Frank Corcoran

irish composer


It bisected nicely. First half down in hot ( yet strangely shaded ) Pratoleva, in my Paradise Gardens. After the quick week-end up at Schloss Hofgaismar, – the flight-connection Rome – Hannover nifty enough -the second half of my Italian summer quasi Rilkish – Keatsian with fruits mellowing parallel to the grapes and olives. Of which much blogging later.

Yes, my week-end at Landgraf Moritz´s Schloß at Hofgaismar, Goldilocks and Snowwhite and the brothers Grimm country, did bisect grand . Hand it to the Evangelical Academy . Fine parks and 17th. c. spa buildings, the ambience suited this guest-lecturing summer-bisector , cool green spaciousness after burned Old Lazio .

I did feel I should talk about Old Irish Music, Joyce and Irish Post-colonial Musical Consciousness,
Me and Landgraf Moritz and The Thirteen Tones. The Academy´s invited audience was agog.
Why is it so difficult to think tones in Tipperary ?

Tales, Shadows, Signs, Stains

Have you heard Frank Corcoran at the University ?

We heard only tales of his adversity….

Tell us elsewhere what you heard,

We heard only the shadow under his beard.

And tell us also what sign,

What sign did he bear?

We saw the stain of red wine

In the snow of his hair. ( James Liddy, Milwaukee 1990 )


Where the Abbey River meets the Shannon is Ylimreck, my childhood´s mythic Great City-Goal. And now , there, the first performance of ” QUASI UNA FUGA” this July 13 at Limerick´s Shannon Festival.
Strange, how fresh and youthful all the Irish Chamber Orchestra´s string-players . Or, above all that high rapture he had ( – he had ! ), there was also the rhythmic virtuosity of Anthony Marwood´s bowing, playing, conducting .
Well, it took off. They bore and enticed the fugal ” theme” airily upwards, at first only two solo strings, then more, then a lot more. Cancrizans, inversion, it was all now descending , shaping intervals so beautifully in the Cathedral evening that I found myself inside that twisting and turning of a thematic rope, a contrapuntal warp and woof, a kind of an unwashed 1691 Thomond kerne below on Patrick Sarsfield´s treacherously opened, Irish boy-killing bridge over the brown, black and white flecked river-rapids . The conductor floated with his orchestra onwards to my final cadence : his orchestra was saying goodby to the splayed motivic smithereens of a quasi-, hardly, maybe fugue. Strange string-theory.
I remembered Dad driving through Birdhill and stopping above the great gorge of the Shannon-race . This boy in the black Ford felt giant turbines near, a dark force , giant water-terror pulling below. Might just have found its way into ” Quasi Una Fuga”. A student peregrine in them sixties, I visited mother´s little Terryglass school on the south shore of Lough Derg ; that´s the bit of Shannon lake-quiet that is in the work, I think, where a solo string-quartet has two still bars in the middle of the whole string-thing, it´s just before the end-section, before high harmonics sing their smithereens of ” Ibunt Sancti”, an Early Celtic hymn that Saint Brendan and his merry ( ? ) monks´d have sung, they paddling a cow-hide currach out to the Shannon Estuary on their cold enough navigation up North, up past Scotland, up past the Shetlands, up past the Orkneys, past Iceland, onward to glory and to a cold enough fish-dinner on the friendly, unbaptized back of the saint´s North Atlantic whale near Greenland. Yes, ” Ibunt sancti” alright , I was thinking , as the Irish Chamber Orchestra rehearsed down- and up – bows and beautiful plink and the sheeny plonk and quasi- pizzicato of my quasi-carpentry under high Cratloe roof timber-beams in St. Mary´s.
Outside the South Door of the Cathedral I did stumble on the grave-stone of George Alexander Osborne , 19th. century Limerick Irish componist and Parisian wine-libator, he was apparently host to Chopin , Berlioz , such figures. – ” Ibunt sancti” . Yes. He ” entered his rest”, in 1893 I think it was . These saints shall. Their landscape is grey rain, grand Clare slate , maybe also a bit o´ that sea-dampness in the work premiered by Limerick candle-light. Beware the genetic fallacy ! ( No violin-holds barred . Cellos and violas had the exposition lurching and sliding, even gliding upwards to unheard-of tonal heights. )
I had done it , I adressed that small boy in the black Ford car, I established my musical front-line at the cutting-edge, risked quasi all ; I rescued ” Quasi My Music” from the Neo- Bachsky- or Igor- temptations that a poor composer´s flesh is heir to in Munster and elsewhere and nevertheless I shaped my own sound´s shape . Counterpoint conquered, blow my modest trumpet. No articles of capitulation, no sallyport in this fugal guipure.
– Well, that itself. The Shannon doesn´t care, of course, its mutinous, brindled wavelets scurrying out in a grand soft ( – had to be ! ) drizzle. You gotta be tough, it seems to be muttering . The saints will march, row, bow, pluck on, riding high ( – if un poco sea-sick ) in their crazy curragh up near Greenland . Quasi incredible , their oceanic fugue.


I´m a sound man. It helps when you´re an Irish composer. Not that we´ve a great history of Irish composers, if we bracket John Field out for a moment and , for once, leave our Baroque O´Carolan in peace. Our few 19th. c. operatic composers seemed to have only one word in their heads : ” emigrate!”

As a young lad struggling to control my eleven or thirteen tones, I used to declare : it´s alright ! I´ll be more original! – Freer without any Irish composing giants in my pedigree ! Better off ! Start from scratch….
Nowadays I´m no longer that sure. A giant of the past in the art you´re trying to master can´t be all bad all of the time : see Irish writers and, say, a Beckett or a Joyce. Great Yeats can tend to daunt a young poet, starting out, yes, but he can also – in some odd way- help ( if only as a moral example of someone who stayed the course heroically and struggled and mastered his art ). He can also help to facilitate a public appreciation, some understanding of the terrible struggle you face early on.
I didn´t have that. I was self-taught: no moral example at the start, as a boy wanting to shape four, then eight bars of music which I might ever dare call my own. All I had was the praise of kindly Sister Francis at a child´s piano-lessons in the Convent in Borrisokane . I´d pedal my rusty bicycle in, memorizing as many tunes as I could from whatever music or song was around me, fair-day ballads, céilí-band dances and North Tipp Slow Airs and come-all-yes. I devised a novel technique with my feet. The left foot on the pedal was for melody, though I´d only five toes. My right foot, the big, middle and small toes, I used to mark the only 3 chords I knew from my Hohner accordeon ! – So, left foot melody, right foot harmony …. This Corcoran´s Novel Music Memorizing Scheme I´d recommend to any youthful country-musician even today – if there are any such left . My Opus One , composed at thirteen at the piano in St. Finian´s College , was a grand Schubertian song with a fine poetic text by my then poet-collaborator, Charlie Usher : ” I´m leavin´you , darlin´/ I´m goin´away ! But I will be home again / On some other day…. Remember me, please, when the storm-clouds roll on / For I will be home again / When the storm-clouds have gone…. ”
Well, we never did market that fine bit of song-composition. Our finances remained modest. Our boyish imaginations knew nothing of music-marketing. Did it matter ? No. We were proud of our art-work, our bit of composition. Strong and well-wrought. Our sound.



Watch the musical chips flying. I hone, I plane, drill, tap and tape together end-music, bring in that small middle bit, an opening idea to trigger the whole miraculous Octet off , my Swiss Octet, e-etched ” QUASI UNA SARABANDE ” , heading for its 2008 premiere.

A string-quintet was always hard enough to handle at the best of times ( – It dare NEVER get too heavy ) . Add your horn, often heavy enough bassoon and clarinet till the eight instruments I am composing add up. To eleven minutes of This Frank Enfolding Escorial Story, the sarabande´s ” Tap ,Tip / Ta / – ap, AND / ” , shaped and slapped on my potter-composer´s wheel .Yes, it´s musical narrative; so this comes before that, then just before the other imperial limp of King Philip II in the music.
” Quasi Una Sarabande” must not flog a kingly rhythm to death; it should not depart so far and so cleverly that its thread is lost on and for the C.I.A. My parameters are including – of course – instrumental colour : that bassoon is at the bottom, yes: it does sing its high, nasal top, yes, and so these are glowing hues of horn and clarinet plus/ minus the five strings I did insist on . The rhythmic muster is neither parody nor pose, but rather a kind of grid through which form is flowing. Melodic wisps are cut by the etched lines for two violins or a string-quartet or by all five strings´ stroke-hammer-plink-pluck-plunk . Take that queenly enough viola; you do hear how the music thickens and thins as it sings the Escoriality of things.
The original sarabande of Spanish music was faster than what we have since Bach . “Quasi ” defends me and the eight musicians. of this midget-orchestra of colours and mixtures , bringing the breaking-news, tones, of course , defining content and its contented form.

No cheating here with placards to announce what´s blowing in next. Not a castagnette in sight suggesting ” Death In The Afternoon Foretold ” ; not a trumpet to ease the Octet´s gear-changes with any: ” Fools ! He died for you ! And you ! “.
I only have the eight voices, quasi un chamber-choir ; five strings-plus-three wind. South of Spain bull-shit and -entrails are out .
The little chapters of my Octet group, re-group, start, false start, drill their octatonic stunts for cunning rhythmic cunts with their ” Tap, Tip / Ta- / -ap, AND / ” . Surely, that grid could Guantanamize us rightly . Use care. ) Whistle while I join up fine lines that chortle, chant, dance, honk, slither and slide, ” Quasi” being the pump for all the fluid bits . Any eejit could solder a sarabande, eight bars. Mine, however, writhes.
How to introduce little drops of suffering with the final violin solo ? – A dialogue between the clarinet and cello ; all parts relate to each other and to the whole work, that is what the band is singing. Three cheers for goal-directed song; it goes like this: ” Forget the sarabande. Forget your QUASI coyness” . This emerging Octet I´m chipping , this sculpted musical form is a clenched fist against any disappearing tricks. It´s my small shout in the dark, the horn´s roar against time up. If the nature of being is time, bring on the Sara-bande.



You do not know whence or whither? Nor I. Nor why.

We have still got, if limited, time to: ” Live, love, / Tell the bastards they´re wrong ! / And the best time is to tell them / When you´re young ! ” Sob not my song, Hiawatha; sigh, yes, sigh for a slight hope of a sliver of light behind the sea´s glass silvering , our ear-hairlets all agog, straining for any good news in the Sea-Snakes´ Hole . Just a sliver. Ask not more.
Play or doubt or sift through various objective correlatives. I seem to come back again to ” I ” and to its lissom inverted commas, a bit like cuddle sea-snakelets …. You are what you doubt, the say, all willed fantasies, all your self-censored intimations of a kind of immortality; ” I ” brings in the subject / object divide, a walled-in ” Its Me!” ” I exist because you are thinking of me.” Think or be thought of, that it, fish eats fish ? Some drizzly wet day I will not be. Of a dry night you will begin not ever to exist again, even if glass silvers over; light the sliver, a photon at a time .
Light is the burden of nothing. Light lightens everything. Who´s paying the ocean´s light bill and whence swims courage, dignity , hypothemotic longings and oceanic questions why we be ? Then, whither floats our exuded cloud of self-manufacturing, of meaning, of values secreted from submarine us in the deep reef below ? What could become a good surrender , a recommendable swoon ? swoon towards which cosmic swindle or what particular gnarl of sea-serpents ? Steady ! Every twenty minutes, up we go for air, then go below again .
Happy a non-reflecting sea-snake´s partner, the contented pair gnarled in their sea-swoon , let off the hook, – no I-and-Me-and-You distinction; quick now, we have but a sea-spray second, a quick wash afterwards.
Play you may, but sift through our wet objective correlatives below reef and lissom inverted commas mere, sea-wisps above rock-holes, no fishy ear-hairlets agog , no sea-reptilian sensuous glide or slide or chase this sliver of light now or fishy shadows or the deep sea-storm yelling below at full fathoms five. Yet do I fancy some hesitancy under that shadow ? No sea-snake Davy Jones, he solved nothing, died hard, seems to I – sorry, me, don´t you think ? He, did not have to know whence or whither his five fathoms.
Sea-snakes would never in their ultramarine-translucent sea-poison dream up the following watery codology, writ below .
” She did NOT die in coitus ! ! ! She had told you THAT? Post mortem is post coitum ? Much did she unravel before her electrolytic end. Yes, well, much better than death by water, anyway ! And her human intercourse grew less, making her grey matter like blood-flecked gruel, very like buttermilk and urine.”
“How did she, now for a slightly different parenthesis, spin her own linen-shroud? Well may the living mock the Slieve Blooms as the eternal hills shriek defiantly : ” She did NOT die in coitus!” ”
“The dead will keep going on. Thus did she demean our demesne´s mausoleum? She burned her coal without heating herself or the poor children . And was it then, we make out, that she began to approximate to a human scream? ( – A comely bride is easily dressed. ) ”
” Herself and the father , did they make any scuffling noises perhaps ? A musical noise , perhaps ? or was it more like butter, like urine , like buttermilk being strained through the scrim of a mouseskin shroud . Of course memory morphs, as if ” bog-cotton buttercups” might be transformed into upper-case ” Bog of Allen Blossom” ; electrolytically considerde, ” Búireamh suite fíor ina féachaint ” is the same as ” Her eyes were filmed over. Yoiks ! Sea-snakes ! From dusk to dust, to her dust, to her dirt, what was she in her end electrolytically thinking ? ”
Now You ask Me : what sea-reptile would, down in the deepest Sea-Snakes´ Reef want to imagine such A God´s Wallop as my above loopy text , looped between two snaky inverted commas ? Whose poison ? It doesn´t make sense .


Dear Dad,

Would you now trot down to me, outta your Heaven and into my splendid Garden, Dad . Praise it and de viper here, you are “a man and not a whinger” , Dad ; laud its lithe, green-and-yellow neck up for divilment , Dad. If that tongue strikes, no more the bittern will cry in my Italian Garden nor will they find lamb or lion in the wild sky. Nor a whinge out of us little five, Dad, no whimper.( I was offered on two altars at one time , I just had to. I had . To. ) .
Cry and we weep alone to a thick barytone smather of God´s rich Italian harmonium : ” Sick est qui tantum ergo “. So c´mon down, Dad, and just accept a little glass of Italian love, a small nip of limoncello to our tangible, yellow success at husbanding and husbandry, Dad , with ripening neighbours; the purple plums may even heal worse, little-known woes.
Dad, ” I hate the sun! ” – will I save this ? Sick were our ” Tantum Ergo”s on the family´s modest harmonium . So, Heavenly Dúidín, it´s our wish, we little five, that you climb down to us in this Magic Garden. We´ll , our turn, be wanting to shin up out of this Italian-balmy air , to glide up from a barytone´s lawn-mower-pride and his sickle and clippers and leather gloves and heavy viper-boots with your jaw-bone in our hand , Dad, as a warning to life and limbo, to five mites´ hopes and fears .
Often was your agathology dressed up, marinated angelology; this garden would like to know how often . In this Lazio evening-glow . Really and truly. Dad, it´s your silence. But my garden. You´re STILL lonely up in that stellar Nunc Stans ? Dad, you gotta be tough to stick that for ever. Up there alone ?
Here I´m alone with our evening-viper. Hello, viper alone, hallo, hallo, alone Dad ; what about The Bonaventuran Light Which Created My Snake ? Not, Dad, that you ” hate the light” ? ( – Bonaventura was a reasonable my-stick, si, sic, and all these boreens of his Jacoponean- Franciscan un-sandled foot-work lead thither et whither and thence nunc. Surely, he was reared under Bagnoregio´s burning, thermonuclear sun.
No sun shone into Tullamore Jail. You told little us nothing. C´mon down now on a sun-ray, Dad, sliding into my viper-garden and forgive ( you have ) your first-born treble singer. Is it Heavenly loneliness gives a little gardener sunny pause. How awful our saintly isle is becaming , Dad, how awe-less its Second Coming, your Hibernia . You sought for Bonaventura, Happy Fra of Happy Light, up above your sunless jail-window, Da, in ( meantime, it was procreate, procreate, procreate, procreate, procreate ) Tulach Mór Jail.
So you don´t miss us five mites.You never did? On occasion – that viper flashed – I miss you, yes. – Dad, suppose YOU are my Heaven fair. Suppose It, You, equals the lonely pain, no Nirvana for Nathair Nimhe in No One´s Heaven, our Dad; it´s Our Total Flop. And yet I´ll put my Seven Last Questions to you, Dad. For a start: 1. Where have all the pixels gone ? Wo sind sie geblieben? ” An bhfaca daoinni´sliabh riamh? ” 2. Who is typing these here questions here on this snowy screen anyhow ? 3. Is Bonaventurean Light even whiter than white ? 4. Who shall ever dare judge the Judge ? 5. Are His daughters beautiful ? 6. Are you allowed to answer these questions, Dad ? – Who´s there stopping you ? 7. Supposing I did get back from you seven answers, Dad, what then ? Would it allow me to compose haptic music ? Would it ? With an inane title like : ” All The People I´ve Slept With Since 1969″, now would it ?


The leading Swiss New Music group , Ensemble Antipodes of Basle, has commissioned a new
Corcoran Octet, ” Quasi Una Sarabande” . Premiere November 30 2008 in Basle.

KUNSTMUSIK Köln ( Spring 2005 Issue ) has Frank Corcoran´s ” It´s A Cold Wind Blows On An Irish Composer”.


August 23 – 26 Ireland Weekend at Schloß Gaismar, Kassel, will feature the music of Frank Corcoran, inc. “Joycepeak Music “, ” Quasi Una Missa”, ” Sweeney´s Vision” .