Frank Corcoran

irish composer

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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 .


North South Consonance

– Happy St. Patrick’s Day

free , 3:00 pm

MARCH 17, 2019 @ 3 PM

Happy St. Patrick’s Day

The North/South Chamber Orchestra marks St Patrick’s Day performing the premiere of a clarinet concerto by Irish composer Frank Corcoran. Also on the program works by David Froom, John David Little and Heather Savage. Clarinetist Sammy Lesnick and flutist Lisa Hansen appear as soloists.

Free Admission. Further info at

17 . 3. 2019 NEW YORK CONCERT


Sunday, March 17, 2019 at 3 PM
Happy St Patrick’s Day!




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



( St. Patrick’s Day 2019 in New York 2019 ) Frank Corcoran

My ” Quasi Un Concerto Per Clarinetto ” was commissioned by the Irish Arts Council for this 2019 New York premiere under the baton of Max Lifchitz.

Why ” Quasi ” ?
I as a contemporary composer am no longer innocent; I know too much
of all the concerti written in this genre in the past, from Mozart on ( – after him we are all mere foot-notes… ) .

I will be seventy five this year.
There is little time left – for any prettified ornamentalism.
Yes, the clarinette is a great, soaring soloist. Yes, it pirouettes and climbs to dizzy heights and it descends into the darkest depths.
Yet it must sound true tracing forms, it must sing the unspeakable , as the strings accompany .

I use the three movements of so many past concertoes. Why not ?

In Movement One the soloist’s line is pure kinetic elation – in all its acrobatic runs and kicks and stunts . Yet its ending is dark.

Movement Two is my BIG SONG ( – in Irish ” Amhran Mor ” ) . . The clarinet’s 8 – bar melody sings its own life and death.
Yes, this is music as metaphor.

Movement Three could use as its subtitle the Joycean ” It soared a bird ” from Mr. Bloom’s orgasmic shout in his ULYSSES.
Into the second half strides an 8-note descending bass theme in the lower strings . This dominates till the final rocket-like ascent of the clarinet.
Music as rocket-science ?


2019 NEW 2019 NEW 2019 NEW




Frank Corcoran – “String Quartet no. 4 – for my 75th Birthday” ( 2018, world premiere)

Jane O’Leary – “the passing sound of forever” (2016)

Ian Wilson – “Rossiniana” (2019, to be premiered in Sligo in Jan)

Greg Caffrey – “Borne back ceaselessly into the Past” (2018)

MY 2014 and 2015 Music Broadcasts on NDR-KULTUR

25.01.2014 I 20:00 – 22:00 Uhr
Kleine Schule des musikalischen Hörens
Frank Corcoran hört das Violinkonzert von Johannes Brahms

21.06.2014 I 20:00 – 22:00 Uhr
Kleine Schule des musikalischen Hörens:
Frank Corcoran hört „Till Eulenspiegels lustige Streiche“ von Richard Strauss

20.09.2014 I 20:00 – 22:00 Uhr
Kleine Schule des musikalischen Hörens:
Frank Corcoran hört die 9. Sinfonie von Antonín Dvoøák

01.11.2014 I 20:00 – 22:00 Uhr
Schuberts „Winterreise”
Eine Sendung von Frank Corcoran und Gerhard Müller


04.04.2015 I 20:00 – 22:00 Uhr
Kleine Schule des musikalischen Hörens
Frank Corcoran hört Mozarts Jupiter-Sinfonie