Frank Corcoran

irish composer


FRANK CORCORAN : born 1944 in Tipperary . Studied in Dublin, Rome and Berlin ( Boris Blacher ).
1980 D.A.A.D. Künstlerprogramm Berlin. Since 1983 Professor at Hamburg. Many distinctions , commissions and prizes, incl. Fulbright Professorship in the U.S.A. 1989 – 90 and many guest-lectureships there and in Europe.
Among recent activities are : 2009 RTÉ commission Clarinet Quintet for Vanbrugh Quartet , Irish National Symphony Orchestra premiere 2010 new ” Four Orchesterlieder” , 2009 NDR Choir gives first German performance of ” 9 Aspects Of An Irish Poem”, 2009 Swiss Ensemble “Antipodes” premiere new ” Quasi Una Sarabanda” in Zürich, Basle, Dublin and Bern ( Radio DRS 2 recording ) , 2008 many European radio-stations broadcast Irish Chamber Orchestra / Anthony Marwood commissioned / RTÉ recording of ” Quasi Una Fuga” for String Orchestra, 2009 King´s Place London “Quasi Un Preludio”, 2008 London-Irish Festival ” Klaviertrio”, 2008 “Basso Moderno” Washington premiere, 2007 Ensemble Modern U.A. ” Quasi Una Visione” Dublin Festival, 2006 Boston Music a Viva USA premiere of ” Mad Sweeney” for Speaker And Large Chamber Ensemble, 2006 Cantus Zagreb commission ” Quasi Un Concerto “, 2005 World Music Days / Zagreb Philharmonic “Quasi Un Canto”, NSO Ireland ” Quasi Un Lamento” etc., etc.


It was agreed back around 1811 to shed the rhetorical question. We still have the filmic schnitt. Still. Thus my pipe, mo phíopa: ” I am big with self-impiportance, a dudeen pregnancy, St. Agglutinatio, loveliest of saints !” The coyness of smoker Magritte. You can not say : ” I am immense with glory!” No snicker, not the shadow of a cowboy´s razored tit, please. Granted I saw the other night ” a world of light”. Then there is the Tipperary composer, Shakespeare, with his . ” Tá do shúilé ag na péistí!” ” Is tá do bhéilín ag na portáin” = Reilly was born. Reilly suffered. Reilly´s skull utters the note.
This is still not a dudeen. ” D U D E E N” is surely D plus UT plus D plus MI, MI, MI plus N.



Remember, surfer, thou are dust; it is the blight. Wherefore thence this matutinal montage about funeral-urns ? Is it the sport aspect ? That all? Sure now ? It must have been nineteen fifty four, the morning already very hot, harnessed horses frisky, suppressed excitement. The still still hay-knife in its oiled mowing-machine sheath was ready for bloody murder, two erring corncrakes, the cleanly sawn-off rabbit leg. Far in the future lay her scream, dormant in June, you saw that. Far in your future was this thrust to write this now, eyes filmed over. June fused the bread-knife, blood culture at its cunning work and silence after the Big Scream down in the back-field and our locked away meat-carver and that wonky funeral with its hilarious urn. A child´s bliss was our hay smell. Maybe the muzzle. Wash your strait-jacket and hang it out ; marvellous drying today. Oil carefully before horses´nostrils begin to drip green streams. Child-harbinger of just what are you getting at here, eh ? You´ll get a good slap !

A PAGE FALLS OPEN : the reader´s name is there. It always has been and always will be. Subsequent letters see the script panic across this screen in hellish self-doubt. One day raptures; the next fights back. My lover bit my lip, storming off to wake abruptly from a dream of our blue tent filtering the Toledo light in . O Toledo, we´re parched! My lover has stolen all that we knew and all that I owned. The tone is the thing, surely ? Coax , not hector.


I did write the “FOUR ORCHESTRAL LIEDER” here. And my
” 9 PRATOLEVA PEARLS ” for Solo Piano. And the 2009
“CLARINET QUINTET ” . And ” SONGS OF TERROR AND LOVE”. And “QUASI UNA SARABANDA” which the Swiss Ensemble , Antipodes, premiered this summer in Berne, Basle and Zürich. Swiss Radio broadcast on July 17.


I´ve done my own collaging, Umbran and English; ecco, here´s my heady brew:

SONGS OF TERROR AND LOVE Frank Corcoran ( 2009 ) . Texts by Jacopone da Todi :

1. Chi pro Cristo v ´empazzato / Pare afflitto e tribulato.
Chi pro Cristo ne`va pazzo / Alla gente si par matto.
Chi vole entrare in questa danza / Trov´amor désmesuranza !

2. Allegom´en sseppultura / Un ventr´i lupo envoratura .
E l´arliquie en cacatura / En espineta e rogarìa !

He who raves for Christ´s insane / Most afflicted, his great pain .
Who for Christ loses his mind / He looks lost to all mankind.
But he who begins this dancing / Measureless love he´s sure to find….

I chose as my last tomb and shroud / A wolf´s belly after he´s devoured
Me; my remains that wolf´s shit / In among thorns in a deep pit !

3. Che farai, Fra Jacovone ? Ei venuto al paragone !
Well, what now, Fra Jacopone ? Now you´re come to your trial !
The lodging that they gave me / ´S a hole under ground – no denial
La presone che m´è data / Una casa sotterata !
Arèscece una privata / Non fa fraga de moscone !
Here a stinking jakes disgorges ; it won´t smell of perfumed roses !
They placed my legs in leg – irons ; now they rustle like sirens.
Porto jette i sparvèri / Soneglianno nel mio giro .
Nova danza ce po´ odire / Chi sta apresso mea stazzone .
Listen above ! – Hear askance ! Can you hear my new dance ?

4. O Papa Bonifazio , molto ´ai jocato al mundo.
Pensome che iocondo non te porrai partire ….
Per subita ruina / Ei preso en tua masone !
E null´ om se trovone / A poterti guarire .

O Pope Bonifazio / With this world you played ” Peek Oh! ”
Yet I judge that your dying / Will be more than mere sighing !
Your ruin has reached you / In your palace it breached you !
No doctor can heal you ! No nurse dares to feel you !
El mondo non n´è cavallo / Che sse lass` enfranare ,
Che ´l pòzzi cavalcare / Secondo tuo volere !
This world´s not a race-horse / To goad on with your spurs
To rein in at your whim / Till with your desire it concurs
Dell´ aneme redente / Par che ne curi poco .
La ´ve t´accunci ´l loco / Saperai lo al partire !

– It´s not all souls´ salvation / It´s you´ve reaped your damnation .
At your parting, self-chosen / You will find out your destination !


See Frank Corcoran´s radio-essay in RTE November 2009 publication, ” Ten Years Of THE QUIET CORNER” , published by New Island Press.


We were sitting to tea under a cool peach-tree near Maria Rovenza´s fence when out – through it – shot a lizard at high speed ( quite near my quiet feet ) pursued by a very long snake, it also at high speed. The lizard accelerated even more.
Ditto the snake ( – ignored us completely – ) , her head held high, jaws wide open for imminent dinner. Very long and thin and mean and hungry and super-fast! Up on its
high horse, it lepped, swayed, danced, undulated, bucked and then SPRANG after the little victim which was streaking across flower-beds and terrace, hoping against hope to reach the road-gate. I grabbed a stick and, yelling, chased the chasing Schlanknatter ( Coluber Najadum ) chasing its speeding morsel. Only as I got near enough to attempt a whack did it slow down, eye me malevolently; it then dived into the roses. Where it no doubt still is, sulking, hungry. Little lizard lucky.
I´ve been asking; nobody here has ever heard of a snake speeding so fast and with the whole body bicycling up and down like something in a Disney nature-film of them fifties.
This was ” Quasi Una Visione” alright . Some snake´s hunger. Not a viper. ( – Franco killed a huge ” Viperone” down in Maria´s long grass last week. )
No hysteria ; but still it´s foot it on the cautious toe. And it´s back to shnake shticks , so it is.
More snake stories as this long, hot summer enfolds. I hope not vipers. No.



19. June 2009 Frank Corcoran pemiere ” Quasi Una Sarabanda” Octet with Ensemble “Antipodes” at Bern´s
Le Cap Arts Centr ( Predigergasse 3 ) . Swiss Radio DRS 2 ( Musik ) recorded this important premiere.

June 20. Ditto at Zürich ( The Walcheturm, Kasernareal )

June 21. Ditto at Basle´s beautiful Klingentalmuseum.

July 15. First broadcast by Radio DRS 2 ( Musik )


9 PRATOLEVA PEARLS for Solo Piano ( 2008 – 2009 )

The nineties saw my various “Mad Sweeney” compositions that were sparked off by my 1996 work for Speaker and Chamber Orchestra , ” Mad Sweeney” which used the Early Irish epic, ” Suibhne Gealt” in an English translation by the Nobel Prize-winner, Seamus Heaney .
After that came my series of “Quasi” works for various genres, including “Quasi Un Canto” for the Zagreb
Philharmonic, “Quasi Una Visione” for Ensemble Modern, also the Irish Radio commissioned ” Quasi Variations on A Mháirín De Barra ” for Solo Viola an several more. I , as a contemporary Irish composer, am
not innocent in my knowledge of how music-history has used the various genres and forms, therefore my
” quasi “, hesitant , in these pieces and their titles.
It is astonishing how difficult it is to write worth-while music today for the solo piano ( i.e. using only the key-board, deliberately excluding the sound-scape within the piano ) after the black-and-white and manifold sound explorations by eg. Bartók and Messiaen and , in our own day, Ligeti. It is very difficult to “sing” something new with those , is it, 85 chromatic tones.
My 9 piano miniatures are like pearls gleaming here in Pratoleva where I spend my Italian summers composing . As in a Webern or Berg miniature ( eg. his Pieces for Clarinet and Piano ) , each has to explore its own short-lived and strainng terse emotional world within its own short, bursting form. Brevity has to be ( musical ) wit, but also soar and lift and development and closure and polished finish.

Frank Corcoran


QUASI UN PRELUDIO for Solo Violin Frank Corcoran

I seem to divide my time nowdays between Hamburg , Dublin an Italy. I am in love with Viterbo of the Popes in Northern Lazio.
In the great heat of my sun-dappled garden last year I finished” 4 Orchestral Songs” ( Premiere N.S.O. Dublin 2010 ) , ” 9 Pratoleva Pearls ” for Solo Piano and “Quasi Un Preludio” fo Solo Piano. A good harvest.
The “Quasi” of the title positions this little miniature solo among my earlie “Quasi” series of the late nineties ( after I´d finished the ” Mad Sweeney” series ) , eg. “Quasi Un Canto” for Large Orchestra”, ” Quasi Un Pizzicato” for Wireworks Ensemble, Hamburg , the electro-acoustic “Quasi Una Missa” for West German Radio ( it won the Swedish EMS Prize in 2002 ) , “Quasi Un Concerto” for the Cantus Ensemble Zagreb, “Quasi Una Fuga” ( commissoned by the Irish Chamber Orchestra who premiered it in Limerick Cathedral as part of the 2007 Shannon Festival ) etc. , culminating in the recent Octet, “Quasi Una Sarabanda” for the Swiss Ensemle, “Antipodes” , premiered in Berne, Basel and Zürich in June 2009.
– So is this ” Quasi Un Preludio” for violin solo a prelude or a pearl from Pratoleva ? – less a Webernian miniature, more a compressed argument for the total stringiness of the soaring violin solo .
A chromatic argument , yes. Very world- and very Irish music, as this hardly two minutes of musical argument mutates into that
passionate Connamara sean-nós caoine of the Irish Famine , ” Sail ´Og Rua”.

FRANK CORCORAN : born 1944 in Tipperary, Ireland. Studied ancient languages, philosophy, theology , music in Dublin, Rome and Berlin ( composition with Boris Blacher ) .
1980 Composer Fellowship with the Berlin Artists´Programme. Since 1983 Professor in Hamburg. Many distinctions and commissions. 1989 – 90 Fulbright Professor in the U.S.A. and Guest Professor at Princeton, Harvard, Indiana, New York, CalArts, etc.
Works performed and broadcast in Europe, the Americas, Australia and Asia. Member of Aosdana, the Irish Academy of the Arts.
Recent works include: Clarinet Concerto ( commission 2009 ) Violin Concerto ( 2010 ), 4 Orchestral Lieder ( National Symphony Orchestra of Ireland 2010 ) , Quasi Una Sarabanda ( Berne 2008 ), Quasi Una Fuga for String Orchestra ( 2007 ), Quasi Un Concerto ( Zagreb Philharmonic Orchestra 2005 ) , Quasi Un Caoine ( N.S.O.2005 ), ” Mad Sweeney ” for Large Ensemble and Speaker ( Boston Musica Viva 2005 ) , electro-acoustic ” Tradurre – Tradire ” ( Deutschland Radio Berlin 2004 ) “Sweeney´s Vision” ( commissioned by W.D.R. 1997; Bourges Festival 1999 Premier Prix ) etc.


In the mid-nineties I wrote “Mad Sweeney” for Speaker and Chamber Orchestra ( to a text by the Irish Nobel Prize-winner for Literature, Seamus Heaney ) .
This sparked off the series of ” Mad Sweeney” works , including the electronic ” Sweeney´s Vision” ( a W.D.R. commission which won the 1999 Bourges Festival Premier Prix ) , came my “Quasi” works for various forces, including “Quasi Un Canto” ( Zagreb Philharmonic 2005 ), “Quasi Un Caoine ( N.S.O. 2005 ) , “Quasi Una Fuga” for 18 Strings ( Irish Chamber Orchestra 2007 ) , the electro-acoustic “Quasi Una Missa” ( W.D.R. commission; it won the 2002 Swedish E.M.S. Prize ) , ” Quasi Un Concerto” ( Cantus Ensemble 2006 ) etc.
Last year I composed “Quasi Una Sarabanda” for the Swiss Ensemble “Antipodes”. It is the most recent of my “Quasi” works. It is a sarabande, well,quasi a sarabande . I , as an Irish and ” world – composer” , am no innocent . I know too much of what art-music has been composed, at least in our European history.
Mine is a one-movement argument for ( the classical ) octet. It is a hommage to that great and sad dance – form since ( at least ) the sixteenth c. when melancoly Spanish King
Phillip shut himself up in his depressive Escorial Palace. How much great art-music ( and Irish classical Slow Airs of the ” sean nós” tradition … ) used the rhythmic scaffolding of this halting, stumbling slow three-in-the-bar ? Horn, bassoon and clarinet stumble and sway and sing and scream with the five strings.
Does my stark argument lead inexorably to the viola and violin keening in the final moments of my eleven magical minutes ? Premiere with the Octet of the “Antipodes” Ensemble this June 19 – 21 in Berne, Geneva and Basle. First recording by Radio DRS in Berne.


I saw her cold eyes
I heard great goose-wings beating
Her ugly, webbed feet

Crow is scratching snow
Beak and claw and craw, black, white
Bird-eye murderous

New Year´s Day glitters
Its firt daw-glint is calving
A hoe in the cold shed

The centre, drowned,
Cannot hold, the wild geese know,
Their swirring wings know


6.June 2009.

Frank Corcoran radioanalyses : Haydn’s “Oxford” Symphony. For North German Radio. It will broadcast his 2. Symphony . 20.00 . Then 22.00. Or thereabouts, radiophonically.