Frank Corcoran

irish composer

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Frank CORCORAN (b. 1944) NEW RTE CD

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 the film MISE 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




On May 1st. I will be seventy five. High voltage. Kinetic art. Guantanamo or Gethsemene – take your pick.

There is little time left for prettified ornamentalism.
Yes, the clarinet is a soaring soloist. Yes, it pirouettes and climbs to dizzy heights and descends into darkest depths. Yet it must sound true, tracing form, sing the unspeakable. The strings accompany.

In Movement One the soloist’s line is kinetic elation; its ending is dark.

Movement Two is MY “Big Song”, my “Amhran Mor”. Music as metaphor.

Movement Three could have as a subtitle the Joycean “It soared a bird ” from Bloom’s orgasmic shout in ULYSSES. Into the second half strides a descending bass theme in bass, then celli, then violas and violins. It dominates till the last rocket-like ascent of my clarinet.
Music as rocket-science.



After Bartok , Ligeti and Lutoslawski

how can I write something hot and strange ?

As I approach the age of seventy five, my new quartet’s 3 movements must aim for tautness ;

the ( time-honoured ) Fast – Slow – Fast model must attempt the ( again time-honoured ) ideal of ” Variety Out Of Unity… ” – in plain English, everything must flow from

the opening bar of Mov. 1. , ” Allegro irascibile ma nobile ” .

Already in this opening is the electric tautness that I want , each instrument using the same 4 notes ( G . A flat . C sharp and D ) in different order .

This Leitmotiv provides the building-blocks for the entire first movement ; – each phrase and colouring and tonal region and my derived versions and expressed yells, screams,
musical protests or denials, they all comes out of the opening sound explosion;

Yes, my architectural ideal here is as old as that of the great string quartets by the Viennese masters , but also those of Webern , Schoenberg and Alban Berg.

“Ex parvis multa” .

My composed unity IS audible ; it’s the thinking ear. The solo cello then announces the simple exhaustion of the 4-note material . Movement One collapses.

Movement Two is a slow celebration of the melodies which I weave out of my Frank Corcoran 7 -Note Scale ( – consisting of G. A flat. C sharp. D. E flat. F sharp. A. ), heardfirst on the first violin, pizzicato. Melody plus accompaniments. That’s it.

Movement Three I have marked “Allegro Barbaro ” and ” feroce e ruvidissimo ” . The throbbing dyads on each of the four instruments shift and interlock , descend or ascend, sounding
great choirs of 4, 5, 6 and 7 voices.

This is no Irish minimalism but rather the most violent string music I have ever imagined.

The final chords are also all derived from the quartet’s opening. ( “In my end is my beginning”. ) No neo-Bartokisms or Lutoslawskieries but neo-Corcoran.

High voltage. Kinetic art.


New Music from Ireland (Emma Coulthard)

Cath Barton travelled to Chapter Arts Centre to witness a St Patrick’s Day performance from flautist Emma Coulthart, in which she presents a concert of Irish music in partnership with CMC.

It was reported in January of this year that, after a ten year gap, Ireland would be reopening its Consulate in Cardiff. This is a move to ensure that whatever happens with Brexit, political and economic ties can be maintained between Wales and Ireland. It is also important as regards cultural ties, and at a concert of new music from Ireland held at Chapter Arts Centre in Cardiff, Linda O’Shea Farren from the Contemporary Music Centre, Ireland, welcomed the new Consul, Denise Hanrahan, who will shortly be taking up her post.

The concert was curated by the prolific commissioner of new music, Cardiff-born and Dublin-raised flautist Emma Coulthard, who wanted to present something other than the “usual expected greenery” in celebration of Irish music for St Patrick’s Day. Performing herself, with and alongside composer/performers Jenn Kirby and Benjamin Dwyer, she presented a programme of fresh and exciting new music.

Emma Coulthard opened her set with

One Minute for St Patrick, written by Frank Corcoran for the occasion.
She described it as “a piece to chase the snakes away”, which it surely would have done, had any been lurking in the corners of the theatre at Chapter Arts.


Scrutinise Anthony Long’s claim a little deeper and you’ll see a much deeper problem with the N.S.O. repertoire planning.

Towards 2022 is focused not just on Irish music, but also music with “links to” our rich and underexplored classical music heritage.

Gerard Victory, whose Three Irish Pictures, opened Friday’s programme, studied with Alan Rawsthorne and also attended the DarmstadtSchool in Germany. John Field, whose Sixth Piano Concerto was dispatched with finesse by Alessandro Taverna, taught Mikhail Glinka, the first Russian composer of note.The great composer/pianist Ferruccio Busoni, who died in 1924, had been planning to get a Field revival under way in the 1920s.

In the context of Victory’s limited training – he was mostly self-taught – it’s interesting to see where the international connections of other Irish composers lie. Seóirse Bodley, now in his mid-80s, studied in Stuttgart with Johann Nepomuk David.

Frank Corcoran, who turns 75 this year, studied in Berlin with Boris Blacher.



Sunday, March 17, 2019 at 3 PM

Happy St Patrick’s Day!

FRANK CORCORAN at 75 ( Clarinet Concerto )




Quasi un concerto
Petali di Gelsonimo
Sacred Prelude (Stile Antico)
Daughters of the Stars

Lisa Hansen, flute

Sammy Lesnick, clarinet

Max Lifchitz, conductor

The North/South Chamber Orchestra


What‘s it like to be Frank Corcoran?

CMC-Interview 2004

1. How and when did you get interested in composing?

Frank Corcoran: A seven year old lad: my first piano-lesson with kindly Sister Francis at Borrisokane Convent. I wanted to re-compose sections of The Rosebud Waltz. I was then studying intensively — and intensly.

2. Is composing your ‘day job’ or do you do something else as well?

F.C.: I am a music professor at Hamburg’s Staatliche Hochschule für Musik und Theater (‘day-job’). However, when the Cúchulainn warp-spasms get me with a new composition, I work a day and night also at that.

3. Where do you mostly get your ideas?

F.C.: Triggers of the past: poor Mad Sweeny (turned biography and breakfast — of cress and pure, cold water — into art); a poem (Rosenstock, John Barth, medieval Irish lyrics, etc.); a scaffolding (rondo as rosary-beads, etc.); an obscure form (e.g. exploding tonal shell or mine, etc.); out of the living air…

4. What are you working on the moment?

F.C.: ” Tradurre-Tradire” : electro-acoustic with many voices, commission of Deutschland Radio Berlin for 2 July 2004 premiere. Hope to begin a strange new work for orchestra straight after that. Obscure longings…

5. Describe your typical working day.

F.C.: As with Brahms and other Viennese, the best ideas come very early, by first light; are worked and whittled and soldered at any available hour of the not song enough day.

6. What is it like hearing a new piece played for the first time?

F.C.: My Platonic Form becomes Sounding Flesh. No (even excellent) performance ever is exactly that form.
But it is my sounding embodiment of it.
Like so many other (I do hope) composers, i must also respect good musicians’ wishes: a nuance here, a wood-wind phrasing there. The past greats were always humble about having occasionally to watch the weight of their orchestration. Me too…

7. What has been the highlight of your career so far?

F.C.: The premiere in Vienna (luminous 1981) of my ” Symphony of Symphonies of Wind ” (O.R.F. Symphony Orchestra — glorious wind-sounds — conducted by Lothar Zagrosek).

8. What has been the lowlight of your career so far?

F.C.: When the then RTÉ Symphony Orchestra (it wasn’t their fault; the repeat performance was great!) premiered my Two Meditations on (texts by) John Barth in, I think, 1973-ish in the Francis Xavier Hall, Dublin. My work for speaker and orchestra sounded (Oh technology!) as a work for orchestra without speaker. Next time, I was on the alert.

9. What is your greatest ambition?

F.C.: To keep the courage up; moral, artistic courage.
To go out on the edge. With new work in difference genres, e.g. my present, new

Tradurre-Tradire, ‘How to translate her scream’.

10. Which musician in history do you most admire and why?

F.C.: Of the many candidates, today it’s Schubert. In his death-year, he knew how he would syphiliticallly end.
He continued to the last to produce high masterpieces, music of the highest order and, I’ll say it again, courage.

11. Which present-day musician do you most admire and why?

F.C.: Ligeti, my former colleague at Hamburg, is still living.
Late Boulez: works, e.g. ” Sur incises ” , continue to stretch him and us.
Lutoslawski up to the end, a high heroism.

12. Which period of history would you most like to have lived in and why?

F.C.: I’ll stay put in today.
_ In spite of the most vicious neo-con anti-art wind known to man.

13. What is the best thing about being a composer?

F.C.: I can’t let up a new work, being, gives me relief from the creative, itching obsession.

14. What is the worst thing about being a composer?

F.C.: My fellow-Irish have not yet (will they?) accepted music as an art on a par with eg. Irish literature, Irish painting, etc.
Here I include fellow Irish artists — intelletuals, cultural philosophers, pun-poets, fun-poets, pub-poets and princes, powerful potentates.
Is this fear of Irish art-music, of Irish composers, genetic? Or education – induced?
– Very strange for a ‘European’ nation. Very.

15. If you weren’t a composer, what other career might you have chosen?

F.C.: A thinker, a tinker, philosopher, theological traveller.

16. What is your concept of heaven?

F.C.: Please email Dante on this …

17. What is your concept of hell?

F.C.: Please email Richard Perle and all other U.S. neo-con think-tankers.

18. What is your favorite food?

F.C.: Cannelloni cooked in any village in Umbria, Lazio or Chianti.
Also well-composed Irish Stew ( – But where’ll I get it?).

19. If someone gave you three months off with unlimited travel and living expenses, what would you do?

F.C.: Month 1: Skelling Rock, composer’s camp for one.
Month 2: An Umbrian village I’m keeping nameless, cannelloni and accompaniments to lave the soul’s ear.
Month 3: Mount Athos with paper and pencil (shouldn’t be too hot or waterless).

20. If you could have one thing in the world that would really help you as a composer, what ould it be?

F.C.: Change places — for a pleasant while — with eighteenth-century Joseph Haydn. I, too, would enjoy his Duke’s extraordinary Esterhazy orchestral generosity.


Join this trinity of Irish musicians and composers for an alternative St Patrick’s Day celebration at Chapter.
Internationally esteemed virtuoso guitarist Benjamin Dwyer, voice and electronics artist Jenn Kirby and flautist Emma Coulthard present an exciting collection of contemporary Irish music that reflects the extraordinary diversity and richness of output from our Celtic cousins. From a new incantation for St Patrick to the shocking witnessing of the ancient Sheela-na-gig, this music, rarely heard in the UK, will challenge definitions and present a fresh perspective.

£10 (£7 conc) to include post concert reception hosted by CMC Ireland
Age 14+
Delivered in partnership with The Contemporary Music Centre Ireland

Emma Coulthard Flute

Frank Corcoran One Minute for St Patrick (First performance)

Fergus Johnston Planxty

John McLachlan Filament 1 (First performance)

Benjamin Dweyer Crow

John Buckley Les Oiseaux Rèvent dans les Arbres (UK premier)

Jenn Kirby, voice/electronics

Jenn Kirby The Phonetics Project

Benjamin Dwyer, guitar

Benjamin Dwyer Ètude no 1 (Relentless).
Benjamin Dwyer Ètude no 6 (African Print)
Benjamin Dwyer Tombeau sur la Mort de Claude Debussy
Benjamin Dwyer From KnowingUnknowing
John McLachlan Sympathetic Strings (UK premier)

With Emma Coulthard, flute
Benjamin Dwyer Hag! (First performance)

Chapter Arts
Market Road, Canton
Venue Contact Info
Chapter Arts
Emma Coulthard’s Planxty(2018)
Fergus Johnston
Flute (preferably with sliding head joint) and electronics (2/4 channel)
7 min
Filament I(2014)
John McLachlan
5 min
Benjamin Dwyer
Recorder and tape
13 min
Jenn Kirby
Jenn Kirby(b. 1987)

Jenn Kirby is a composer, based in Dublin. She composes both acoustic and electronic contemporary works.



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