Frank Corcoran

irish composer

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They just went live with the essay on Colony…SEE:!joyceanaesthetics/csdx

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Frank Corcoran

(born 1 May 1944) is an Irish composer.[1] His output includes chamber, symphonic, choral and electro-acoustic music, through which he often explores Irish mythology and history.


1 Life
2 Music
3 Awards
4 Selected compositions
5 Bibliography
6 Recordings
7 References


“I came late to art music; childhood soundscapes live on. The best work with imagination/intellect must be exorcistic-laudatory-excavatory. I am a passionate believer in “Irish” dream-landscape, two languages, polyphony of history, not ideology or programme. No Irish composer has yet dealt adequately with our past. The way forward – newest forms and technique (for me especially macro-counterpoint) – is the way back to deepest human experience.”[2]

Born in Borrisokane, County Tipperary, Corcoran studied at Dublin, Maynooth (1961–4), Rome (1967–9) and Berlin (1969–71), where he was a pupil of Boris Blacher. He was a music inspector for the Irish government Department of Education from 1971 to 1979, after which he took up a composer fellowship from the Berlin Künstlerprogramm (1980–1). He has taught in Berlin (1981), Stuttgart (1982) and Hamburg, where he has been professor of composition and theory in the Staatliche Hochschule für Musik und darstellende Kunst (1983–2008). He was a visiting professor and Fulbright scholar at the University of Wisconsin–Milwaukee in the U.S. in 1989-90 and has been a guest lecturer at CalArts, Harvard University, Princeton University, Boston College, New York University, and Indiana University.[3]

Corcoran has been a member of Aosdána, the Irish academy of creative artists, since its inception in 1983. He was the first Irish composer to have had a symphony premiered in Vienna (1st Symphony, Symphonies of Symphonies of Wind, in 1981).[4]

Corcoran lives in Germany and Italy.

In the late 1970s, Corcoran developed a technique he calls “macro-counterpoint”. Related to similar approaches by Witold Lutos?awski and György Ligeti, it “refers to the contrapuntal treatment of layers of sound as opposed to the traditional focus of the intervallic compatibility of one line with another”[5] as in traditional counterpoint. The first composition in which he applied this technique was the Piano Trio (1978). Here, the three instruments each form an independent layer of sound, moving at their own speed and in individual time signatures, numbers of bars, etc. The individual lines remain transparent throughout. At specific points in the score, the musicians are asked to pause in order to start again simultaneously.[6] The aleatoric element is even stronger than with Lutos?awski, however, because “unlike Lutos?awski he does not have control over the harmonic result, as pitches will be differently sounded against each other during every performance”.[7]

Corcoran’s strong identification with his Irish heritage has led to many compositions inspired by Celtic Irish mythology, and modern Irish literature. A series of works in various genres written between 1996 and 2003 focus on the life of “Mad Sweeney”, a minor 7th-century king from the north of Ireland who is the subject of the ancient Irish tale Buile Shuibhne. Many other works also have an Irish focus, including the choral Nine Medieval Irish Epigrams (1973), the percussion piece Music for the Book of Kells (1990) and some works referring to the work of Irish writers James Joyce, Samuel Beckett and Seamus Heaney.

Another series of works with titles beginning on the word “Quasi …”, written between 1999 and 2009, highlights and interprets concepts such as visions or musical forms and expressions such as concertino, lamento, fuga, sarabanda, pizzicato, etc. which serve as both inspiration for the music and as creative raw material.

Corcoran has won a number of awards throughout his career. Recent awards include:

StudioAkustische Kunst, Cologne, in 1995 (for Joycepeak Music)
Bourges International Electro-acoustic Music Competition, 1999 (for Sweeney’s Vision)
EMS Prize, Stockholm, 2002 (for Quasi Una Missa)
Sean Ó Riada Memorial Prize at the Cork International Choral Festival, 2011
First Prize Outright of the International Foundation for Choral Music, 2013 (for 8 Haikus)

Selected compositions


Symphony No. 1 (1980)
Symphony No. 2 (1981)
Concerto for String Orchestra (1982)
Symphony No. 3 (1994)
Mikrokosmoi (1994)
Symphony No. 4 (1996)
Quasi un canto (2002)
Quasi un concertino (2003)
Quasi una visione (2004)
Quasi una fuga (2005)
Violin Concerto (2011)
Variations on Myself (2012), chamber orch
Cello Concerto (2014)

Chamber ensembles

Wind Quintet No. 2 (1978)
Piano Trio (1978), vn, vc, pf
Shadows of Gilgamesh (1988), fl, ob, cl, hn, tpt, trbn, perc, pf, vn, va, vc, db
Music for the Book of Kells (1990), 5perc, pf
Four Concertini of Ice (1993), fl, ob, cl, hn, vn, vc, db, perc
Trauerfelder (1995), 4perc
Wind Quintet No. 3 (1999)
Sweeney’s Smithereens (2000), fl, pic, cl+bcl, perc, pf, vn, db
Quasi un amore (2002), fl, gui
Quasi una Sarabande (2008), cl, bn, hn, 2vn, va, vc, db
Clarinet Quintet (2011)
Rhapsodic Bowing (2012), 8vc
Nine Looks at Pierrot (2013), fl+picc, cl+bcl, vn, vc, pf
Quasi una Storia (2014), 8vn, 2va, 2vc, db
8 Irish Duets for Cello and Piano (2015)
Piano Trio (2016), va, vc, pf
String Quartet (2016)

Solo instrumental

Sonata for Organ (1973)
The Quare Hawk (1974), flute
Hernia (1977), double bass
Changes (1979), piano
Variations on ‘Caleno costure me’ (1982), harpsichord
Three Pieces for Solo Clarinet (1987)
Three Pieces for Guitar (1990)
Ice-Etchings No. 2 (1996), cello
Sweeney’s Total Rondo (2002), piano
Variations on ‘A Mháirín de Barra’ (2004), viola
Nine Pratoleva Pearls (2008), piano
A Dark Song (2011), bass clarinet
In the Deep Heart’s Core (2011), harp
Snapshot (2012), cello
Seven Miniatures for Solo Violin (2013)

Vocal and choral

Nine Medieval Irish Epigrams (1973), satb
Ceol an Aifrinn (1980)
Gilgamesh (1990), 7 soli, satb, orchestra
Nine Aspects of a Poem (1989; rev. 2003), satb, vn
Carraig aonair (1976), soprano, alto, pf
Kiesel (1980), soprano, 2vn, va
Cúig amhráin de chuid Gabriel Rosenstock (1980), soprano, vn, vc, pf
Dán Aimhirgín (1989), soprano, va, bcl, pf
Buile Suibhne (1998), fl+pic+afl, ob, cl+bcl, hn, perc, vn, va, vc, db, spkr
Quasi una melodia (2001), soprano, tsax, va, mar, pf
Quasi un pizzicato (2004), fl, hp, pf, perc, spkr
The Light Gleams (2006), soprano, bcl, vn, vc
Four Orchestral Prayers (2006), mezzo, orch
Five Lieder (2010), tenor, pf
Songs of Terror and Love (2011), bass, fl+picc+afl, cl+bcl, pf, vn+va, vc
Eight Haikus (2012), satb
My Alto Rhapsodies (2014), alto, orch
An Irish Christmas Carol (2014), satb


Balthazar’s Dream (1980)
Farewell Symphonies (1982), with speaker & orch
Sweeney’s Vision (1997)
Quasi una missa (1999)
Tradurre – Tradire (2005)


Annette Kreutziger-Herr: “Frank Corcoran”, in: Komponisten der Gegenwart (KdG) (Munich: edition text+kritik, 1992ff.), 5th supplement, July 1994.
Axel Klein: Die Musik Irlands im 20. Jahrhundert (Hildesheim: Georg Olms Verlag, 1996).
John Page: “A Post-War ‘Irish’ Symphony: Frank Corcoran’s Symphony No. 2”, in: Gareth Cox & Axel Klein (eds.): Irish Music in the Twentieth Century (Dublin: Four Courts Press, 2003), p. 134–149.
Hazel Farrell: “Corcoran, Frank”, in: The Encyclopaedia of Music in Ireland, ed. by Harry White & Barra Boydell (Dublin: UCD Press, 2013), p. 243–5.
Benjamin Dwyer: “An Interview with Frank Corcoran”, in: B. Dwyer: Different Voices. Irish Music and Music in Ireland (Hofheim: Wolke Verlag, 2014), p. 94–111.
Hans-Dieter Grünefeld (ed.): Old and New – Sean agus Núa. An Irish Composer Invents Himself. Frank Corcoran. Festschrift at Seventy (Lübeck: the editor, 2015); ISBN 978-3-00-050153-1.


Piano Trio; The Quare Hawk; String Quartet No. 1; Gestures of Sound and Silence, Mythologies, performed by Hesketh Trio, Madeleine Berkeley (fl), Testore Quartet, Aisling Drury-Byrne (vc), Frank Corcoran (pf), Roger Doyle (perc), on: Self Help 101 (LP, 1980).
Mikrokosmoi, performed by Irish Chamber Orchestra, Fionnuala Hunt (cond.), on: Black Box Music BBM 1013 (CD, 1998).
Symphonies No. 2, 3, and 4, performed by National Symphony Orchestra of Ireland, Colman Pearce (cond.), on: Marco Polo 8.225107 (CD, 1999).
Mad Sweeney; Music for the Book of Kells; Wind Quintet; Sweeney’s Vision, performed by Das Neue Werk NDR Ensemble, Percussion Modern, Stuttgart Wind Quintet, on: Black Box Music BBM 1026 (CD, 1999).
Trauerfelder, performed by Modern Percussion, Joachim Winkler (cond.), on: Hochschule für Musik und Theater Hamburg [no label code] (CD, 2000).
Quasi una missa; Piano Trio; Balthasar’s Dream; Five Rosenstock Lieder; Wind Quintet No. 3; Sweeney’s Farewell, performed by Hesketh Trio, Sabine Sommerfeld (soprano), Hamburg Trio, Daedalus Quintet, on: col legno WWE 1CD 20214 (CD, 2003).
Sweeney’s Smithereens; Five Trauerfelder; Tradurre – Tradire; Concert for String Orchestra; Five Songs Without Words, performed by Ensemble für Neue Musik München & Dieter Cichewicz (cond.), Percussion-Ensemble München & Dieter Cichewicz (cond.), Die Maulwerker & electronics, Irish Chamber Orchestra & David Robertson (cond.), Das Neue Werk NDR Ensemble & Dieter Cichewicz (cond.), on: Composers Art Label cal-13017 (CD, 2003).
Quasi una visione; Ice-Etchings No. 2; Quasi un concerto; Quasi Variations on ‘A Mhárín de Bharra’; Quasi un pizzicato; Quasi Aspects of an Irish Poem, performed by Ensemble Modern & Sian Edwards (cond.), David Stromberg (vc), Cantus Kammerorchester & Beroslaw Sipus (cond.), Wireworks Ensemble & René Gulikers (cond.), National Chamber Choir & Celso Antunes (cond.), Constantin Zanidache (va), on: Composers Art Label cal-13021 (CD, 2006).
Cello Concerto; Rhapsodietta Joyceana; Rhapsodic Bowing; Duetti Irlandesi, performed by Martin Johnson (vc), Fergal Caulfield (pf), RTÉ National Symphony Orchestra, Gavin Maloney (cond.), on: RTÉ lyric fm CD 154 (CD, 2017).


Hazel Farrell: “Corcoran, Frank”, in: The Encyclopaedia of Music in Ireland, ed. by Harry White & Barra Boydell (Dublin: UCD Press, 2013), p. 243–5.
Farrell (2013), p. 244; see Bibliography.
Klein (1996), p. 289–292; see Bibliography.
Farrell (2013), as above.


Cross Currents: Episode 1
Tue 13 Sep 2016

Episode 1 from Cross Currents, radio series on Irish composers and their music produced by Athena Media for RTÉ lyric fm in association with CMC.

The episode opens with Seóirse Bodley, part of an earlier generation of composers who made waves in the 1960s, and traces the evolution of new music in Ireland from the late 1960s to the mid 1970s. The programme will deal with the issues which music faced in a post-colonial Ireland: the lack of an obvious tradition in Irish composition, and a tension between modernity and tradition.

Other contributions in this series will include those from John Kinsella, composer and former Head of Music in RTÉ, Frank Corcoran, who will talk about his emergence from Tipperary and his discovery of the European contemporary music scene through recordings and performances of the Radio Eireann Symphony Orchestra, and Raymond Deane on his early career as a young composer in Dublin. Some of the key developments for new music during this time will be covered, such as the establishment of the Association of Irish Composers, and the Dublin Festival of Twentieth Century Music, and John Buckley will talk about how these developments were instrumental in the compositional path which he followed.

Further information:
Episode Playlist

Frank Corcoran – Three pieces for orchestra
RTE Symphony Orchestra, conductor Richard Pittman
RTÉ archives


Von Katja Engler | Veröffentlicht am 30.04.2004 | Lesedauer: 2 Minuten
Kultur kompakt
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Das Studio 21 für aktuelle Musik gibt heute um 18 Uhr, im Mendelssohn-Saal der Hochschule für Musik und Theater ein Geburtstagskonzert für den irischen Hochschulkomponisten Frank Corcoran (60). Zur Aufführung kommen u.a. seine Werke Ice-Etchings für Cello, Joycepeak-Musik, Bachs 3. Suite für Solo-Cello. Nach dem Konzert findet ein Gespräch mit dem Komponisten statt. Der Eintritt ist frei.


Tradurre Tradire

Von Frank Corcoran

Ein Mischpult (Deutschlandradio / Bettina Straub)
Corcoran schafft in seinem elektroakustischen Werk ein Beziehungsgeflecht der Bedeutungen und Missdeutungen. (Deutschlandradio / Bettina Straub)

Das Wortspiel und Sprichwort “Tradurre – Tradire” will sagen: “Übersetzen bedeutet Verrat, Betrug”. Frank Corcoran setzt sich in seiner Komposition ganz wörtlich mit diesem Grundproblem jeder sprachlichen Übersetzung und Vermittlung auseinander.

Anhand eines kurzen gälischen Gedichts des irischen Poeten Gabriel Rosenstock und dessen englischer und deutscher Übersetzung schafft Corcoran in seinem elektroakustischen Werk ein Beziehungsgeflecht der Bedeutungen und Missdeutungen. Die polyphone Klangkomposition für vier Stimmen führt den aufmerksamen Hörer in philosophische Abgründe.

Mit: Maulwerker
Ton und Technik: Folkmar Hein, Elektonisches Studio der TU Berlin

Produktion: DLR Berlin 2004
Länge: 24’01

Frank Corcoran, 1944 in Tipperary/Irland geboren, ist Komponist für Kammermusik, Symphonien, Chor- und elektroakustische Werke. Zahlreiche Preise. Er lebt in Italien und Hamburg.


Skeptisches Vertrauen: Porträtkonzert Frank Corcoran bei den „Horizons“ in Dublin
Frank Corcoran. Foto: Hans-Dieter Grünefeld
(nmz) –
„Der Weg vorwärts – neueste Formen und Techniken, für mich insbesondere Makrokontrapunkt – ist der Weg zurück zu tiefster menschlicher Erfahrung“, erklärt Frank Corcoran, Komponist aus Irland, sein Prinzip zeitgenössischer Musik. Wesentliche Merkmale seiner Werke sind skeptisches Vertrauen in tradierte Formen und die Reflexion religiöser Sujets, deren Bedeutung für die Gegenwart er durch eine Balance von Nähe und Distanz im musikalischen Diskurs dekliniert.
22.02.2010 – Von Hans-Dieter Grünefeld

Unter dieser Prämisse gestaltete er auch sein Porträtkonzert bei den “Horizons – Free Contemporary Music” am 19.Januar 2010 in der National Concert Hall Dublin, für das Frank Corcoran zwei Weltpremieren seines Repertoires aufs Programm gesetzt hatte. Wovon “Quasi Una Fuga” (in der Version für großes Orchester) paradigmatisch für seinen Kompositionsstil ist: nicht irgendein Spätaufguss neobarocker Reminiszenzen, sondern die sozusagen extravagante Verteilung einer Zwölftonskala auf rhythmische Zuckungen und in ihnen wandernde Klangzellen. Deren flamboyanten Timbres und kontrapunktischen Schichtungen hat Colman Pearce mit dem RTÈ National Symphony Orchestra mit verblüffenden Plots präsentiert. In mentaler Korrespondenz zu “Quasi Una Fuga” hatte Frank Corcoran die selten zu hörende “Novelette” von Witold Lutos?awski ausgewählt. Mit kantigen Motivschnitten und eruptiven Emotionen wurde die “Novelette” ein prägnantes Pendant zum eigenen Profil.

Essentiell dann für Mezzo-Sopran “Four Orchestral Prayers”, also “Gebete” (nicht konventionelle Lieder), deren komplexen Solopartien mit vier wechselnden Sprachen Chloe Hinton in nur 14 Tagen präzise vorbereiten konnte. Die Melodik (ja, Melodik!), Rezitative und Deklamationen intonierte sie ganz im Sinn und Duktus dieser philosophisch-poetischen Texte von Scotus Eriugena (irischer Philosoph, 810-877), Henry Francis (schottischer Hymniker, 1793-1847), Meister Eckhart (deutscher Mystiker, 1260-1327) und einer anonymen Villa-Inschrift des 18. Jahrhunderts aus Hamburg (“Wir bauen hier so feste / Und sind doch fremde Gäste”). Dabei war das Orchester nicht nur Klangsouffleur, sondern quasi altera vox oder komplementäre Stimme in subtilen Dialogen, die göttliche Zuneigung für die menschliche Existenz herausfordern. Als biographische Signaturen zu einem ästhetischen Zuhause in europäischem Format sind die “Four Orchestral Prayers” von Frank Corcoran ein Meisterwerk fürs 21. Jahrhundert geworden.

Irische Identität ist insular. Weshalb zur Winterszeit in Dublin “Lunchtime Concerts” (Mittagskonzerte) mit zeitgenössischer Musik durchaus Beachtung finden, preiswerte kulinarische Angebote inklusive. Auf dem europäischen Kontinent, zumindest in Deutschland, kaum vorstellbar. Doch in Dublin hat sich diese Konzertreihe unter dem Titel “Horizons” etabliert, wie Sémaus Crimmins, Direktor beim RTÈ (öffentlich-rechtlicher Rundfunk der Republik Irland / Eire) bestätigt: “Wir starteten diese Initiative zur Förderung zeitgenössischer Musik aus Irland in Zusammenarbeit mit der National Concert Hall vor einigen Jahren als ‘Teatime Concerts’, die wir etwa um 18:30 Uhr abends gesendet haben. Dann wurden sie neu terminiert, und nun finden sie im Januar und Februar immer dienstags von 13 bis 14 Uhr statt. Der Eintritt ist frei! Natürlich hat das Publikum sehr spezielle Hörinteressen, aber wir laden auch Schulklassen ein. Diese Termine passen gut zu ihren Schulzeiten, sodass wir meistens eine Frequenz von 200 bis 400 Besuchern haben.” Der RTÈ übernimmt mit “Horizons” institutionelle Verantwortung für zeitgenössische Musik, sieht seine Aufgabe als Patronage und gibt jedes Jahr mehrere Werke für RTÈ-Ensembles in Auftrag. Die Präsentationen werden dann im Radio übertragen.

Für die Porträtkonzerte werden von einem Komitee aus RTÈ-Repräsentanten pro Wintersaison vier Komponisten bestimmt, die eigene und je biographisch für sie wichtige Werke in einem Tableau vorstellen können. Etwa eine halbe Stunde vor Beginn hat jeder Komponist die Gelegenheit, im John Fields Saal der National Concert Hall seine Konzeption für Interessierte zu erläutern. “Die Probenzeit ist sehr kurz, nur am Montag und Dienstag sind ein paar Stunden zur Verfügung, um diese oft sehr komplexe Musik zu lernen”, sagt Séamus Crimmins. Dennoch haben die Aufführungen mit dem RTÈ National Symphony Orchestra eine exzellente Qualität und eine Atmosphäre mit neugierigem Appetit: Unter der Parole “Discover what’s out there” (entdecke was draußen ist), nämlich jenseits der bekannten Horizonte, sollte man als Tourist zur Winterzeit in Dublin an einen Besuch in der National Concert Hall denken. Dienstags, zur Mittagszeit, wartet dort das Unerwartete – Irland.
Weiterführende Informationen:
Homepage Frank Corcoran


Corcoran, Frank

(b Borrisokane, Tipperary, 1 May 1944). Irish composer. He studied music, philosophy, ancient languages, and theology at Maynooth, University College Dublin, Trinity College Dublin, and in Rome, and composition in Berlin with Blacher (1969–71). He has served as music inspector for the Irish Department of Education (1971–9), been a guest of the Berlin Artist’s Programme (1980–81), and has taught at the Staatliche Hochschule für Musik, Stuttgart (1982–3) and the Staatliche Hochschule für Musik und Darstellende Kunst, Hamburg (from 1983). He was elected to Aosdána, the Irish academy of creative artists, in 1983. He was a Fulbright visiting professor and Fulbright scholar in the USA in 1989–90. His compositions have won a number of prizes including the Studio Akustische Kunst First Prize in 1996 for Joycepeak Music, first prize at the Bourges International Electro-acoustic Music Competition in 1999 for Sweeny’s Vision, the EMS Prize, Stockholm in 2002 for Quasi Una Missa, and the International Federation for Choral Music’s Second International Competition for Choral Composition for Eight Haikus in 2013.

Corcoran has developed a distinct and complex language of aleatory macro-counterpoint in which sound layers are superimposed polyphonically but retain independence through distinctive polymetric, agogic, and dynamic indications. This technique is evident from the early Piano Trio (1978) to Ice Etchings no.1 and Mad Sweeney (both 1996). The later was the first of a series of works initially inspired by Seamus Heaney’s translation of the Irish epic. His many cultural interests are reflected in the texts of his vocal works; the opera Gilgamesh (1990), for example, is based on a Sumerian epic. The Irische Mikrokosmoi for piano (1993) are based on traditional Irish melodies and rhythms. From 1999 until 2009 to he worked on a series of works utilizing the descriptor ‘quasi’. These ranged from orchestral works such as Quasi un canto and Quasi una Visione to solo instrumental works such as Quasi un Basso.


KdG (A. Kreutziger-Herr)

A. Klein: Die Musik Irlands im 20. Jahrhundert (Hildesheim, 1996)

E. O’Kelly: ‘Frank Corcoran’, The Blackwell Companion to Modern Irish Culture, ed. W.J. McCormack (Oxford, 1999)

J. Page: ‘A Post-War “Irish” Symphony: Frank Corcoran’s Symphony no. 2’, Irish Musical Studies 7: Irish Music in the Twentieth Century, ed. G. Cox and A. Klein (Dublin, 2003)

Gareth Cox/Mark Fitzgerald

My PIANO TRIO ( of now so distant 1977, I think it was ) holds a special place in my early output , being the first work I´d regard as a break-through with my macrocountrpoint technique .

Now Zagreb Biennale wants to do it in 2013 ( see letter below )
But I have the unwell feeling that those parts ( that Boote Und Bock Berlin copyist did the very first hand-written copying in his best blue (!) ink which, of course, has long since woefully faded !) are not available !

Maybe you could :

( I do remember an Irish copyist over 10 years ago made a banjaxed job of copying my Trio, just not understanding how to get my 3 separate tempi at all …

And yet, from WHICH parts did Daragh Morgan´s lads play a London (King´s Place) version a few years ago ? – Then there was that Spanish Trio Arbos who did it in Sligo, – again it’s some years ago… ).