Frank Corcoran

irish composer

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Frank Corcoran. ( 4.2.2014 Hamburg )
I often reason it out thus: like music, I am a temporal creature , I see seventy years of my life as a kind of performances, – performance here being analogous to that of the theatre, tthat of certain kinds of conceptual art .
My lived seventy years seem from another angle akin to films seen, my „ notes written on water , also to sand-art perhaps , a bit like the snow sculptures of the North Greenlanders ( – am I making this up? Certainly…. Why not ? ) My life as
„sicut fumus „ kind-of-thing.
As many an other rural Irish child of the time I , too, must have been sensitive to the sounds of North Tipperary nature. ( I´ll
do the re-telling of mother´s 100 pigs and my 2. Symphony later. )
I certainly was blown away by Yeats´s „ For the wet winds are blowing / High up on Cloothnabare „ ; my child´s cochlea already knew it . ) . Our saw-mill whined danger, of course, and there was the rhythmic skurting of cows´ whitish milk into the scoured milk-bucket. My childhood was full of immense, loud goings – on with sheep and cows and banbhs and sows in our farm-yards.
It is not my intention here to manufacture Seamus Heaneyesqueries between my early composed music and our farm sound-scape .
Certainly there was that ; but there was more. eg. I sang in our little school , I clapped my hands, I slapped my body around, I produced tones on tin-whistle and box-accordeon. One private thing I was proud of: I surely did patent Corcoran´s Hands And Feet Children´s Composition Plan – I used my right or left fingers ( while pedalling down the country boreens ) to register newly learned melody-tones; I had the principle three toes of my left or right foot for the few basic chords I learned ; so fingers melody, left or right foot harmony.
And every Tuesday was Fair day; on Borrisokane´s Main Street our country roarer, Paddy Reddan, ´d roar out his „come all yez „ ; mostly pentatonic.
Early enough I wanted to write songs, set poets, compose vocal music ( a Quintet for accordeon and strings of my sixties was a disaster – I couldn´t get the form of the three movements ; my experience of sound was pitiful , nor had I any knowledge of musical densities ) ; quite simply, text was a powerful help . ( To compose one minute of music is hard, but to create  five is much harder )
I loved solo and choral singing, the feel of my own breath
and the choir´s plastic lines and chords, dark, light, densities, slender or thickly matted , high dives and depths, dark/ bright colours , shapes.
DÁN AIMHIRGÍN ( 1971 ) ( – I must have been the first Irish composer ever to use this Early Irish poem, a pantheistic God-litany; quite thrilling its climax ) calls for eight second altos improvising on the low C with the words „ Am „ „ gaoth „, „ gaoth i muir“, ( „ I am the wind on the sea“ , – Celtic God Aimhirgin´s self-definition in Iron Age Ireland ; His final „Am Brí Dána „ / „ I Am This Meaning“ analogous to the Genesis „ Eye Asher Eye „ ) , then another eight altos murmuring these magic syllables on the D, eight second sopranoes on the E and then the first sopranoes on F Sharp. A vibrating whole-tone chord. Then , as the high tenors enter on the G above these thirty two women´s voices with the „ Gaoth“ , this choral effect is magical .
A simple, fresh choral idea. But excellent.
Then the 1994 MEDIEVAL IRISH EPIGRAMMES which set short Japanese Haiku-like miniatures from our
Middle Ages , eg. Take : „All are keen to sleep with blond Aideen . All Aideen herself will own / Is that she will not sleep alone…. „ .
Thirty years later , other terse-like texts were to spark off NINE WAYS OF LOOKING AT AN IRISH POEM BY GABRIEL ROSENSTOCK . Listen !
„ As tobar duaigh spéire / Líonann crainn / A ngoib“ . “From the ink-well of the sky / Trees fill / Their beaks. ”  ” Aus dem Tintenfass des Himmels / Trinken Baeume / Sich satt! “
And here I had a solo violin introduce , separate , commingle with my nine choruses.
Simple, but only after you´ve first  composed it. How then later would I set a for large polyphonic choir my 2012 EIGHT HAIKUS ( this time the Haikus were my own ) ?
How handle texts like :
„ Deep purple twilight / In the bay lie three islands / Asleep like children „ . ?
So vocal music you can hang on the peg of the text, of words.
But what about instrumental music, then ?
My 1974 THREE PIECES FOR ORCHESTRA ( „Scenes from My Receding Past „ ) I had the chance to re-programme years later in an Dublin orchestral concert of 2000 with my SECOND SYMPHONY ; I was delighted – after over twenty five years, still fresh sounds, acts of youthful courage in painting symphonic canvases. It´s stretch your colour imagination; let the expanding forms create and explode .
Of course musical ideas come from all over the place. The PIANO TRIO of 1977 was my break-through with macro-counterpoint ; it too dares new colours , its not quite arch-form
singing and sputtering and blazing and searing and singeing whatever it was that I had wanted to singe . A short time later I got this macro-counterpoint , the wind polyphony which I wanted into the WIND QUINTET.
That´s it. ( About the four symphonies, I´ll writhe much later. )
became clear to me that music was a metaphor, of course, for transience –
so expression and self-expression, fine, but how do you get rid of the „ I „ in the sound – forgeing which you´re engaged at ?
The computer-painted works were different again . My 1980 BALTHAZAR´S DREAM ( – why didn´t I then call it „ BALTHAZAR´S SCREAM „ ? ) , generated by the terror of Borges´s minor masterpiece , „The Gospel According to St. Mark „ I spliced together at the Electronic Studios of
the West Berlin Technical University.
And that Guantanamo scream bursts out again twenty years later – in my digital TRADURRE TRADIRE
of 2002 for Deutschlandfunk. Its electronic predecessors, both WDR commissions, SWEENEY´S VISION in 1997 and QUASI UNA MISSA in 1999 went on to win , respectively, the Bourges Festival Premier Prix in 1999 and the Swedish E.M.S. Prize in 2002 . Was that important for this composer ? Of course !
Mol an óige. Encourage and praise good work . It was desperately needed in them for me bad nineties.
It is the isolation. It is courage. Put the head down, progress and shove. Slap it down. Write. ( Brahms to his only ever composition student: „ You must write, write, Every day! Don´t worry about its quality ; write it all down. But stop worrying about the weak stuff – the stove will look after that…. „
Create. Burst. – All words I´d use in struggling to write about my life-long working with sound. A sound man .
It took me thirty years to see that I´d often used as a ( unconscious, of course ) musical motive in many of my works the melodic motif C D and E ( or Doh / Re / Mi / ) . Why ? Because they are the initial „ Requiem“ tones
in the Gregorian Mass for the Dead.
Says it all, does it ? Music as metaphors , as distress and help signals, your call into the tomb. Music as Orpheus myth. – All of this , of course, after we ´ve accepted music first as play, as tone- carpentry , as sounding architecture.
Lutoslawski died on Monday 7. February 1994 , just twenty years ago. What courage – what exemplary musical and human courage was there in his life as a composer . You´ve got to be tough nowadays .
Myriad temptations beckon; among the most vicious are: The Genetic Fallacy ( „ Her compositions derive from her life…. „ ) or „ A Musical Work´s Worth = Its Performance“ ( Thusagain  eg. „ My music is good because it´s played…. „, then with its charming corollary: „ My music´s played, therefore it´s good. „ . Well, is it good? Why? ).
With the recent Concerto for Violin and then the Concerto for Violoncello, maybe I´ve sneaked around the full circle ( -my cycle of fifths ? ) and the newer instrumental works want to sing even more.
I´d like to write a Clarinet Concerto, to have a shot at an Alto Rhapsody. I´d compose a Fourth String Quartet . If .
Music to ravish. The pure line AND the pure drop, the vertical AND horizontal, sounding densities PLUS then the reeling , sonorous line ( – which itself might be built out of various sub-lines ) .
It´s easy to talkthan to compose . Getting harder, too, to avoid self-quotation .
What´s left to be original about ? Perhaps plenty. I won´t know till I do it.
At the Zagreb Biennale 2013 they did my ancient PIANO TRIO, that young Zagreb Piano Trio, huge, warm sounds from all the three players. My original scaffolding held firm, strong, because I´d built it well in 1977.
Scream and song. Surge or soar. How to get the ecstasy into the mix and wash, I continuously wonder ?
In order to make the structure secure, steady, ready .
Composing is better than decomposing, they say ; it seems to defie the second law of thermodynamics. No bad thing this .



It is not easy. Gets worse all the time.Take how I am currently finishing my Piccolo Quartetto Filarmonico ( using doublebass, cello, viola and violin ), trying to find – with the infinite patience of a good dentist with root-treatment – my “Grossform” , this one-movement’s overall form and the relations between the parts and each other and with the whole . One tiny wrong move and the delicate balance is gone….  the non-coordinated bits and the barred bits, smeared 4-voiced passages played as fast as possible against metric music, my work opening out or narrowing in on a focal tone (  –  yet, never neo-tonal ) or two. That is still my problem , to hear what I see on the hot summery manuscript paper, Don’t let up. No self or self-imitation ( cheap ) allowed.

Programme: Mary Kelly Aislingí I, II, & III (2012) – premiere John Kinsella Allegro Giocoso (1966) from The Irish Harp Book David Bremner Pool (2010) James Wilson Sonata for harp (1998) Brian Boydell Triptych I, II, III (1989) Anne-Marie O’Farrell Chromatétude (2015) – premiere Gráinne Mulvey Exploration (2001) – premiere Frank Corcoran In the Deep Heart’s Core (2011) Anne-Marie O’Farrell Amplétude (2012) About Anne-Marie O’Farrell Composer and harpist Anne-Marie O’Farrell has received many national and international awards for original composition. An honours BA and BMus graduate of UCD, she was awarded a first class honours MA in Composition from the NUI Maynooth. She is currently undertaking doctoral studies in composition at Queen’s University, Belfast u


Mary Kelly             Aislingí I, II, & III (2012) – premiere

John Kinsella         Allegro Giocoso (1966) from The Irish Harp Book

David Bremner      Pool (2010)

James Wilson        Sonata for harp (1998)

Brian Boydell         Triptych I, II, III (1989)

Anne-Marie O’Farrell   Chromatétude (2015) – premiere

Gráinne Mulvey      Exploration (2001) – premiere

Frank Corcoran      In the Deep Heart’s Core (2011)

Anne-Marie O’Farrell   Amplétude (2012)

About Anne-Marie O’Farrell

Composer and harpist Anne-Marie O’Farrell has received many national and international awards for original composition.  An honours BA and BMus graduate of UCD, she was awarded a first class honours MA in Composition from the NUI Maynooth.  She is currently undertaking doctoral studies in composition at Queen’s University, Belfast under Professor Piers Hellawell.  She has composed for a variety of instrumental and vocal media, and her compositions are featured on the higher examination grades of conservatory syllabuses around the world including the Royal Conservatory of Canada, the UK’s Associated Board of the Royal Schools of Music, Trinity College London, and the RIAM.  She lectures in composition at the DIT Conservatory of Music and Drama and her research project, Composers in the Community, with DIT colleague Dr Lorraine O’Connell was awarded a DIT Teaching Fellowship Grant, and the resulting research is due for immanent publication.  She is the winner of the BBC Baroque Remixed composition competition with her orchestral work, Rann Dó Trí, which was performed by the BBC Concert Orchestra conducted by Charles Hazlewood at London’s Roundhouse and broadcast live on BBC Radio 3.  Her choral work, Skimming Stones, has been recorded by the BBC Singers and was premiered in St Paul’s, Knightsbridge in London for a live BBC Radio 3 broadcast.  Numerous and wide ranging commissions include Deis Arts Council funding for the writing of original score of Cailleach: The Wilder Wisdom of Auld Ones with actor and storyteller Nuala Hayes. Her solo clarinet work, Ruach is featured on Volume 8 of the Contemporary Music Centre’s New Music from Ireland performed by Deirdre O’Leary. She is regularly invited to give lecture recitals, workshops and masterclasses at festivals around the world in addition to presenting regularly at international conferences and acting as jury member for harp competitions.  As a prolific recording artist, she has issued several album, the most recent being Duopoly with Cormac De Barra. She has been appointed AEPE Composer in Residence at Mary Immaculate College in Limerick in association with the Lime Tree Theater and funded by the Arts Council.


IN  THE  DEEP HEART’S  CORE     ( May 31 Dublin  AIC CONCERT, Anne-Marie O’Farrel, Harp  )

My short Harp Solo pits the instrument’s low strings against its ethereal high ones. The opening fortissimo music generates  the whole thing , including the final high thoughts of this miniature art-work . In writing for this great an-orchestra-all-in-one-instrument my duty as a composer must be to avoid the merely ornamental, the beautiful ( but too often cheesey )  clichees of 19th. c. harp compositions, the merely lovely sheen of their glissandis and their ultimately boring middle range. ( Stravinsky rehabilitated the instrument with his pale low tones in that  little Tombeau for Fuerst Fuerstenberg.  ) No tired rhetoric  but stern compression. The title of course also recalls the harp’s Irish past, coming from W.B.Yeats’s 1890 minor masterpiece , ” The Lake-Isle Of Inishfree” ,
in which the young exile hears in London  the “low sounds lapping by the shore” of his Co. Sligo idyll, Lough Gill.
Yes. he hears it ” in the deep heart’s core”. I,too, hear it.



I am pleased.

Festschrift Frank Corcoran will appear soon. Very. Memory lane and archiving against time, forgetting, deadly indifference. Nobody wants to die.

In completing the new Piccolo Quartetto Filarmonico ( – uses also a double bass ) I pit high against low, the metred against the polymetred, the spattered against the tightly controlled. Good disparate stuff has to be – as always- united and heard to generate the different parts until it is all “used up ” .

I was into this of course nearly forty years ago. Tough struggle. Bore fruit in my 1977 PIANO TRIO and WIND QUINTET.

I am pleased.


His beautiful, bony fingers articulate, his four plus four bars make eight Irish traditional bars. The drone bass – or its cleverly placed absence , these build the heard form for Tony Macmahon’s  right-hand pleading , his hymning, high linear gasps and plaintive, plain( Co. Clare )  chanting , the old Irish harpers’ pre-Schubertian airs, monumental architectural a la A A B B , a strong ascent, trembling trellis-work above, their lovely descent. Frank Corcoran’s Second Law Of Slow Airs’ Thermodynamics.

For years I – as an Irish composer –  I’ve heard breathlessly  Tony’s melodic tracery; – all its delicate, ornamented phrasing. Or take his humility ,  a few buttons to sing the  bass line .  Rock-like.Rock-

Tony MacMahon’s  “Sean O Duibhir An Ghleanna” is a masterpiece of Naive Art – its native singing , his box wind-music  from my  beaten race. I myself have tried to approach its symmetry.  Many times.

Track Four then , ” The Wounded Hussar ” , is something quite other – minor becomes  major . Tony MacMahon’s Picardy Third wings . Bony work great !



The Dutch Radio Concertzender broadcasts  Frank Corcoran’s new  CELLO

CONCERTO  (  RTE Lyric recording of  March 13  Dublin  National Symphony

Orchestra  /  Kenneth Montgomery / Martin Johnston , Soloist  )  on:

Sunday April 19 2015  between 17.00  and  18.00  .


So what will it bring , this new Pratoleva year ?

Schott will publish my choral EIGHT HAIKUS which won the 2013 International Forum For Choral Music  Premier Prix.

Other choral works will sound, the human breath.

( But of course the human body and breath is also fully there in a Corcoran orchestral or chamber work, strain , aim, polish, energy, shaped musical strength aching to be born, sound as thought and conceived and incarnate. )

Festschrift Frank Corcoran will appear.


Another year near hill-top Celleno and clear April sunny skies. The nights are cold still. New energy stirring.

I finished the six Irish Duets for Cello and Piano, short settings of some of the loveliest  Irish Slow Airs “ar an sean n’os ”  known to me  :  Im Aonar Seal, Na Conneries, Sean O Duibhir An Ghleanna, A Mhairin De Barra, A Una Bhain  1.  and  2. These six are among the finest we have; in each  great expressive power is unleashed in  fine architectural trellis-work. Four lines in each , A B B A  , beautifully balanced. The perfection of a Schubert Lied. Voila !

These settings are neither neo-romantic nor kitsch nor minimalistic nor neo-Bart’ok but rather vintage Corcoran. Each captures the significant motif of the “amhran” in question . The piano is a wash of orchestral colour, of course . The cello surges. I keep the wildness, ornamentation;  melodic ” multa in parvis”. Not a note too much. Not a sigh, an ascent – descent, an apoggiatura without high voltage.