Frank Corcoran’s QUASI UN BASSO for Solo Bass
is performed on May 17 2006 in Magyar Radio/Radio Bartók’s Bela
Bartók Centenary Concert in Budapest)
Is cumadóir ceoil mé. I am an Irish composer. The pre-industrial, rural
Ireland of my childhood in the fifties was, in a way, not unlike the small,
agricultural Hungary of Bartók’s
youth and maturity. Dublin and Budapest were, for all their artistic
short-comings, vitally important cultural metropoles. (- For Hungarian and Irish
music-lovers they still are.) Small nations both, their surrounding
neighbours often seemed culturally omnivorous, omnipotent posing a real threat
that the identity and self-respect of both little emerging States would be
gobbled up by an all greedy neighbour.
Bartók ploughed the lonely furrow. Bartók said “NO!” to cultural
tyranny. Bartók took his stance.
Moral. Artistic. Not that he wanted to marry
folk- and art-music; you can’t.
But as a folk-collector and as a 20th c.
composer, forging and finding his individual composer’s voice, he refused to
let lazy indifference stifle musical diversity or musical courage. Courage –
that’s it. He discovered the unknown, hidden jewels of folk-art. He
composed his own mighty musical structures. Behind both of these, yes, heroic
stances was Bartók’s refusal to give in.
My own little Ireland in my 20th c. has gone an in many ways similar path.
With very mixed results.
My Irish language dies daily a thousand deaths.
Ireland, too, had a Renaissance, an explosion of Irish traditional music which
however by its very over-kill and over-exposure in the media is endangered.
As a composer in Ireland, an Irish composer, I had to plough my lonely
furrow. In my native Tipperary I had to overcome a still mightily hostile
indifference to the oldest layers of Irish singing and instrumental art. In my
youthful struggle to construct tonal structures at once private
and public, the enemy number one was Dublin’s very clearly post-colonial
dependence on a second-rate, hand-me-down, London-based music-pedagogy.
bits of Bartók were misused in our musical curricula, his work contextlessly, lovelessly paraded without any real understanding of where Bartók was
but shamelessly paraded as ‘‘our’’ apologia for contemporary music, as ‘‘our’’ bulwark against, say, the horrors of the Second Viennese School.
And my little Ireland , politically a ‘‘free ’’Republic, had in its early days of liberation psychologically and politically not succeeded in providing a climate of musical understanding and the respect for musical creativity
necessary to have, in its critical years, an Irish Bartók, Bartók na h –
My ‘‘Quasi Un Basso’’ for solo bass is my diptych for, as Bartók uses it, a mighty orchestra in a solo instrument.
(I am thinking of those – now sadly ubiquitous but then so fresh, so shocking Bartók pizz.s from his basses in
the orchestral works like his ‘‘Divertimento’’ for String Orchestra, the
extraordinary long legato lines near the end of his ‘‘Music For String Orchestra, Percussion and Celesta’’, the daring and brilliance of his orchestral imagination.) Mine are two fragmented pictures from my vanished Ireland.
Art-music today faces the most viciously anti-art global market known to
man. We have no place where wares are bartered. But YOU CANNOT BARTER BARTÓK!
– Nor indeed any music of lasting value. It is questionable whether the
folk-musics of either Hungary or Ireland will survive the market’s kiss of
It is doubly questionable whether Hungarian and Irish composers will
survive our global village which today is swollen with the greatest ocean of
sonic rubbish known to man. Have we composers a place to be heard?
Where’s the silence? From which music is born and heard?