Frank Corcoran

irish composer



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 ?

Posted under: Humble Hamburg Musings

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