marco Polo 8.225107).Frank Corcoran is guest composer and artistic director at the Sligo Contemporary Music Festival, full details of which appear on the back cover of The JMI. Since 1983 Frank Corcoran has been professor of composition and theory in the Staatliche Hochschule fur Musik und darstellende Kunst, Hamburg. His CDs include Mad Sweeney (BBM 1026) and Symphonies Nos. 2,3 & 4 (Marco Polo 8.225107)



3. Dezember
Nachtrag zu Woche 48

Prisma Musik

Thema: Kleine Schule des musikalischen Hörens: Frank Corcoran hört das Streichquintett C-Dur von Franz Schubert
Das Werk gehört zu seinen letzten und gilt Kennern als Gipfel dessen, was in dieser Kunst überhaupt möglich ist. Generationen haben sich den Kopf darüber zerbrochen, wie Schubert zum Beispiel die magische Stimmung des Adagio-Satzes erzeugt hat.

Der irische Komponist Frank Corcoran versucht in der Kleinen Schule des musikalischen Hörens den Geheimnissen dieser Musik auf die Spur zu kommen, die einem unbegreiflichen Schaffensrausch auf dem Kranken- und schließlich Sterbebett entsprang.

Danach Frank Corcorans 4. Sinfonie aus dem Jahre 1996 ( National Symphony Orchestra of Ireland, Cond, Colman Pearce )


Yes, art can be defined.

– but watch the context, the cultural and historical period. Art or arts ? Which art ?

See also Horace, the Roman poet. See also craft ( as in 19th. c. ” Arts and crafts” ) . etc. Clear the decks.

Or are we attempting a definition in this 21 st. c. ?

Where we do the defining is also important.

eg. Take Ireland and, say, the contemporary art of composed music.
Why do I insist that in Ireland still today there is hardly a concept, a definition, the possibility of defining composed musical works – composed by Irish composers – as art, indeed as Irish art, an art on a level with eg. Irish poetry, film, painting etc.

What are the causes of this blindness, this prejudice, this exclusion of this definition ?
Are they dogmatic ?
Is it lazy thinking?
Could it be lack of experiencing New Irish Music, is that it ?
Mull this over.
There have in the past been many definitions of art, of musical composition. It´s also worth reflecting a moment on some of the things we still today may define composing as:
it is sicut fumus, like smoke, ethereal. It is a temporal art, indeed THE time-art par excellence. Time-bending, stretching, sculpting, stitching, overlapping, deluding, defying, conquering. ( See Rosenstock´s ” Buailim bob ar bhás! ” )

Composing is hope, utopian, mythic, fighting the good fight. If “cinis aequat omnia”, still a Frank Corcoran

composition will yell and shout and erect its own resistance to Montague´s ” Sea of history / Upon which we all turn / Turn and thrash / And disappear… ”

Music keens, protests, praises a fightin´ transcendence which potentially lives beyond the grave.

Certainly, music can be defined. Art can be defined. Irish contemporary music fights for its place in defining

Ireland, Irish art, Irish artists.



I felt the enormous strain on the earth’s skin
Tighter and tighter the taut vulcano’s drum…
I knew the mountain’s surface was getting thin.
When would its explosion begin to whimper, to sing ?

How long before the magma, the whole shebang
Might collapse as then, in terrible years of yore ?
From across the bay I’d also feel the whang
And wham and slam and shout and awful roar…

No, mankind can not take very much real.
Imagination falters before these Gates of Hell
But pressure mounts; our instruments are working well.

How facile our words ; our film unwinds, each reel
Shows blue-white fire, caverns , the molten smell,
Last cries of burning pain, our rush pell-mell.


Dear IRISH PAGES, Hamburg …. enclosed please fin SIX HAIKUS . Sincerely, Frank Corcoran

SIX HAIKUS 1. Five dogs – or seven –
Snarl in the cold morning air:
Barking: ” Kill the Spring!”

2. First light; wintry hope. 3. Who goes there? Summer!
Frozen iron, hoe and spade. My pen scrawls on white paper.
Another day dawns. Soft horns! Clarinets.

4. Bits of sticky sleep 5. Suppose God is light?
My eye tries to see itself A mountain´s shadow purple?
Evening birds chitter “Ciúnas, a h-anaim!”

6. Sunset, ” tramonto”,
Tiptoes through this, our window.
Well, is this then death?

FRANK CORCORAN : Irish composer, living in Hamburg and Italy. Member of Aosdana. Studied in Dublin,
Maynooth, Berlin, Rome. 1980 – 1981 Berlin Ártists Fellowship. 1989 – 90 Fulbright Professor in the U.S.A. .
Many composer-prizes, distinctions and commissions, including 2012 Cork International Choral Festival Seán ´O Riada Prize . Works performed and broadcast in Europe, N. American, Australia. See also for discography and work-list. Among newest works : 2013 CELLO CONCERTO. 2012 VIOLIN CONCERTO ( NSO / Alan Smale/ Christopher Warren-Green ). EIGHT HAIKUS ( National Chamber Choir / Paul Hillier ) . 2011 SONGS OF TERROR AND LOVE ( New York ), 2010 9 ASPECTS OF AN IRISH POEM ( North German Radio Choir ), 2009 QUASI UNA FUGA ( Irish Chamber Orchestra ), 2008 QUASI UN CANTO ( Zagreb Philharmonic ) . etc. etc.


Frank Corcoran

ist seit 1983 Gründungsmitglied der irischen Künstlerkademie Aosdána und wurde vielfach für sein Werk

ausgezeichnet. Corcoran lebt in Deutschland und Italien. Musikschaffen. Corcorans kompositorisches Schaffen umfasst

vier Sinfonien, Kammermusik, Vokalmusik und Tonbandstücke. In den späten 1970er-Jahren entwickelte er mit …


It’s a long way to Tipperary ” goes the old song. And it is a long way from Tipperary in southern Ireland where I was born to still West Berlin where 1980 – 1981 I spent a year as an invited guest of the Berliner Kuenstlerprogramm.
I had had my First Symphony premiered in Vienna in 1980, a work for wind alone. No strings. No percussion. I began my Second Symphony for Large Orchestra.What was the motor-idea for this large work ; music doesn’t exist for me without form. As a young composer I wanted to shape and control my vast colour forces . I had the idea of two contrasting movements , the first ( “Soli” )
concentrating on the individual solo lines of , eg. the trombones, the gongs and deep percussion of the opening, the solo double basses and celli and higher strings.
My music not synchronized metrically – as a contrast to the second movement , ” Tutti ” , which would use the same material but barred as ” normal”, synchronized music. So two twin movements ; the first a vast movement of smeared chorales and instrumental masses, but with no clearly heard lines and the second then as more “normal” as the lines scurry and hurry towards their end. The opening of this first movement of my Second Symphony does in fact achieve a hieratic ” chaos versus order ” quality, a shifting carpet of kinetic art . : Mahler famously said that a symphony must become itself a different world from our everyday world. Here you hear my created world of 1981 in West Berlin.
( Could I re-create this work like that today ? No ! )

MUSIC 1. Frank Corcoran 2. Symphony. Mov. 1. All. ( RTESO Dublin . Conductor: Colman Pearce . Marco Polo 8.225107 )


1983 I moved to Hamburg to teach composition at the Musikhochschule there . ( Can you in fact teach musical composition ? No ! )
Twelve years later the city-state of Hamburg was celebrating 50th. years since the Liberation of Auschwitz. But how do you ” celebrate” such horror ? The party-less Minister of Culture , the literary expert Christine Weiss, asked me to compose something to commemorate
the suffering of its Jewish citizens. I protested : ” No ! I am neither German nor Jewish but Irish !” Still I persisted…. )
I decided to use an orchestra of only percussion instruments. How can a snare-drum paint the barracks awakening ? Can we at all,
after the Shoah, compose music ? How can eg. points of triangle suggest points of human suffering ? And so on.
My TRAUERFELDER, in my native Irish language GOIRT AN BHROIN , in English FIELDS OF SORROW has five chapters of human suffering from the Book of Pain.
In the first of my five, short TRAUERFELDER bells and vibraphone hammer out the hard vision of hardship; timpani ushe in the unspeakable.

MUSIC 2. Frank Corcoran. TRAUERFELDER Mov. 1. ca. 2.50′. CD Composers Art Label FRANK CORCORAN
( ISRC DE – L29 – 04 – 01430 )

Four years after the percussion piece TRAUERFELDER and still in Hamburg I wrote with the giant computers of West German Radio’s
Electronic Studios a large piece using my Irish Tipperary childhood memories and my love of mythic Early Ireland .
I composed. I painted my canvas , my QUASI UNA MISSA , which won the 2002 Swedish E.M.S. prize for electronic music. ( I had never wanted to
distinguish my work with symphonic or chamber or vocal and choral forces as in any deep way different from my computer work. Computer music , if it is not technological fetish , is, or has to be music…. )

QUASI UNA MISSA is my celebration of over 2000 years of God-statements on my island of Ireland, its religiosity and its drive towards the mystical.



Born 1944 in Borrisokane, Tipperary, near the mighty Shannon river. Studied philosophy, music, ancient languages, theology, in Maynooth, Rome and Dublin and compositio in Berlin ( Boris Blacher ) . Has written orchestral, choral, chamber and computer music .1980 – 81 Berliner Künstlerprogramm. Professor at Hamburg 1983 – 2008 . 1989 – 90 Fulbright Professor in the U.S.A. Guest lecturer at Harvard, Princeton, Indiana, NYU, CalArts, etc. Member of the Irish Academy of the Arts Aosdana since 1982. His works have been recorded and broadcast in Europe, U.S.A., Canada, Australia, etc. First Symphony premiered in Vienna1981.
Represented several times at the International Composers´Rostrum. For his seventieth birthday 2014 CMC Film:
” The Light Gleams ” .

Many commissions and distinctions. Awards include : First Varming Prize for Irish Composers 1974, Dublin Symphony Orchestra Prize 1975, Studio Akustische Kunst 1995 ( JOYCEPEAK MUSIK ), Bourges Festival Premier Prix 1999 ( SWEENEY´S VISION ) , Swedish E.M.S. Prize 2002 ( QUASI UNA MISSA ) , International Foundation for Choral Music 2013 First Prize ( EIGHT HAIKUS ) , Cork International Choral Festival 2012 ( TWO UNHOLY HAIKUS ) etc.

New works include : CELLO CONCERTO ( N.S.O. Dublin 2015 ) , ALL MY ALTO RHAPSODIES ( Italy 2014 ) QUASI UNA STORIA for String Orchestra ( New York 2015 ), VIOLIN CONCERTO ( Irish Radio / N.S.O. 2012 ) CLARINET QUINTET ( RTE commission 2011 ) , NINE ASPECTS OF AN IRISH POEM for Choir and Solo Violin ( NDR 2010 ) , FOUR ORCHESTRAL PRAYERS ( N.S.O. 2010 ) , MAD SWEENEY ( Boston Musica Viva 2006 ) etc.

For discography etc. see