Frank Corcoran

irish composer

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These are among my bigger canvases for varying sizes of orchestra. They straddle more than thirty years of inner struggle with this composer´s ear and ounds .

The THREE ORCHESTRAL PIECES are for middle-size orchestra ( I do insist on the sub-title: ” Pictures From MY Exhibition” ) . They are my three expanding time-pictures, ca. 2 minutes, 4 minutes and 6 minutes. I was thirty years old . This work won the 1975 Dublin Symphony Orchestra Composer´s Competition.

Five years later I had left Dublin for Berlin . SYMPHONIES OF SYMPHONIES OF WIND was premiered by the O.R.F.Symphony Orchestra in Vienna 1981. Of course it is “about” more than Stravinsky´s masterpiece for 23 wind-instruments ( – at its premiere in 1918 his grave caoine on the death of Debussy was a flop with the audience , a salutary reminder to still young me as I went about stealing his ” Russian Chord” ) ; my symphony is very much “about” great masses of air , sounding wind, time shaped slowly into an enfolding 24 minutes of musical argument.

What separates QUASI UN LAMENTO , then, from the SYMPHONIES ? Well, twenty five years of a lived life, three other symphonies, many sound-sculptures, instrumental and electro-acoustic. I´d written the MAD SWEENEY series ( – better: collection of works triggered off by my 1996 setting of Seamus Heaney´s English version of ” Buile Suibhne / Mad Sweeney” . By 2005 I was coming to the end of my ” Quasi ” series , pieces of many different sizes and shapes, all of them mindful of towering musical works composed in at least these last 200 years . This ten-minutes essay for a small orchestra including three saxophones and accordeon is as much
my protest as my lament.

At around the same time I composed QUASI UN CANTO for the Zagreb Philharmonic . Here the orchestral forces are vast. My short Prelude, central Argomento and short Postludio present a big picture.

March 2007 NEWS

Bourges Electronic Music Centre has deposited all of Frank Corcoran´s electro-acoustic works in the Bibliothèque Nationale, Paris. These include:
” Balthazar´s Dream” Berlin 1980.
” Joycepeak Musik” Studio Acoustic Music prize 1996
” Sweeney´s Vision ” WDR commission; premier prix , Bourges 1999
” Quasi Una Missa” WDR ” Swedish E.M.S. Prize 2002.
” Sweeney´s Farewell” and
” Tradurre – Tradire” DLRadioBerlin commission 2004.


It was an intolerably humid summer-night at Lake Michigan , 1990 in Milwaukee. My drained year as a Fulbright Guest-Professor in the U.S.A. was ending ; two shadows lay over the family, my wife´s insanity and the violent death of my oldest son, Rory, shortly before. The University of Wisconsin Library purchased a facsimile edition of the Book of Kells in Lucerne. It commissioned me to compose a work for this event. My soul´s flood-gates opened then. This one-movement canvas for a vast array of percussion and , at the end,
Irish pianist ( – I was he- ) paints my Early Medieval Ireland, that strange interfacing of Celtic monastic Christianity and pagan tribal forces, war , peace, prayer, cattle-stealers and saints and druids and kings…. Quiet opening bells and gongs give way to deep drums, later timpani and brake-drums, an great ocean of sound-associations .


All that we saw was his shadow under his shield

5 perc pf MS13′
Commissioned by Book of Kells Committee
of the University of Wisconsin Milwaukee.
Premiere: 27 May 1990. University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee, USA.
New Music Ensemble, Frank Corcoran (pf), conductor Pavel Burda.
Mad Sweeney. Percussion Modern, Frank Corcoran(pf), conductor Dieter Cichewiecz.

Black Box 1999. BBM1026

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April 13. Sligo festival . Arbos Trio ( Spain ) performs Frank Corcoran´s PIANO TRIO

July 13. I.C.O. Shannon Summer Festival. St. Mary´s Cathedral , Limerick, Ireland.

Irish Chamber Orchestra ( Directed by Anthony Marwood ) : world-premiere of

” QUASI UNA FUGA ” for 18 Strings ( 2006 )

PROGRAMME _ NOTES for ” Quasi Una Fuga ”

QUASI UNA FUGA Frank Corcoran

” Quasi Una Fuga” is in no way neo-baroque ( – this I consider to be a pretty unfortunate stylistic aberration of certain 20 th. c. composers ; eg. Stravinsky´s back-to-Bach works are not his best. Bach did it better…. ) . Yet it does have something, in fact everything, to do with counterpoint; my 18 strings play only lines throughout.
Yes, there is a theme, a counter-theme. In my ” Quasi – Exposition” you hear rising entries , from low cello and bass to high violins, then descending entries ( my melodic shape has become its own inversion! ) This protean, easily recognizable theme comes in every conceivable shape through the ebb and flow of my one movement-work, consisting entirely of bits and fragments and smithereens of the “fugal” theme ; it is mutating and morphing all the time until it has become at last the ( five-tone ) Early Medieval Celtic chant, ” Ibunt Sancti”, one of St. Brendan The Navigator´s favourite melodies. Was this the hymn his twelve monks sang , preparing their dinner on the back of a N. Atlantic whale near Greenland …. ? ) .
This is the final composition in my ” Quasi” series of these last years ; from ” Quasi Un Canto ” for Large Orchestra ( Zagreb 2004 ) to ” Quasi Un Pizzicato” for Singer, Speaker and Ensemble ( Hamburg 2005 ) , these works reflect the fact that no composer living today is musically innocent. I know too much music of the past, too much world-music. Of course ” Quasi Una Fuga” feels the shadow of giant-composers from my recent past. Without being beholden to any man, I must know what great music for string-orchestra was written by eg. Bartók, Ligeti and Lutoslawski. My composition is only ” quasi” a fugue, while being entirely fugal.


July 13. 2007. St. Mary´s Cathedral, Limerick, Ireland :

Premiere of ” QUASI UNA FUGA” ( 2006 ) for String Orchestra by

Irish Chamber Orchestra, directed by Anthony Marwood.


The seed twitches. It has to. Sixty years on in the script, that particular plot thickened into my spaceship´s curdled Bortsch soup while our captain and lovely she sang their myxolydian,” high – art – how -are -you?”
Shy, still dreadfully young, of course, theologian Johannes Kepler had arrived in ” My Mamma´s-A- Witch” interspace dog-cart at my intragalctic sluice ( Heaven´s planetary leps still far ahead in this canophile´s future )
; I had to pay for the good eight dogs´ astro-taxi, proving how impossibly uvular Swabians behave, actually .
The seed sighs. Bubble, young, troubled extraplanetary professor´s chalk-on-our-N.A.S.A.-blackboard , bemused young gynophobe our – on that evening- bedoggled Johannes .
Take space-time off .
Metaphors or adjectives, in truth, time – travel killeth.Imagine starry Kant who´d have throttled at first warning an astronaut´s quickie in our module ? Which student taught them two chance-theory? Slurp the Bortsch , all eight taxi-dogs ; a long way it surely is ye´ve rocketed from around Jupiter´s lunatics . We´ll suppose that Kepler´s and Kant´s seed-sighing did unite ; well, what offspring of which female pilot admits to immortal longings while whooshing planets are hurling by our small modular windows in astonishment ? “He´s NOT here!” was the Soviet statement that settled that at the time!
Real truth was seldom hidden by Johannes Kepler´s dog-taxi equations eg.Newton´s gynophob = his own kynophob ? Yes, I did pay that unshaven Swabian astronomer´s astronomic taxi-bill ; yes, our captain was aft in the engine-room. And future generations will hymn her , will call her Stella .The seed sings , it makes no mention of any taxi-astrohounds raping their food tin that was warped by General Relativity on that astral occasion of my starry conception. Ex Oriens, unshaven Kepler, as yet no Newton praying for the sinners´ parabola.
Once upon a time I was nothing, not even space-travel dog-soup! ( It´s all the wrong people travel by taxi up there nowadays ) . Mind how you hymn the equations. Who will stir the Bortsch pot for eight Stuttgart shuttle-hounds? Quick now , we have but a second. Ease her back on Jupiter´s solstice fierce, throttle in your left; never mention words like “scrotum”, or ” space-coffin” again on our ship while I´m still at hatch number one extracting an odd Swabian astronomer out of his ” My Mammy Is No Witch” canelingual interplanetary taxi.

There were no Catholic dogs in Kepler´s eight-pack that night as I fumbled for small change for his enormous taxi-bill . Bay uvular Swäbisch, cosmic taxi-pups after rescuing Kepler´s Swabian Ma from burning , quantum seconds after my own conception in the rocket-hold. Twitches seed ? Sings seed ? Or why should travel burn all our metaphors to a Von Braun Frazzle ? Hymn her what ? Kant´s starry tent over a Stuttgart sky and her ” yes ” to Terrific Captain Startrek´s quickie charm while stirring Bortsch in a narrow space-cabin.

Steiger ! Down ! Hush, Puppy von Braun ! Wait your turn, Prancer and Dancer and Black Pup and Sky-Keeper´s off-spring, the Basker Twins! Eat Your Bortsch ! Sons and mothers worship module images: He and She and Our Captain´s Feinty Foot-work, fusing their galactic Bortsch and their quickie-seed at high velocities. From where comes this comets´ soup ? Whooshed detritus is our mysterious preterite and our future fumus, our Swabian Werner von Braun horizon all awash, aglow, awhoosh, a-Swab , ah Stuttgart, eight dogs pulling Kepler´s taxi , bound for my stratospheric home that night as Jupiter glowed and the captain, my future father, was down on the sack at her back. Plying my business.



This next shot slows down the perception of Time = MÉ FÉIN .It will ( – aha! now sneaks in tense ? ) brake my féin-tempore , mo fhéin-am, the fine self as 1500 x 997 pixels .
I was nine and not well. In our pre-Famine school-lavatory, little “I” was wandering up from the nethers to the little treble voice, pet.” Do thy milking ” it sang. ( Years later, she was my cow )
The next but one shot slows the keening of chronological time down . July 11 will be the Limerick premiere of new orchestral work, right beside the glistening Shannon. While she ( it´s Irish, silly ) awaits this event , this brazen river is asking blithely why I appear more future-dependent , look you, than I was ever gone on the idea the world couldn´t possible dare to have existed prior, say, to my beginning to exist ?
The Shannon Estuary is wide. Good image here, never soiled by bad or virtual poets.The River Jordan is chilly and cold – and it was thus as I came up for breath, nethers and torso well-oiled for the day´s acquatic struggle. ( A change of river for an unusual shot , gaffers – from Shannon to Jordan to Lethe, sorry, no, make it Styx. )In the shock of hitting the surface I had´nt time for usual Augustinian speculations about infantile wanderings on, about the I-pains , not even time for a quick thought about that cold, old, gray river portending great cosmic cold. ( Is the infinite great ? )
What about diving under again, blue boy, axel-grease a thin protection for the nethers and your little treble voice, pet, and the wandering self-chill, pet, and a partially developed “mé feín pain” and the pet´s song-pain that my young treble fluted through the class-room to prop a nine-year-old´s wobbly enough féin-ghrá, little sagging ” I” and the cosmos indifferent. Pan
then from Styx to Jordan, back to Shannon . My guardian- archangel´s pig-slurried left foot ( they, too, have two ) sharply shoved my surfacing anew junior swimming ” ringletted youth of my love ” back down into his riverly The Heavenly Anaesthetician´s Song . ( She was my cow years later )
Slurried he , a real churl archangelic, soiled the lovely ringlets with otherworldly pig-slurry – yet without converting me one whit from wandering child´s I-pain , nor yet from a ( – hey ! – totally justifiable, – I have argued several ” Musings ” earlier, perched on the West Face of Skellig Mhichil , was it September 2005 or a balmy, autumnal thereabouts ? ) – or my – perfect right to whinge A Cold Shannon Song .
Under those mutinous Shannon Estuary waves , for that oiled, greased moment, cold little I had the cold peace to argue the toss: was it true ” I = Time ? ” Would it hold water, my watery equation, that ” the Present Tense = Mé Féin ” ? And, if yes, does it also entail ” My Future = Only Me ? ” i.e. my final cadence will be the pet´s ringlets and my treble lay fluting in our Pre-Famine school´s ruined toilets , singing of post-birth : ” mé-féin = mé-pains ” ? Or: ” Nethers and their wandering ” I” ? ” But if yes, yes, yes, does this, why this, wherefore this Shannon – Euclidian turn, how entail that: ” the past before my lived past = the lie of my ” I ” ?
More succinctly versed: ” Supposin´, supposin´ / The Shannon was frozen . / – I am Time . / So´s THAT just fine ? ”
T´was full fathoms five down I fluted The Young Shannon Estuary Lay Of The Ringletted Youth :
” Winter-time is bleak ! / Small me ´s not well. / – Swam up , nethers meek, / My infant I-pain leaked / Its féin- ghrá wild ! / Oh cold Shannon-child ! / My sub-Shannon drivel ! / Like which nether evil , / Like what temporal weevil – / Nerves now me ? / Nerves also it ? / A child´s cold it / Which longs to be born again ? / – Like life after a life ? / – My Shannon- or my Styx- life ? / Is that more IT ? / More archangels´ shit ? / Maybe It = You ? / Time , bist DU ? / Spoiled water-pet, / Philo-monster , let / Shannon´s gluttonous waves / Roll over knaves, / And archangelic pig-slurry, / Over all selfish hurry / To peek, to slobber , / To flute treble verse / With its end-rhyme, ” HEARSE! ”
Then ´twas a sharp second slurried archangelic foot-feint sent this youthful, greased diver down under I -chilling waves. I was now under in Jordan. ( – he and He. She figured later as a cow. ) . River-doves fugued my fluminal I-ruin, my fluvial, doomed baptism. Duck deadly the slurried foot-puck, cold my Raphael, bold my Gabriel, a bit slurried my Michael. Thus was I Jordan- and Shannon-besoiled, say be-Styxed . A submarine pet´s only chance now: DO NOT be always goin´ on with the Shannon- Question! – cease your Jordan-Query ! Leave Lethe alone !
Bold Raphael, slurried Michael, strong-kick Archipatel , side-kick Gabriel, how can ye bisect my temporality ? how on earth mingle with my present ( or future) tense under this Estuary ? Beats me. I drown.


August 6 2006 Lyric Fm Frank Corcoran on György Ligeti as Hamburg Composer

Aug. 13. Lyric Fm broadcasts: ” Quasi Una Visione”, ” Variations on A MHÁIRÍN DE BARRA” and ” 9 Aspects Of An Irish Poem” for Choir and Solo Violin.

Sept. 18 Holland Radio broadcasts ” Quasi un Canto” ( Zagreb Philharmonic / Chikawara Iwamura )

Dec. 18 French Radio broadcasts ” Balthazar´s Dream”

Dec. 19 CD Vol. 6 ” Contemporary Music From Ireland” is launched with ” The Light Gleams”
Samuel Beckett ) for Soprano, Bass-clarinet, Violin and Cello ( commission of the
Irish Dept. of Culture for the 2006 Samuel Beckett Year )

Jan. 13 2007 N.D.R. broadcasts ” Quasi Una Visione ” ( Ensemble Modern / Sian Edwards –
2006 RTé ” Living Music” Festival Dublin. )

Jan. 13 N.D.R. Prisma Musik : Frank Corcoran does a two-hour ” Höranalyse” of
Schubert´s ” Great” C-major Symphony.



They wouldn´t even bother to write it out in a verse. eg.

” Fitzgerald, De Malster and Kyne /
Der Bishop and others of mine /
Whence their mothers and brothers? /
Their so lying Christmas line ? ”

Verse heightens, yet it failed to reach emptiness this blessed night, all our banal gifts, loving wrapping-paper industry. The Word was NOT made Flesh. It did not go into mince-meat wrapping. There was born there no cigar for The Child in a donkey´s ” here-I-bray-HEE-HAW-my -slob´s-knife-at-my-throat. ” Writing was out this Christmas. Naw. Bray a Hercules whinney .
Thus we our email had shut off for The Hovering Solstice. Whatever is felt will not be written down ; safe is only word- of -mouth in violent Bethlehem´s unstable lean-to.

Paddy De Malster plus Mine Bishop Kyne tried to sing ( both had donkey-voices, a trifle foul-smelling, ) in Sankt Petri´s chanticleer.
Paddy to Bish : ” He felt nothing ! Honest! I rooted his, too young, deep-frozen; what might Your Lordship ? ” De Bish Kyne Myne : ” Let go of that member ! He is myne, my alter ego! ”
Pet De Malster: ” Him tendering with svelt left glove, I adore Mummy “. Bishop Kyne in Christo:
“He´ll take Chemistry and Physics. Any B.Sc. degree´ll suffice for our future diocesan fiddle. ”

As it so turned out, I did fiddle at Bish Kyne´s Cheltenham funeral-games. ( How fitting: Her Majesty´s horse went berserk near the episcopal railings. )
Was it De Bishop´s or Paddy De Malster´s trickery was worse? Which? Young I was, yet devoured with justice and goose-juice at That Feast Of That Second Coming. Who sang? What was the reading ? Is now ? Will be for ever The Book of Christmas Seals. Of his , our svelt glove touching, fiddling or adoring or pawing or doing the milking – Hush! do not email ; dangerous times. Write it out in a verse:
” Pat Malt and De Bishop Mine ,
You get our pet ? – No! He´s mine!
Pull you his trousers !
Bad verse arouses! ”
For the two lambs, all innocently Chrismassy, my shattered doggerel thus:
” My Malster and Bishop won´t whine
Together, they´ve broken my spine!
Pat wheedled , Kyne needled ,
Bish fiddled , Malt fiedeld .
For me, no redemption in time.”
Or this petty nib-drivel ( awful , isn´t it ? ) :
” Paddy Fitz plus my former Kyne, Bish ,
Planned his that , then their other, now this.
One fondled his lamb,
(The other´s all sham )
Thus, between them, they´d tongue- sloughed my dish”.

Awful Christmas nib, God is not mocked in the unstable lean-to. Verse heightens not emptiness, not the wrapping-paper ( it wrapped the Child´s cigar that was not in the manger when De Bishop and Patrick Malster called by , for my heart was given to Another. ) Verse certainly heightens what ? We will.