Frank Corcoran

irish composer

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3. Dezember 2016

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 )



For years I´d wanted to compose a Concerto for Cello and big orchestra – my singing David against its mighty Goliath . But I didn´t trust myself to face what

is, yes,

a mighty challenge until I´d first composed my Violin Concerto which Christopher Warren-Green premiered with the NSO and great soloist, Alan Smale, in

Nov. 2012.
I worked closely with Alan as he prepared his Concerto ; his advice to me , the composer, was ” Frank, SING IT !”

And this same advice was vital

as, one year later, I began work on this even bigger Corcoran Concerto for the mighty cello- bow of Martin Johnson.
This four movement work has even greater proportions ; this

solo instrument has to face an even bigger orchestral battle .

It sings and soars, somewhere between Dvorak ´s and Lutoslawski´s epic works. The opening reveals a broad gesture for trumpets and brass which will
return several times , quasi a ” motto” theme.
My Slow Movement would tear the heart out of you, the cello´s beautiful cantilena weaving, sobbing,

The searing Scherzo, with its huge battery of percussion is the most violent music I ever wrote….

The music winds down then in the last, meditative



Old Latin poem:

” Non fui. Fui. Non sum. Non curo. ”

That’s what he chiselled on the tombstone . ( Was he still alive during this activity ‘s what I’d just like to know…. ? – Lying even as he chiselled ? As he lay there ? )

His disembodied voice from the grave then claims ” Non Sum ” – so why should I believe then his blythe ” Non Curo” , I ask myself .
No answer because ” Fui” ( therefore “Non sum ” ? Correct ? )

Only then he boasts ” Non sum ! ” , so

his next line, his last line’s ” Non curo” has just lost him every atom of respect, belief, even of being an interesting tease – we are tempted to react with our own ” Non curo , CULO ! ” .

After all we can all try asserting ” Non fui”
so what’s great about that ?

That out of
his ( bleated ) ” Non fui” emerges his ( bloated ) ” Fui “.
Ever heard of Miss non Sequitur, wise guy ? And how prove that ” Non curo” is not an empty boast ? His grave not empty ? His swan’s song all ended ?
And yet. And yet. His grave ( ouch !) courage , his challenge hurled at Who ?
These three Promethean syllables have something grave (ouch ! again )

– Their ” 0 ” and ” u ” and their ” oo ” .
Yes, that’s it.

Vocal music. . Grave music.

Now suppose he’d got more poetic symmetry into his sepulchral poem ? – like eg.

” Non fui. Fui. Non sum. Sum. Non curo. Curo. ” – Or some other such fun ? eg.

” Non fui. Sum. Non sum. Curo. ”

More later….

MY 8 DUETTI IRLANDESI for Cello and Piano

It-s in the Annals Of the Four Masters – the entry for the year 1498 records the death of a distant ancestor of mine, Floirint O
Corcorain, ” saoi cruitire ” , a master harper. How many of these eight melodies, or their melodic prototypes, were already in his repertoire ?

I wrote these 8 miniatures for cello and piano in 2016 and 2015. These traditional “sean nos ” 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, by their often saccharine harmonies, the rhythmic iron corset or indeed the four-square form too often adopted….

In these 8 settings I have to respect the fundamentally monodic nature of each song, to take great care of its modal intentions and linear ornamentations – and its rock/solid 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 / but how the sarabande came so strongly to impregnate the Irish harpers and the music they played or recited since the 16th. century is anybody’s guess. So I “set” a traditional Irish air and the cello has to sing its plaintive song while the piano remains orchestral with its myriad colours and short phrases and echoes and motivs.

SEAN O DUIBHIR AN GHLEANNA I learned with six years in my rural Borrisokane school, this Jacobite lament by John O-Dwyer from Aherlow who with the downfall of Catholic King James at the hands of Protestant William of Orange has lost his lands, his everything. Fine nature lyricism in its text >

” 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. ”

PRIOSUN CLUAIN MEALA, “The Prison Of Clonmel” , another Tipperary tune, dating from the revolution year 1798, is certainly 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 heads they’ll place upon spikes to make a grand spectacle. The snows of the night and all harsh weather will bleach us…. ”

In the myxolydic love/song A MHAIRIN DE BARRA the singer curses his lover, his Mary Barry who has got between him and God.
There are at least two versions of that great Romeo/and/Juliet Co. Roscommon song ” A UNA BHAIN “. Tomas Mac Coisdealbha was drowned in his nightly swimming across lovely Lough Key to visit
his fair Una ” you were a candlabra on the festive table for a queen…. ”

and still today on Trinity Island in lovely Lough Key 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 punctates the piano’s vain attempt to imitate the ululations of Connamara folksinger, legendary Joe Heaney, from those distant fifties of my childhood.

Ever since the film/music of Irish composer, Sean O Riada, in the sixties achieved iconic status, fiery ROISIN DUBH has become for many the Song of Revolution , indeed almost an Irish “Finlandia” . Its huge melodic ascent and its incandescent leaps strain to express the folk/ poet-s inexpressible vision:
” The ships are on the ocean deep. There will be wine from the royal Pope for my Dark Rosaleen,” symbol of a little nation,s political Rising.

These eight settings of eight traditional Irish melodies are of course also eight historical pictures of my vanished Ireland .



Philip Casey

wrote about composer, Frank Corcoran, in 2014 :

thinking back on his sublime ” Music for the Book of Kells ” and 2 Trauerfelder/Goirt an Bhróin/Fields of Sorrow ”
at the Hugh Lane Gallery last December, which reduced members of the audience (including this scribe) to tears, I

really think his international recognition should be more widely known in Ireland.

Yes, it’s ‘Art Music.’ Yes, it may take a few listens to adjust the ear. But the rewards are great.

I’m rather proud he’s my third cousin!

He will be 70 this year,
so it’s no better time to discover him if you haven’t already.

Frank Corcoran awarded prestigious IFCM choral composition prize

“TRADURRE TRADIRE ” 2002. Frank Corcoran DEUTSCHLAND Commission.

TRADURRE – TRADIRE ( 2001 Frank Corcoran . Electronic work, commissioned by Deutschlandfunk. ca. 25′. )

Bhuel. D’ ‘eag Roibeaird ‘O Darroll 2014. Fuair s’e b’as uaigneach, ‘e go h- uaigneach – in oispid’eal uaigneach i gCathair uaigneach Berlin. N’i neart go cur le c’eile.

Bhi an-ghra agam don KOREAN TRILOGY – na 3 saothair go gleoite, rithim an udair mar pheann an chumad’ora.

Na siombail ag damhsa. Go spiorad’alta .

( – Swounds ! an cacfhocal seo , sea, t’a an ceart agat, a Roibeaird. CEAD SL’AN ! )

Bhuel , .

My TRADURRE TRADIRE of 2002, I listened to Robert Darroll.

“Visual music. ” cad is ? “Geometric shapes and patterns ”

– conas a chumtar iad i mo cheol nuachumtha ?

Mar shampla mo ” TRADURRE TRADIRE ” ?

Cork International Choral Festival

43rd Seminar on New Choral Music

Saturday 5th May 2012

10.00 John.Fitzpatrick: Opening address

10.05 R.C. Introductions (Paul & choir, & Frank Corcoran)

10.15 NCC Performance of ” Two Unholy Haikus ”

10.20 Frank Corcoran on Two Unholy Haikus

10.35 Paul Hillier and National Chamber Choir on performance perspective

10.45 Open discussion


Philip from Dublin, a Casey and one of us , Yes, “His duty all ended ? ”

Philip , cousin and brother, poet and seer, was one of the most beautiful people I know.

One of the most generous – in his time and thought . He cared.


_ SEAN AGUS NUA – Philip penned his polyphonic, polyvalent poem, ” QUILLSPILL ” . It sounds his tocsin now ,

Philip’s sufferings all ended:

“Water receives

Bell music; bell

Notes fade over

The rosy fingers of Eos

On the river…. ”

– Sea, n’i bheidh a leitheid eile ar’is ann … I too, here in Hamburg, mourn his passing.


Subject: Composer Portrait for Concertzender . FRANK CORCORAN

“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 ( at that time 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 ; how bend time ? What form or shape ? music cannot 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 then 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 world”, a different world from our everyday world. Here you hear the first movement, “Soli”, my symphonic world which I composed in 1981 in West Berlin.

( Could I re-create this work like that today ? No, impossible ! )

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” horror ? The Hamburg party-less Minister of Culture at that time , 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 !” But still I persisted…. )

I decided to use an orchestra of only percussion instruments. How can a snare-drum, gongs and tamtam, paint the awful barracks and its abject prisoners being awakened to another awful day of violence and death ? 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 dreadful message of inhuman violence, mistreatment, death ; then the timpani usher 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, with the giant computers of West German Radio’s

Electronic Studios in Cologne I composed a large piece using my Irish Tipperary childhood memories and my love of mythic Early Ireland . It was my third electronic composition for WDR after the 1995 “JOYCEPEAK MUSIK” which won the Studio Akustische Kunst Prize and the vast ” SWEENEY’S VISION ” which won the 1999 First Prize at Bourges Festival.

I dreamed, composed, imagined, I painted my canvas , my QUASI UNA MISSA , which then won the 2002 Swedish E.M.S. prize for electronic music. ( – I had never wanted to

distinguishc reative work with symphonic or chamber or vocal and choral forces as in any deep way different from my composing with the computer . Computer music, too , if it is not to remain mere technological fetish , is, or has to be music…. )

QUASI UNA MISSA is my celebration of over 2000 years of God-statements on the island of Ireland, its religiosity and its drive towards the mystical. Its 4 movements refer loosely to the movements of the Latin Mass. It is , of course, also a salute to Western vocal polyphony with its use of only language, the fragments of Irish, English, Latin, Greek religious utterances ranging from Aimhirgin ( the Celtic god of mystical poetry ) through Joyce and Beckett and Bishop Berkeley and medieval Irish poets etc.

The fourth, final movement sums it all up, Irish joy and sorrow, extratemporal ” nunc stans” of religious ecstasy,lullaby and dance and the keening women of the Aran Islands, Irish lilting or ” port-a-bheil”. – Quasi an ” Irish Circus” , My Quasi Una Missa.


In my series of “Quasi” works of the nineties, Quasi Un Canto, Quasi Un Lamento, Quasi Una Missa and so on – the “quasi” in my titles betrays my being only too conscious of the fact that a composer nowadays is no longer innocent and knows too much of world-music to be able to remain neutral in the face of all the new styles and fads and fashions and inventions of 20th. century music, none is stranger than my QUASI UNA FUGA for string orchestra from the year 2007.

Is this a neo-baroque fugue ? – Good God, no ! This last century has heard enough of bad neo-Bachian works and post-Hindemithian counterpoint to last us for ever ….

And yet my one movement QUASI UNA FUGA is my salute to counterpoint. It has a theme, the opening ascending 12 tones in the celli. It has a “contrasoggetto” in the best manner of the Baroque era.

It ascends . It descends. Its lines intertwine like the painted snakes on a page of the Book of Kells. But it sounds neither like Bach nor Bartok . Its Corcoran “sound” dares not imitate that of Ligeti ( who had been a colleague of mine in Hamburg ) nor Lutoslawski – to mention two giants of contemporary composition for string orchestra.

Near the end my monument to counterpoint begins to morph into the high, ethereal tones of an Early Celtic chant, ” Ibunt sancti ” which tradition attributes to Saint Brendan and his 12 monks crossing the wild waters of the North Atlantic around the year 550 A.D. and , legend has it, breakfasting on the back of an ( unbaptized ) whale.

The Irish Chamber Orchestra under Anthony Marwood premiered QUASI UNA FUGA in Limerick Cathedral at the 2007 Shannon Festival . In Limerick, or the early Norse version ” Ilimreck ” , the mighty river Shannon of my Tipperary childhood flows into the Atlantic ocean. I felt my life had come a full circle. Quasi.

MUSIC 4. QUASI UNA FUGA . 12.27 ( Irish Radio recording 2007 of Irish Chamber Orchestra / Anthony Marwood )

For the contemporary composer is it still possible to use traditional orchestral forms ? Certainly – but only as ” quasi” , self-consciously …. no cheap imitation or ideological dogma. Form, yes, in the age-old sense that I as a composer must bend and form and forge time in music;

my art demands a strong relationship between the parts of a piece with each other and with the musical whole. I ” com-pose” .

We this year premiered the new Cello Concerto in Dublin. It could not have been written without its predecessor, the Violin Concerto of 2012. My friend, the violinist virtuoso Alan Smale, in discussing the Violin Concerto’s gestation gave to me – a non-violinist – the following advice:

“Sing ! The soloist must sing !” I composed the Concerto for a slightly reduced orchestra in 3 movements – no tuba, yes, harp, light percussion.

The second movement is a slow song. My violin sings and weeps and sobs in its solo flight. Melody in the twenty first century ? Yes. Three times comes this slow , sad song, each time subtly varied . Architecture in music ? Yes ! Its line, of course, echoes all the violin concerti of the past and all the violin lines of the Paganinis and the Brahmses and Beethovens of the past , yet without succumbing to neo-tonal or cheap imitation. The orchestral shouts praise and negate and question.

The third verse of my song then dissolves into last fragments of the solo cadenza.

MUSIC 5. Frank Corcoran VIOLIN CONCERTO Mov. 2. 5.40 . ( I N S O / Colman Pearce. Lyric recording 2012 )

I have composed in almost all musical genres – the near completion in 1987 of the opera ” Gilgamesh ” was interrupted for ever by the violent death of my son in Hamburg – orchestral and vocal and electronic and chamber . A very intense childhood memory is of a traditional Irish ballad-singer trumpeting out his 19th. c. ballads on the main street of my Tipperary village of a farmers fair-day – he had an enormous voice.

Choral music has always interested me, the human voice, the body of articulated sounds of human bodies. My EIGHT HAIKUS for large choir won the 2013 First Prize of the International federation for Choir Music.

A few years before that, a tiny Haiku-like miniature poem in Irish by the poet , Gabriel Rosenstock, drove me to compose the NINE ASPECTS OF AN IRISH POEM. Its 12 syllables and 13 consonants became the building blocks of my nine choral chapters. Its ” A” and “As” and ” tob” and so on become my Urmaterial.

“As tobar duigh speire / Lionann crainn / A ngoib…. ”

“From the inkwell of the sky / Trees fill / Their beaks. ”


Before and between these choral chapters a solo violin sounds. It bows and plucks and gradually becomes part of the choral music – was this the ( unconscious ) beginning of the Violin Concerto which was born several years later ? Perhaps….

MUSIC 6. NINE ASPECTS OF AN IRISH POEM for Solo Violin and Large Choir ( Lyric recording 2004 ) 11.39



Yes, I always loved my ” Liber Usualis ” , its lumpy weight , full of black
Apparently I willdie, – not only Seamus Heaney and David Frost
have just had that privilege.

So who´ll see this aurora turn to dawn then ? Will it turn to dawn?

Where will my universe of felt feelings and drunk drinks and
suffered tones and negative feelings and pettinesses and ecstasy and
ecstasies and big take-offs and small ( – the Phrank Cork Universe, we´ll
call it ), my mortal sensorium , all my reeling films and thrusts towards love, towards truth,
“truth” and “love” be gone to?

We´re back to “Cogito ergo cogitans sum” , a grand tautology , my black boot-straps heaving to pull me up
further; now stilled for ever after my passing,
stopping,full stop.
How on
earth will this earth get on at all ?

To be continued.

Watch your cork.

Caoin tú féin ; but only just enough .

Beware processions, Seamus. Get back, ye millions !

Start the Big YELL at the beginning of my electronic piece, ” TRADURRE / TRADIRE ” !

Deep brass and tearing timps of my Second Symphony ( recently re-heard in Blankenese, Hamburg ).

Work well worked.

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