Frank Corcoran

irish composer




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

Posted under: Humble Hamburg Musings

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