Frank Corcoran

irish composer

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CMCIreland – Cross Currents: Frank Corcoran


Sat 12th May 2018

Crescent Arts Centre, Belfast


Duos, trios and quartets are unusually absent from this event, which instead focuses on pieces for the full ensemble

contrasted with solo works. However, the cello work Strum, Strum and be Hang’d from Belfast composer David Byers and

Save the whale from the late Dutch composer Ton Bruynel both have additional “tape” elements; the latter is all the

more unique using as it uses the rare contrabass clarinet. John Buckley’shighly virtuosic 2 Fantasias for Alto flute

and the Irish premiere of Piers Hellawell’s Let’s Dance, for solo percussion, complete the solo works.

For larger forces, two of the HRSE commissions for this season appear here. Greg Caffrey’s work, ..for peace comes
dropping slow, takes inspiration from one of Yeats’ most famous poems.

The other newly commissioned work, A Battuta, is the latest creation coaxed from the pen of Derry born Kevin O’Connell.

It is fitting that a “Pierrot format” ensemble such as HRSE should give the world premiere performance of Frank Corcoran’s own Nine looks at Pierrot

and we continue to celebrate our 2017/18 Featured Composer, Ian Wilson’s output with a performance of Involute, a

piece that sees the format expand to include percussion.

Music by: Greg Caffrey, John Buckley, Ian Wilson, David Byers, Kevin O’Connell, Ton Bruynel, Frank Corcoran,

Piers Hellawell and Hans Werner Henze.


N D R KULTUR 11.11.2017

0:00 Prisma Musik
Thema: Kleine Schule des musikalischen Hörens
Frank Corcoran hört das Cellokonzert von Edward Elgar
“Elgars langsame Passagen zerreißen mich innerlich gerade … Es ist wie das Destillat einer Träne”, gestand Jacqueline du Pré einmal, die vielleicht berühmteste Interpretin dieses Werks. Kurz nach dem Ersten Weltkrieg entstand das Cellokonzert, das man einmal die “Elegie auf eine untergegangene Zivilisation” genannt hat, in der ländlichen Abgeschiedenheit seines Landhauses in Sussex. Das Werk markiert gleichsam den Gegenpol zu “Pomp and Circumstance” in Elgars Schaffen, eine Musik des Abschieds, verhaltener und sparsamer in den Mitteln als alle Orchesterwerke der Vorkriegszeit.

20:00 Nachrichten, Wetter

22:00 Variationen zum Thema
Musikbeispiele zum Themenabend
Edward Elgar:
Konzert für Violoncello und Orchester e-Moll op. 85
Steven Isserlis, Violoncello
Philharmonia Orchestra London
Leitung: Paavo Järvi
Klavierquintett a-Moll op. 84
Pihtipudas Kvintetti
Frank Corcoran:
Martin Johnson, Violoncello
RTE National Symphony Orchestra
Leitung: Gavin Maloney
Frank Corcoran:
Rhapsodic Thinking fuer 8 Celli
Leitung; Gavin Maloney



His old begging-bowl,
Receiving its cold pennies,
The night will be cold.

” Hunger’s the best sauce”
Weeping, he bites his cold lips.
Once it was different.

“Do bhi bean uasal “….
That nasal tin-whistle tune .
‘Twould put years on you.

Tonight no haiku.
No, the cold moon was rising.
No pen, no paper….

fuaim ársa
bonn airgid ag titim
i mbabhla déirce

ancient sound
a coin drops
in a begging bowl
Reply Reply All Forward




It is in the Annals Of the Four Masters ; their 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 Floirint’s repertoire ?

I wrote the ” 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, their rhythmic iron corset or indeed the foursquare form which they too often adopted….

In my 8 settings I have had to respect the fundamentally monodic nature of each song, I have to take great care of its modal intentions and linear ornamentations – and, indeed, its rock/solid architectural form ( which is normally an arched A B B A structure. )

Their rhythm is normally that of the Old Spanish sarabande, a heavy three in the bar / and 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 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 . Finest 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 almost 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 never did 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…. ”

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 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, in 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 also 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 great, traditional Irish melodies, indeed almost chants, are of course also eight historical pictures of my vanished Ireland . Vanished. FRANK CORCORAN



Upcoming Shows / Local Dates

Track Artist

12 May

Involute: Music by Caffrey, Corcoran, Henze and more
Belfast, Uk

It is fitting that a “Pierrot format” ensemble such as HRSE should give the world premiere performance of Frank Corcoran’s own

” Nine looks at Pierrot ”

and we continue to celebrate our 2017/18 Featured Composer, Ian Wilson’s output with a performance of Involute,…



Symphonies 2.3. and 4. /Marco Polo/

Both stylistically and geographically, Frank Corcoran’s music is literally a long way from Tipperary, where he was born in 1944.

The Hamburg-based composer studied with Boris Blacher, whose feisty orchestration and logical cool rubbed off on his pupil.

Corcoran’s sound world, though, evokes the steel-edged structures of Edgar Varèse, as well as Elliott Carter’s complex yet pliable metric schemes.
Every shape and size of percussion dominates the thematic discourse, while the wind and brass players provide punctuating signposts.
The lower strings grunt and groan in fractured, half-remembered melodies, trying to find their rightful corner within Corcoran’s spacious, yet tersely woven canvasses.

Descriptions, however, only hint at Corcoran’s freshness of invention and superb ear for timbral contrasts.

The performances are fluent, assured, and superbly recorded.

Anyone who harbors doubts about the future of the symphony will find these three works

quivering with possibilities.


Frank CORCORAN (b. 1944)

Rhapsodic Celli

Cello Concerto [32:31]

Rhapsodietta Joyceana [3:31]

Rhapsodic Bowing for 8 Celli [8:42]

Duetti Irlandesi for Cello and Piano [23:43]

Martin Johnson (cello)
Fergal Caulfield (piano)
RTÉ National Symphony Orchestra Cello Octet
RTÉ National Symphony Orchestra/Gavin Maloney

rec. 2016, National Concert Hall, Dublin (concerto), RTÉ Studio 1, Dublin (others)

RTÉ LYRIC FM CD154 [68:17]

This is a valuable addition to RTÉ’s series of recordings of the Irish tradition in classical music, a series which gives the opportunity to hear music from a nation often overlooked by listeners.

It needs to be said at once that the music of Frank Corcoran is rarely easy, or, in the colloquial sense, particularly rhapsodic. He does have a distinctive voice and, in some ways places himself in the Irish tradition, especially, on this release, in Duetti Irlandesi for Cello and Piano. A valuable feature of the CD is the cross-section of his music provided, from solo works up to the full orchestra of the concerto. The linking feature is the cello, but otherwise, the pieces are dissimilar. The sound world put me in mind of Elliott Carter, though the voice is not identical, and distinctly Corcoran’s own.

As a composer, Corcoran has worked in various media, including electric-acoustic, but many of his works refer to Irish literature and traditions. Despite this, his teaching has been international, notably in the USA (including Harvard, Princeton and Boston) and Germany.
In the 1980s he was professor of composition in Hamburg, and his first symphony (Symphonies of Symphonies of Wind Instruments) was premiered by Lothar Zagrosek in Vienna in 1981.

The Cello Concerto is perhaps the most substantial work here, and it is a considerable piece.
The opening movement acts as a gritty introduction to the remainder—it has a stern, rather agonised character.
The cantabilissimo slow movement is characterful, with an element of slow song made up of scraps of melodic material. It has an instant attractiveness.
The scherzo is described by the composer as “easily the most violent music I have ever written”. Orchestral strings are silent: the propulsion—it drives hard, very hard—comes from massed percussion and howling brass.
The final movement recalls the first, reconciling, or not quite, fragments of the others, and recalling the opening of the whole concerto.

James Joyce, of course, also used this circularity in Finnegan’s Wake (as would Flann O’Brien in The Third Policeman), so it is perhaps apposite that the next work on the CD is Rhapsodietta Joyceana.
The composer describes Joyce as “the greatest Irish composer”, noting the effects of reading Joyce aloud. The piece is not large but it works as a tribute to the spirit of Joyce.

Rhapsodic Bowing for 8 Celli written specifically for the cellos of the RTÉ National Symphony Orchestra is an interesting piece which requires virtuosity.
As Corcoran says: “There is … not only rhapsodic bowing but also rhapsodic plonking and plinking, pizzicati and (col legno) striking”, but matters are resolved into a strong and ultimately tender ending bases on Bach’s C Major Suite for Cello.

The composer claims descent from Floirint Ó Corcorain, a master harpist of the 15th Century.
Corcoran has long been fascinated by the traditional pieces. Yet he describes himself as appalled by settings of traditional melodies by composers such as Beethoven, Haydn, Britten and Harty, and attempts, in the rethinking here, to recapture the original spirit of eight traditional melodies.
Many are associated with Corcoran’s home county of Tipperary. The pieces are melodic, touchingly beautiful, and suited to the melancholic tones of the cello. The original airs are treated with affection and respect for their character. There is an absence of aggressive modernism, but real affection.
These eight pieces deserve frequent performance. Most familiar to many will be the final tune Róisín Dubh. It was so significant in Seán Ó Riada’s score for Míse Eire, and has much political resonance.

Playing by Martin Johnson and his partners is excellent, notes (by the composer) are informative.

This is a worthwhile and fascinating addition to the RTÉ series.

Michael Wilkinson


February 9th, 2012 by Frank Corcoran

Certainly I had to study Berg , Beethoven and Max Bruch and them all; how to make my new Concerto sing and soar, how thin out the accompanying orchestra (eg. I use no tuba, little enough brass, sparing percussion ) to let the violin get lift-off at the opening of my Movement 1.

The Slow Movement then wrote itself, the solo line singing its three ( sad ? – Are they sad ? ) verses before the Cadenza and my final wisps of string.

In the fast semiquavers of the last 3. Movement, I composed the lightness of being. So it´s: Fast / Slow / Fast approximately, this well-tried formula of this exciting violin concerto genre.

The writing is deliberately pared down. eg. it´s metred, gridded music all through , no complex polyrhythms or controlled aleatory at all , here is clear melodic line plus accompaniment .

My work is taut, lean, lyrical, leppin´, a true concerto that looks back and looks forward.
It learns from Mozart in the last movement´s fast passage-work.
There´s something, – of course there is, of Mendelssohn, Brahms and all the rest in the opening movement´s orchestral tutti pitted against the weak-strong strength of the solo line.

The Slow Movement is certainly a ” Lied Ohne Worte”, pure amhrán.
It has to be.
So what´s my whole ( shortish, packed, compact ) orchestral work ? – Un poco “music about music” ? Maybe.

As in several recent works ( eg. my 2011 CLARINET QUINTET or the 2008 ” 9 ASPECTS OF AN IRISH POEM” for Large Choir and Solo Violin ) my building-blocks are a simple 7 – note row or scale : G A flat C sharp D E flat F sharp and A. That´s it.
With these seven tones I construct a mighty sounding edifice, in these three movements a concerto ( in full flight) of fiddling fun and violinistic seriousness and art´s sorrow and fast, furious, last orchestral thoughts. “Quasi Un Concerto “? – No, the real thing, but a concerto of our time, my seven tones re-living a century of violin concerti without being in the least neo-tonal or neo-this and that.
I´ll call it also: ” The One And The Many” ; “Four Strings Against The Rest”;
or we should subtitle its three supple, subtle movements perhaps: ” Announce The Event” , ” Sighing Song” and “Lightness Is All”.