Frank Corcoran

irish composer


January 13 . 2008

100 Years Ago – The Hugh Lane Gallery Dublin Was Opened ! We mark this with :

Gallery At Noon Concert . 12.00 The Callino Quartet premieres :

Frank Corcoran´s THIRD STRING-QUARTET ( 2006. 14´. )


It´s been sent, I expect, to soften me up, yet , strangely, to keep me on the alert. Obvious.
( Ours , too, has been shite ! – Ye must have sent us over those millions of cubic litres of water …. and after the heat-wave of April and May. Bit better today. ) I´ll be flying over you towards Shannon on Thursday. Fancy. Next week is the Grand Soar down to Prato – but there it´ll be – of course – too warm; so we can´t win… moan, moan. Soften me up . Alert me to the Stoics´deep saws , deep , fat wisdom they saw, the human mystery behind the whinge. For example this day gone – and it lived , be honest, lightly enough . Even if I can´t honestly say what my new Third String Quartet is all about. ( – How livd the other two ? Also lightly enough ? )
It soars a bird. A long a last a loon. Well. Might just be a tick too slow here, not NEAR enough savagery there, the end has to be soft but alertish . The Callino ladies´ll do it grand. Wet the baby´s head , move ye forward to the new back field . ” Quasi Una Fuga” came sternly after , I suppose, my ” Quasi Un Lamento” ´s saxophones´ soft , thick moans.
Then there was it: that computered ” Quasi Una Missa”. Yep. I succeeded good , I sink, in linking my guts, my kidney and gall and each epithalamic alpha-wave and my alerted sound-instinct , yep, not a whit softened by the material I´d used : two thousand years of God – fits and Godforbidd´n God- spake and God-starts on our happy Irish island, Eriugena´s Goddish Aachen Latin ( – I´ll bet my real self he didn´t learn that with his Greek at Clonmacnoise ! ) and Stephen Dedalus´s ” – God ! What´s that ? – A shout in the street ! ” etc . I love Irish medieval Mac Con Bríde ” Moladh ! Moladh ! ” , which I could then insert in to the mash of ” Quasi Una Missa” , splendid bullets Isfahanish. My very own private moan for our Rory´s early, awful death just had to quote Bishop Berkeley´s great plea : ” I had a little friend…. God, in His mercy, took him from me…. I had loved him . Too much. ” So . Present Stoics are floored, then silenced, then stoned. The four strings take my very point, then they hurl it over the cross-bar, the fat fans gone loony . A general pause , called for, given gladly by, is it, the viola? ( There is no way you´ll get me ever condoning any cello´s jealousy. ) Where´s the lousy point in my string-quartet´s entirely ineluctable musical discourse ?
Yerra, our summer was shite, too? – Si o no ? – If moodishness and sixty two cows are allowed not to know their place, si. Otherwise we´ll gladly stick to what this is all really about . I mean this : is art = the shit-and-piss of my body´s terminal breaking-apart ? Is that it ? The new Third String Quartet ? Or we visit the Dundalk Institute of Technology at two o´clock sharp , next Nov. 21, David Stalling´s brave EAR Festival , where mad enough ” SWEENEY´S VISION ” will roar through ? Is that it ?


10. November Westdeutscher Rundfunk Köln : Porträt Frank Corcoran .

Interview with the Irish composer-in-exile, Frank Corcoran, plus “SWEENEY´S VISION” ( WDR commission 1997. Bourges Festival premier Prix 1999 ) and his other WDR commission ( 1999, was it ? ) , ” QUASI UNA MISSA” ( 2002 Swedish E.M.S. Prize ) .


Fusion ( yes, I did miss this )…. ” Cross-over”…. Oh Dear ! CRASH

A lot of this musical stuff is not non-trivial ( – Yes, you got me right : it is trivial ). A lot of what Whang On A Can or Ensemble Smersch or The Kitchen Smoke, what the boyos play . This is what I call ” The New Dirt” – i.e. what you actually hear coming out of the din doesn´t give a damn about the beautiful sheen of the clarinet that´s struggling against the tape – or the live electronics which accompany it with fine, dirty black, primitive sound-dirt , and with little or no care taken to give us an interesting, crafted, complex sound.
It palls within seconds. Is bound to. It does , too . – No complexity of any kind for the seeking and seeing ear to linger lovingly, longingly over….
Still, to every man his dirt, say I . To every can its bang.
I´m a quadrivial merchant myself , inclined to the musical work as crafty and crafted sound- sculpture which remains interesting enough to have my eary imagination come back
again and again to.
Take my Third String Quartet which the Calino Quartet will premiere in Dublin on January 13 2008. In this one – movement ” discourse” I have plenty of knots and knarls and snorts and starts and wild string-rhapsodic passages broken by the hunger to unify or derive or develop every atomic unit out of those opening polyrhythmic fits on one string or four. Many shades of quartet-colour, too. The whole argument-in-tones over the top, sure. But it´s not ” The New Dirt” .


Certainly, I´ll write it out in a verse:

20. 09. 2007. The Bayerische Rundfunk broadcast my ” QUASI UN CONCERTO ” with big

orchestral guns, the filthy lot. Good.

1.10.2007. Our own Lyric Fm broadcast my ” PIANO TRIO ” ( the Spanish Arbos Trio at this
year´s Sligo Festival. How many Aosdana members were, ahem, present ? )
I well remember my struggles at the beaten-up piano, 1978 in Mount Merrion,
to give birth to that opening solo for bleeding, polytemporal piano, and then to
have the cello explode in, then the lifting microcontrapoint of my Bergian violin
opening . The PIANO TRIO did take off. My first dapple-dawn-drawn work. Of

1.10.2006 Lyric Fm broadcast ” 9 ASPECTS OF AN IRISH POEM BY GABRIEL
ROSENSTOCK ” for the beautiful violin bow of beautiful ( and beautifully
sounding ) Catherine Leonard and beautiful National Chamber Choir with
beautiful Celso Antunes´s beautiful shaping.
Also Constantin Zanidache´s sculpting of my ” VARIATIONS ON A Mháirín De
Barra” for his special viola sheen.

20.9.2007 Bavarian Radio, Bayerischer Rundfunk, broadcast my orchestral ” QUASI UN


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.