Frank Corcoran

irish composer

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Fu ! Non c’e pi’u – he passed away… Er starb, der Freund und Komponist Ulrich Leyendecker.

In der Endphase seines Lebens , in diesem Spaetsommer und schon von seiner schweren Krankheit

gezeichnet, kam Ulrich aus der Pfalz zu unserer Bleibe in Mittelitalien .

In der Endphase seines Leidens wollte er sich von uns und seinem geliebten Italien verabschieden.

Trotz Schwaeche blitzte sein unverwechselbarer Humor und seine scharfe Beobachtungsgabe, gemildert durch Guete,

immer wieder auf. Es

waren dichte Momente von Wahrheit.

Ulrich Leyendecker war fuer mich eine

grosse , leuchtende Ausnahmeerscheinung , ein zutiefst guter, ernsthafter Komponist , ein glaenzender Lehrer und

eben mein Freund.

( In 1998 dann konnte ich im Rahmen des Dubliner Festivals fuer Neue Musik Ulrichs KAMMERMUSIK fuer

Kammermusikensemble programmieren. – mit grossem Erfolg. )

In meiner irischen Sprache heisst es im Falle des Todes eines Freundes : ” Ni bheidh a leith’ead againn feasta

” : auf Deutsch etwa:

“Seinesgleichen werden wir nie, nie wieder erfahren “.



The Sligo Festival of Contemporary Music,

November 24-26, 2000

A preview of the Sligo Festival of Contemporary Music by Artistic Director and composer, Frank Corcoran.

Frank Corcoran

The race-memory is long. Hugh (‘The Great’) O’Neill may have brought back Tudor music to Dungannon. We didn’t hear it. Handel’s financial success in Fishamble Street made no impression on the peasant Mac and Ó Corcoráins of Sligo and Roscommon. Nor did child-prodigy John Field’s youthful concert in, was it 1793? Why should they?

Ireland’s political history never allowed for a development of art-music such as Esterhazy and Vienna witnessed in the eighteenth century – I am including Georgian Dublin here. Nor did nineteenth century Buttevant, Mallow, Kilkenny or Galway have a Meiningen-like orchestra to play the symphonies of an emerging native school of composers. Our music was monodic, a subtly varied store of dance-tunes and slow airs, some of which went back far into the mists of time. Yes, the race-memory is long. The instruments, aura, conventions, settings of continental music-life are, even today in my Ireland, not neutral. How could they be free of the whiff of a foreign, non-Gaelic ( – I am watching this mine-field of definitions… ) society? Art-music is different. It demands retention of structures of a sufficient complexity to carry our concentrated interest over large spans of time.

I was eleven. It was hard to retain these tunes of the Borrisokane Bagpipe Band; after the first eight bars I was lost.

I suppose it begins with God’s stutter, two blown tones on a swan-bone flute in the tenth century BC.
Catal Huyuk, that South Turkey hunters’ village (gazelle meat, it seems) the archeologists recently unearthed. Art-music (sorry!) has an uneasy place in the native Gaelic genetic memory. The upright piano is a symbol of the Big House. The string-quartet connotes: ‘I’m maybe in the wrong place here… We Irish are deeply uneasy when faced with retention of eight bars. Wrong, it’s a question of context. Every film or television score parades subcutaneous tonal sophistication.

We don’t notice it.

Yes, we are a post-colonial situation. No, we must not close our Celtic ears to upright or string-quartet.

My music matters.
It took me years to leap over my Tipperary shadow, to accept I have the power. Okay, my Ireland – de Valera’s – came late to art-music. One John Field doesnt make a summer of Irish composers. There is a problem. We lack experience. That’s all.
I had no composer giants on whose shoulders I dared stand.
But my music had to come out. I compare it to Irish painting, poetry, film. My new Irish works are new. Irish. Sligo is my mythic choice for the world premier of my Wind Quintet and for the Irish premiere of Cúig Amhráin de Chuid Ghabriel Rosenstock (we premiered them in Berlin over 20 years ago!), Buile Suibhne, Music for the Book Of Kells (Lake Michigan, exile’s eyrie, was how many times bigger than Lough Derg on ‘my’ Shannon?),
Trauerfelder (I wrote it for the fiftieth anniversary of the Liberation of Auschwitz, but haven’t we got enough ‘Goirt a Bhróin’?). I twinned these with other Irish and European works.
Sligo was the centre of megalithic culture, of the Táin’s beginning. I see this Festival of Contemporary ( -too many syllables, Herr Mozart … )
Music as mating my musical thought with a tradition going back to that South Turkish gazelle-hunters’ village. Nua. Sean. Listen to the music those pierced swan-bone tones sang.

Bígí ag clos.

Tones matter. In Sligo.

( First published in JMI: The Journal of Music in Ireland, Vol. 1 No. 1 (Nov–Dec 2000), p15.
Published on 1 November 2000 )

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)



Frank Corcoran

There is here not only rhapsodic bowing but also rhapsodic plonking and plinking, pizzicati and ( col legno ) striking and all the myriad colour possibilities of one cello or of eight. – Quasi a chest of viols for today.

I wrote this short essay in string choirs and cello colours for the Cello Section of the N.S.O. it is in one mighty movement. Of eight minutes. The chthonic opening wooden thumps soon give way to arco lines and melodies,high rapture, rhapsodies ascending and descending.
Moving lines bisect each othe , they quiver and announce, until all gives way to the great sarabande rhythm of Bach’s C – Major Solo Cello Suite .

After the second Bach shadow the rhapsodic bowing becomes 8-voiced rapture.

Before the high
arpeggioed harmonics take over completely in the end section comes the repeated ” passacaglia ” bass with two cello as the work streams
to its tender end.

Ancient Greek : ” RHAPSOIDEIN” = ” To stitch together songs.”


“Remember me ! ” FRANK CORCORAN

That age-old cry, piteous, imperious, born out of terror, oblivion our threat.

Remember me in tones, in bronze, in the name of a lousy street, or a tomb as a clarinet concerto, what else ?

Motor of art, and- as with death- a motor of religion,of that which binds us.

I chisel it in here , I write it on water or in the sky, all ou orchestral trumpets blazing.

Change the nib.

Begin a new composition.

Oblivion will lap. Of course it will.

Stoics and Epicureans and our Buddha and all the Celtic saints of the Burren and great , even bad, indifferent workers in,

well, all the arts will yell quietly those four syllables.

So ” R ” and ” M ” and “M” and ” B ”, they enclose just three vowels…. Not bad.



1. ” Alto Rhapsody / High, pure, soaring , searing line / My orchestra snores. ”

2. ” For the womb the seed sighs / Thresh and turn and disappear / The high silence drowned…. ”

3. ” One short year ago / I strutted to Ardpatrick / To put lace on my bonnet / / Next Friday evening / they´ll shove my head on a pike / It will be snowing on my soul… ”

4. ” Suppose God is light ? / My eye tries to see itself / Soft horns , clarinets.

5. ” Whisper, whisper ” tramonto ” / Tiptoes through my dark window . / Well, is this, then, death ?


8 DUETTI for Cello and Piano

It is in the Annals of the Four Masters that the entry for the year 1498 records the death of a distant ancestor, Floirint Ó Corcorain a saoi cruitire (master harper). How many of these eight melodies were already in his repertoire? I wrote the 8 miniatures for cello and piano in 2015 and 2016. These traditional sean nós (old style) melodies have been haunting me since my rural childhood in Tipperary. I had long been appalled by the settings of old Irish melodies attempted by Beethoven, Haydn, Britten , Harty and too many other well-meaning composers: their often saccharine harmonies, their rhythmic iron corsets or indeed the foursquare form too often adopted.

In these eight settings I have had to respect the fundamentally monodic nature of each song, taking great care of its modal intentions and linear ornamentations and its architectural form, normally an arched A B B A structure. Their rhythm is normally that of the Old Spanish sarabande, a heavy three in the bar. How the sarabande came so strongly to impregnate the Irish harpers and the music they played since the 16th century is anybody’s guess. In my settings of these traditional Irish airs, the cello has to sing its plaintive song while the piano remains orchestral with its myriad colours, phrases, echoes and motifs. These settings of eight great traditional Irish melodies, indeed almost chants, are of course also historical miniatures of my vanished Ireland.

Im Aonar Seal (Once as I was alone)
A tune where the erotic is fused with a political dream. In this vision of Eoghan Rua Ó Súilleabháin, the great Kerry poet of a dying Irish language in the mid 1750s, appears Venus – an allegory for Ireland – and promises political liberation for the poor enfeebled country. Again the four melodic phrases, the arched form, the confident ascent and plaintive descent strive to articulate a country’s struggles for freedom from colonialism.

Seán Ó Duibhir An Ghleanna (John O’Dwyer of the Glen)
I learned this at six years of age in my rural Borrisokane school. It is a Jacobite lament by John O’Dwyer from Aherlow who, with the downfall of the Catholic King James at the hands of the Protestant William of Orange, lost his home, his lands, his everything. This sense of an unrecoverable past greater that his own personal loss is lyrically evoked:
On my rising in the golden morning with its resurgent sun I heard the sounds of the hunting horn, the distant guns and an old peasant woman lamenting the loss of her geese.

Príosún Chluain Meala (The Prison of Clonmel)
Clonmel is the county town and largest settlement of County Tipperary. Dating its expansion to medieval times, the town is noted for its resistance to the Cromwellian army which sacked both Drogheda and Wexford. Priosún Chluain Meala dates from the revolution year 1798, although the air is certainly much older. Again, the words of its lament with their Mahlerian/Des Knabenwunderhorn quality are very fine. This young prisoner will be hanged next Friday:
My Kerry friends, pray for me, your voices are soft to my ear. I did not think that I would never return to ye. Our three heads they’ll place upon spikes to make a grand spectacle. The snows of the night and all harsh weather will bleach us…”

A Úna Bháin I&II (Fair Una)
There are at least two versions of this great Co. Roscommon love song. Tomás Mac Coisdealbha was drowned night-swimming across lovely Lough Key to visit fair Una McDermott: ‘…you were a candelabra on the festive table for a queen.’ Still today on Trinity Island you can visit the two intertwined trees growing from their two graves. In the first version, piano harmonics echo the cello’s wild high line. In the second version, it is the cello’s primitive pizzicati on the open strings which punctuate the piano’s vain attempt to imitate the ululations of a Connemara traditional singer, the legendary Joe Heaney, heard in my distant childhood in the 1950s.

A Mháirín de Barra is love-song based on a myxolydian mode, essentially the diatonic scale with its roots in medieval forms. In the song the singer curses his lover, Mary Barry, who has come between him and God.

Róisín Dubh (Dark Roisin)
Ever since the film music of Irish composer, Seán Ó Riada, achieved iconic status in the 1960s, fiery Róisín Dubh used by him in Míse Eire has become for many the Song of Revolution, indeed almost an Irish Finlandia. Its huge melodic ascent and incandescent leaps strain to express the folk-poet’s vision: ‘The ships are on the ocean deep. There will be wine from the royal Pope for my Dark Rosaleen,’ a symbol of a little nation’s political rising.


Yes, the climbing , descending, singing human voice of the solo instrument, its joy
and radiance and despair and roughness and cantability as my
violin threads its line and lovely trellis-work up
from the open G string to the highest regions of the E string.

String joy. Great energy ! Great . Sing it !
In this opening movement
the short brass and wind chorales punctuate the violin´s Amhrán Mór, Great
Song. Always my opening melodic idea and a second little ” lusingando”
playfulness is the spiel . In the middle of this movement the
cadenza is ( – well, as it always is ) the soloist´s
show-off acrobatics, the violinist painting his canvas with his
sparkle of ideas, but they are all won from the opening tones ( as in
Beethoven, Mendelssohn, Brahms… ) , all woven into the orchestral

The Second Movement is all melody ( But can we in this c.
still compose a Lied ? Yes, we can ! ), lovely and ravishing .
Four times comes this Lied ( built again from my seven
building-blocks of that First Movement opening ) . In German ” Lied”
( “Song” ) is close to ” Leid” ( ” Suffering” ) . The central Cadenza
distills the
very essence of both. Then, near the close, the violins have
the singing before the soloist´s final lovely pizz. and sigh.

The final Third Movement has a Mozartian last movement
energy with its forward movement of fast ( string ) semiquavers,
it´s racing towards its end. ” In my end is my beginning” – it sums
up, it quotes the First and Second Mov.s before
pitting itself again against strong orchestral forces,
tiny David against his Goliathic orchestra, light and shadow and
gossamer explosions and clouds and heavenly regions, the hole thing . The
solo instrument has the last say, its last sigh rudely cut off by low
celli and basses.


Well then.

Perhaps there never ever was even a modest wave of support , understanding or acceptance here for New Music in our 20 c. ?
Perhaps all you had was those brave
moral heroes of the Second Viennese School before the Nazi thirties ? ( Schoenberg’s hasty departure, Berg’s early death and Webern’s total lonely
loon in his Austrian Alps ?

Since then you had (im)modest little footlings of composers in Munich and Berlin , WDR’s blandishments in the sixties and seventies ( I am bracketing out Poland and Paris here, also Ligeti’s Luck ) ?

Certainly here in Ham and Burg the woeful few Hogskool Concerts in my eighties and nineties were not to be trusted … But one was thankful for the few thrown crusts. And I remember well the well-meaning Schulmusik publications and books on New Music In The Schools etc., mostly pap or regurgitated programmes.


And no kind of understanding percolating down to your intellectual, public or private ; – no acceptance of the lonely heroes, no kind of parallel at all with , say, the
accepted development of pictorial arts or literary productions or avant-garde theatre .

The world-ocean of musical bilge and cowardly media contributed , certainly.

No journalist prepared to call a spade a spade, to label popular shit as sonic shit. Seldom was

analytic light cast on marketing of punks and pricks and rocks and cunts and wraps and raps , whether American or helots.

A bit bleak .