Sweeney’s Vision is another take on the little king. It was composed with the
help of computers at the Electronic Studios at the Technical University in
Berlin. It is ‘my’ soundscape vision of Sweeney. It explores the elemental
forces of sea and spume, sky and wind around Skellig Rock and elsewhere. It is
a four-movement, late 20th-century, electronic symphony. Whales are waves in
this piece. There are whines and whinnies, storms and roars, smeared chorales
and dirges. Less early Irish psychiatry – more acoustic alchemy.
Amongst modern composers Corcoran is a latter-day Mad Sweeney –
part priest, part prophet, and part sinner – roaming and settling the lonely
and forgotten parts of a mythical soundscape; reaching across the pagan and
Corcoran’s interest in the Mad Sweeney epic, its Early Medieval
Irish setting at the boundary between pagan and Christian eras, reveals itself
repeatedly across many of his works: Music from the Book of Kells (1990), Mad
Sweeney (1996), Sweeney’s Farewell (1998), Sweeney’s Smithereens (2000). But the
three ‘tape’ works presented here most neatly express Corcoran’s all-embracing
vision of a distant, multi-layered past, rendered deftly here in late 20th
These works are presented here for the first time in surround sound and as a
‘body of work’ in a single concert. Composed in the years spanning the peak of
Corcoran’s creative output in electronic ‘tape’ music, these pieces are written
in a consciously radiophonic style. When heard together in a seamless concert
performance, they accumulate a coherence and forcefulness of argument which
brings to life a mythological landscape, littered with visual metaphors, in a
true ‘cinema for the ear’.
Quasi Una Missa and Tradurre-Tradire both interrogate the limits of language and
text. Yet the objective is not to impart literal meaning, but to weave a
musical sensibility from the broken threads of speech. If, as Corcoran asserts,
Joyce and Beckett are Ireland’s greatest composers, then these works must
assure Corcoran himself of a place in the Pantheon of Irish poets.
But more than language, it is a layered mythological history which guides
Corcoran’s ear and lends him his ‘unshakable faith in myth’s abiding
significance’1. For Corcoran, the past is not some remote, distant vanishing
point; it is not fixed or settled. History and myth surround us, like language,
like landscape, waiting to be read and re-read, made and remade. It is where we
live, where Sweeney lives.
Frank Corcoran was born in Tipperary 1944 and studied in Dublin, Maynooth, and
Rome, and with Boris Blacher in Berlin. He was the first Irish composer to have
his ‘Symphony No. 1’ (1980) premiered in Vienna. He was a music inspector for
the Department of Education in Ireland from 1971 to 1979.
He was awarded a composer fellowship by the Berlin Künstlerprogramm in 1980, a
guest professorship in West Berlin in 1981, and was professor of music in
Stuttgart in 1982. Since 1983 he has been professor of composition and theory
in the Staatliche Hochschule für Musik und darstellende Kunst, Hamburg. During
1989–90 he was visiting professor and Fulbright Scholar at the University of
Wisconsin-Milwaukee and he has been a guest lecturer at Princeton University,
CalArts, Harvard University, Boston College, New York University and Indiana
Awards include: Studio Akustische Kunst First Prize 1996 for his ‘Joycepeak
Music’ (1995); Premier Prix at the 1999 Bourges International Electro-acoustic
Music Competition for his composition ‘Sweeney’s Vision’ (1997); First Prize
International Forum for Choral Music for “Eight Haikus” (2013); Sean O Riada
Prize, Cork International Choral Festival for “Two Unholy Haikus” (2013); and
2002 Swedish EMS Prize for ‘Quasi Una Missa’ (1999).
CDs of his music have been
released on the Black Box, Marco Polo, Col-Legno, Wergo, Wergo, Composers’ Art,
IMEB-Unesco, Zeitklang and Caprice labels. Frank Corcoran is a founding member
of Aosdána, Ireland’s state-sponsored academy of creative artists.
Recent works include: Eight Haikus for SSAATTBB Choir (2013 Manila University
Choir), Violin Concerto (2012, NSO, Alan Smale, Christopher Warren-Green), Songs
Of Terror And Love (2011 North South Consonance, Max Lifchitz NYC), Four
Orchestral Prayers (NSO, Chloe Hinton, Colman Pearce), Quasi Una Sarabande
(2009, Antipodes Ensemble), Quasi Una Fuga (2007, Irish Chamber Orchestra,
Anthony Marwood), Quasi Un Canto (2006 Zagreb Philharmonic), Cello Concerto
(2015, NSO, Dublin), Clarinet Concerto (2019, New York, North South/ Max
Lifchitz), and Quasi Un Lamento (2005, NSO, David Brophy).
1 Dwyer, Benjamin (2014) Joycean aesthetics, ethnic memory and mythopoetic
imagination in the music of Frank Corcoran