Frank Corcoran

irish composer


Jan 6 Bayerischer Rundfunk Frank Corcoran Portrait

Winter Hessischer Rundfunk ” ”

Concertzender Dutch Radio ” ”

April composing : MY ALTO RHAPSODIES for Contralto and Orchestra. Texts by Frank Corcoran

Various choral works ( Hayo-Verlag ) Medieval Irish Epigrammes, Farewell To Ireland, John O Dwyer Of The Glen,


Choral “EIGHT HAIKUS” published by Schott Verlag. Winter 2014.

Preparing “QUASI UNA STORIA” for New York Premiere March 13. 2015.

Preparing CELLO CONCERTO for 2015 Dublin Premiere.

October 12 Concert in Bolsena, Piccolo Teatro Cavour, CELLO CONCERTO piano reduction version.

3 Pieces For Violin and Piano ( Hayo-Verlag )

3 Pictures for Oboe and String Trio


Dublin Concert with ” and Bassclarinet ” A DARK SONG ”

Preparing ” 7 Pieces for Violin Solo ” for Hayo-Verlag.

” ” Festschrift Frank Corcoran ” for FRANK CORCORAN Seventieth Birthday

Alan Smale and Jennifer Hymer play Frank Corcoran in Le Rocchette Castle, August 2014


Hamburg 27. 1. 2018 CORCORAN PREMIERE :

FUENF HAIKUS for Mezzosoprano and Pianoforte ( Corinna Meyer-Esche and Jennifer Hymer )

( Texts by Frank Corcoran )

Five dogs or seven Fuenf Hunde, sieben,
Snarl in the cold April air Bellen im kalten April:
Barking: ” Kill the Spring !” “Toetet den Fruehling !”

Who goes here ? – Summer! Wer ist’s ? – Der Sommer.
My pen moves on white paper…. Stift schreibt auf weissem Papier.
Soft horns . Clarinets. Klarinettenmusik

Bits if sticky sleep. Der Schlaf noch klebend
( My eye tries to see itself ) Das Aug will sich selbst anglotzen
Morning-birds chitter. Die Morgenvoegel.

Suppose God is light ? Ob Gott doch Licht sei ?
A mountain’s shadow purple ? Ist der Bergschatten purpur ?
” Ciunas, a h-anaim !” Sei still, o Seele!

Whisper “Tramonto ” – ” that sunset” “Sonnenuntergang”
Tiptoes through this , my window. Wispernd durch mein Fenster
– Well, is this , then, death ? Ist dies dann der Tod ?

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Corcoran, Frank(b Borrisokane, Tipperary,1 May 1944 ).

Irish composer.

He studied music at St Patrick’s College, Maynooth (1961–4), music, philosophyand theology in Rome (1964–7) at the Pontificio Istituto di Musica Sacra andthe Università del Laterano, and composition in Berlin with Blacher (1969–71).He has served as music inspector for the Irish Department of Education(1971–9), been a guest of the Berlin Artist’s Programme (1980–81) and has taught at the Staatliche Hochschule für Musik, Stuttgart (1982–3) and the Staatliche Hochschule für Musik und Darstellende Kunst, Hamburg (from 1983).

He was elected to Aosdána, the Irish academy of creative artists, in 1983.

He was a Fulbright visiting professor and Fulbright scholarin the U.S. in 1989-1990.

His compositions have won a number of prizes including :
the Studio Akustische Kunst First Prize in 1996 for Joycepeak Music,
first prize at the Bourges International Electro-acoustic Music Competition in 1999 for Sweeny´s Vision, the EMS Prize,Stockholm in 2002 for Quasi Una Missa and the International Federation for Choral Music’s Second International Competition for Choral Composition for EightHaikus in 2013.

Corcoran has developed a distinctand complex language of aleatory macro-counterpoint in which sound layers are superimposed polyphonically but retain independence through distinctive polymetric, agogic and dynamic indications. This technique is evident from theearly Piano Trio (1978) to Ice Etchings no.1 and Mad Sweeney(both 1996). The later was the first of a series of works initially inspired by Seamus Heaney’s translation of the Irish epic.

His many cultural interests are reflected in the texts of his vocal works; theopera Gilgamesh (1990), for example, is based on a Sumerian epic. The IrischeMikrokosmoi for piano (1993) are based on traditional Irish melodies andrhythms. From 1999 until 2009 to he worked on a seriesof works utilizing the descriptor ‘quasi.’

++++++++++++++These ranged from orchestral workssuch as Quasi un canto and Quasi un Visione to solo instrumental works such as Quasi un Basso.

Works (selective list)Op:

Gilgamesh (G. Rosenstock and Corcoran), 1990 Orch:Carraig Aonair Suite, 1976; Chbr Sym., 1976; 3 Pieces ‘Pictures from MyExhibition’, 1976; Caoine [Lament], fl, str, 1979; Sym. no.1 ‘Syms. of Syms. ofWind Insts’, 1981; Sym. no.2, 1981; Conc., str, 1982; Farewell Syms.(Corcoran), spkr, orch, tape, 1982; Shadows of Gilgamesh, 1988; Cantus decalamitate hiberniorum in patria antiqua, 1991; 6 Irische Mikrokosmoi, str,1994; Sym. no.3, 1994; Sym. no.4, 1996; Quasi un canto,2002; Quasi un concertino, 2003; Quasi un vision, 2004; Quasi un fuga, 2005;

Violin Concerto, 2011; Cello Concerto, 2012

Vocal(SATB, unless otherwise stated):

Aifreann [Mass], unison vv, org, 1973; Dá nAimhirgín (old Irish), 1973; 9 Medieval Irish Epigrams, 1973; 2 Meditations (J.Barth), spkr, orch, 1973; More (J. Pupacic), 1976; Herr Jesu Christ (P. Eber),1978; 5 Liric de Chuid Rosenstock [5 Lyrics after Rosenstock], S, pf, trio,1980; Das Stundenbuch (R.M. Rilke), SATB, org, 1990; Mad Sweeney (S. Heaney),spkr, chbr orch, 1996; Quasi una melodia (Anon), S, asax, vib, mar, vn, va, pf, 2000; Beyond Beckett, S, vn, vc, b cl, 2006; Songs of Terror and Love (F. Corcoran & Jacopone Da Todi), B, fl+picc+afl,cl+bcl, pf, vn+va, vc, 2011; Two UnholyHaikus (G. Rosenstock, F. Corcoran), 2011; Eight Haikus (F. Corcoran),SSAATTBB, 2012 Chbr:Brass Qnt, 1973; Chbr Sonata, fl, vn, va, vc, perc, 1974; Gestures of Sound and Silence, vc, pf, 1976; Str Qt no.1, 1976; Pf Trio, 1978; Shorts, vn, vc, 1978;Wind Qnt, 1978; Str Qt no.2, 1979; Rhapsodies on a Windy Night, cl, vn, va, vc,db, perc, 1981; Lines and Configurations, b cl, mar, 1983; 5 Amhráin ganFhocail [5 Songs without Words], ob, eng hn, trbn, perc, pf, str, 1984; Musicfor the Book of Kells, 5 perc, pf, 1990; 4 Concertini of Ice, fl, ob, cl, hn,vn, vc, db, perc, 1992; Dream Song, fl, cl, bn, vc, gui, pf, 1992; See-Through Music, fl, vn, va, vc, pf, perc, 1993; 4 Miniatures, fl, vc, 1994; Rhapsodic Thinking, 4 vn, 1994; Rhapsodic Delight, 2 vn, 1995; Trauerfelder, 4 perc,1995; Ice Etchings, wind nonet, 1996; Str Qt no.3,1997; Wind Qnt no. 3, 1999; Sweeney’sSmithereens, fl, pic, cl+bcl, perc, pf, vn, db, 2000; Quasi una Sarabanda, cl,bn, hn, 2 vn, va, vc, db, 2009; Clarinet Qnt, 2011Soloinst: Suite, vc, 1972; Sonata, org, 1973; The Quare Hawk, fl, 1974; Variations with Air, a sax, 1976; Hernia, db, 1978; Changes, pf, 1979; Mythologies, perc,1979; Variations on Caleno Costure, hpd, 1982; 3 Pieces, cl, 1987; 3 Pieces,gui, 1990; Irische Mikrokosmoi, pf, 1993; Ice-Etchingsno. 2, vc, 1996; Sweeney’s Total Rondo, pf, 2002; Quasi un basso, db, 2005; Inthe deep heart’s core, hp, 2011; A dark song, b cl, 2011

Tape: Balthasar’s Dream, 1980; Joycespeak, 1995; Sweeney’s Vision, 1997; Sweeney’s Last Poem, 1998; Quasi una missa, 1999 MSS in IRL-Dc
Principal publishers: Naxos . Selfhelp, Schott. Hayo Music. Edition Ferrimontana.

Bibliography KdG (A. Kreutziger-Herr) A.Klein: Die Musik Irlands im 20. Jahrhundert (Hildesheim, 1996) J. Page: ‘A Post-War “Irish” Symphony: Fran kCorcoran’s Symphony no. 2’ in Cox & Klein (eds) Irish Musical Studies 7: Irish Music in the Twentieth Century(Dublin, 2002)Gareth Cox . Different Voices: Benjamin Dwyer 2016.

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QUILLSPILL by Philip Casey

( On hearing a performance of ” Music for the Book of Kells” and ” Trauerfelder/Góirt an Bhróin ” )

-for Frank Corcoran, on his 70th Birthday

Water receives
bell music; bell
notes fade over
the rosy fingers of Eos
on the river.

of sound
throbs through The Eagle perches
pinpricks upon a stool
in the Insular above the apocalypse.
The whistle blows.
The too-new is made Iron clangs.
slowly manifest. Steel rolls.
The sacred alphabet,
thrice looted, The Lion has lain
gleams in gloom. among the crushed
into the abyss.
The winged Calf
White Pangur is consumed,
leaps the Angel’s eyes close.
into time’s eyeblink. Leached bones are helped

through the gates of hell.
Water recalls
bell, bell
music fades over water –
crepuscular river.
-Philip Casey


In the hot, blue pool,
> Three generations swimming,
> Him and her and me…

They buckle, they cringe,
> Those suffering Umbran mountains.
> How now, the frog’s plop?
Saved in the hay-barn
> My fresh Cello Concerto
> Fresh-born sounds sleep still.

Is music hot air ?
> Marinated in white wine?
> My cigar dies now.

Beware all red wines,
> The airless Umbran evenings.
> Strong their Cork-Screw Song !

The child and the pool
> Fused in my over-cooked brain.
> “Depth” and “death” are close…
11.08. 2012 )






Gemeinde Akademie Blankanese , Hamburg

FRANK CORCORAN ” Bilder hören-Töne sehen ”

5 HAIKU for voice and piano by Frank Corcoran and Brahms (with Corinna Meyer-Esche- mezzo-soprano)


Chopin Recital

Finghin Collins

Claves 2017
RTÉ Studio 1, Dublin

Claves 2017

Studio Ernest Ansermet, Geneva

Corcoran Johnson Maloney RTÉ lyric fm

Rhapsodic Celli: The Music of Frank Corcoran

Martin Johnson

Fergal Caulfield

RTÉ National Symphony Orchestra

Gavin Maloney

RTÉ lyric fm, 2017

National Concert Hall / RTÉ Studio 1, Dublin



Rhapsodic Celli
Cello Concerto [32:31]
Rhapsodietta Joyceana [3:31]
Rhapsodic Bowing for 8 Celli [8:42]
Duetti Irlandesi for Cello and Piano [23:43]

Martin Johnson (cello)
Fergal Caulfield (piano)
RTÉ National Symphony Orchestra Cello Octet
RTÉ National Symphony Orchestra/Gavin Maloney
rec. 2016, National Concert Hall, Dublin (concerto), RTÉ Studio 1, Dublin (others)

RTÉ LYRIC FM CD154 [68:17]

This is a valuable addition to RTÉ’s series of recordings of the Irish tradition in classical music, a series which gives the opportunity to hear music from a nation often overlooked by listeners.

It needs to be said at once that the music of Frank Corcoran is rarely easy, or, in the colloquial sense, particularly rhapsodic. He does have a distinctive voice and, in some ways places himself in the Irish tradition, especially, on this release, in Duetti Irlandesi for Cello and Piano. A valuable feature of the CD is the cross-section of his music provided, from solo works up to the full orchestra of the concerto. The linking feature is the cello, but otherwise, the pieces are dissimilar. The sound world put me in mind of Elliott Carter, though the voice is not identical, and distinctly Corcoran’s own.

As a composer, Corcoran has worked in various media, including electric-acoustic, but many of his works refer to Irish literature and traditions. Despite this, his teaching has been international, notably in the USA (including Harvard, Princeton and Boston) and Germany. In the 1980s he was professor of composition in Hamburg, and his first symphony (Symphonies of Symphonies of Wind Instruments) was premiered by Lothar Zagrosek in Vienna in 1981.

The Cello Concerto is perhaps the most substantial work here, and it is a considerable piece. The opening movement acts as a gritty introduction to the remainder—it has a stern, rather agonised character. The cantabilissimo slow movement is characterful, with an element of slow song made up of scraps of melodic material. It has an instant attractiveness. The scherzo is described by the composer as “easily the most violent music I have ever written”. Orchestral strings are silent: the propulsion—it drives hard, very hard—comes from massed percussion and howling brass. The final movement recalls the first, reconciling, or not quite, fragments of the others, and recalling the opening of the whole concerto.

James Joyce, of course, also used this circularity in Finnegan’s Wake (as would Flann O’Brien in The Third Policeman), so it is perhaps apposite that the next work on the CD is Rhapsodietta Joyceana. The composer describes Joyce as “the greatest Irish composer”, noting the effects of reading Joyce aloud. The piece is not large but it works as a tribute to the spirit of Joyce.

Rhapsodic Bowing for 8 Celli written specifically for the cellos of the RTÉ National Symphony Orchestra is an interesting piece which requires virtuosity. As Corcoran says: “There is … not only rhapsodic bowing but also rhapsodic plonking and plinking, pizzicati and (col legno) striking”, but matters are resolved into a strong and ultimately tender ending bases on Bach’s C Major Suite for Cello.

The composer claims descent from Floirint Ó Corcorain, a master harpist of the 15th Century. Corcoran has long been fascinated by the traditional pieces. Yet he describes himself as appalled by settings of traditional melodies by composers such as Beethoven, Haydn, Britten and Harty, and attempts, in the rethinking here, to recapture the original spirit of eight traditional melodies. Many are associated with Corcoran’s home county of Tipperary. The pieces are melodic, touchingly beautiful, and suited to the melancholic tones of the cello. The original airs are treated with affection and respect for their character. There is an absence of aggressive modernism, but real affection. These eight pieces deserve frequent performance. Most familiar to many will be the final tune Róisín Dubh. It was so significant in Seán Ó Riada’s score for Míse Eire, and has much political resonance.

Playing by Martin Johnson and his partners is excellent, notes (by the composer) are informative.

This is a worthwhile and fascinating addition to the RTÉ series.

Michael Wilkinson



” Joycean Aesthetics, Ethnic Memory and Mythopoetic Imagination in the Music of Frank Corcoran ”


Joyce’s symbolic thunderclap is a maître-mot in Finnegans Wake and one of the keys to understanding Frank Corcoran’s musical world. There is no Irish composer who has more consciously chosen Joyce as a natural ancestor, and fewer still who have been, like Joyce, so seduced as an artist in exile by Ireland’s antagonistic pull. The psychological contradictions that inform the creative work of both are deeply embedded. Joyce, the most influential of literary modernists was nostalgically addicted to Victorian Irish song and popular Italian opera. Corcoran, Ireland’s most unapologetic modernist composer, is obsessed with a pre-colonised medieval Ireland. The work of both emerges out of their shared and anguished rejection of Roman Catholicism—existential traumas somewhat alleviated by their unshakable faith in myth’s abiding significance.

I want to explore points of convergence and difference in Corcoran’s relationship to Joyce as a method of assessing the music of one of Ireland’s most radical, individual and uncompromising composers. I will explore how deconstruction and assemblage and the sonus-logos-melos nexus central to Joycean aesthetics emerge as core components of Corcoran’s music. I will consider the way Corcoran’s abstract works correlate to Joycean techniques of etymological and lexical extension (best exemplified by Finnegans Wake), which diminish specificity of meaning as a method of metaphorising language. A paradox will be exposed whereby the nature of Corcoran’s abstract canvases allows for synaesthetic alliances to extra-musical phenomena such as violence and landscape. I will also discuss the two distinct Irish locales to which the works of each are directed—one rural, the other metropolitan. An investigation of the political contexts of Corcoran’s more programmatic music will show similarities in the ways both he and Joyce reject reified and stylised versions of post-Independence Ireland for more multi-narrative readings. Finally, I will discuss how Corcoran more than any other Irish composer imbues his work with the mythic in ways analogous to Joyce. While Joyce creates a mythic Irish inner consciousness, in Corcoran’s music, myth manifests itself in a re-imagined Irish spiritual landscape.

Deconstruction and Assemblage

The fragmentation in Joycean language is perhaps the most immediate and observable influence on Corcoran’s musical aesthetics. This manifests itself in the methods by which Corcoran pieces together shards of musical material to develop content and create structure. Corcoran is nothing if not forthright in his acknowledgement of Joyce’s abiding influence: Joycespeak – Musik, he tells us, ‘is “about” [Joyce’s] phonemes and his musical themes, the aura of those knots of synaesthetic associations that transcend the logos-myth divide’.[2] Thus, Joyce’s etymological interrogations are replicated in Corcoran’s dissections of word and melody. At certain points these distinct and converging creative approaches become indistinguishable from each other; hence Joyce’s verbalisation of sound and Corcoran’s sonorification of text.

Related to both is the notion of psychological and spiritual remembrance, a kind of Jungian anthropological excavation that needs to pull asunder literature and music as a way of mining latent meaning in their exposed roots. The creative act of recovery, of piecing syllables and melody fragments back together again—often through unexpected juxtapositions and unique methods of contrapuntal interweaving—offers a potential for healing.[3] As Stephen Dedalus states: ‘There can be no reconciliation […] if there has been no sundering.[4] Corcoran’s entire oeuvre may be seen as an extended project of dissecting music and piecing the shards back together again in a creative cycle of ‘sundering’ and ‘reconciliation’.

‘Anonymity’ and Structure

As Boulez underscores, there is a motivation within Joyce’s language that strives towards the condition of anonymity to a degree subsuming thematic material into the insular preoccupation of its etymological and structural experiment.[5] This is a condition to which much of Corcoran’s music consciously aspires. His sensitivity to the abstract-figurative dialectic is patent when he asks: ‘Is the complex battery of percussion I use in my sole American opus, Music for the Book of Kells, already ruined by centuries of use as symbols, clichés, atmosphere?’[6] Such a concern, however, is ultimately addressed by the abstruse, self-reflexive anxiety of the Symphonies and other similarly constructed instrumental works, which effectively attenuate all the recognisable narrativity that conventional elements of composition convey. They do this by dissolving such components of specificity into their organised coherence of atonal abstractions and internalised soundscapes. Corcoran claims: ‘first and foremost my Second Symphony has to be about itself, about its parts and their relationships with the whole thing. The autonomy of art is the thing.’[7] The self-obsession of his music’s post-tonal, a-rhythmic gestures allied to a fluid dynamic of melodic sharding and assemblage invigorate its insularity to a degree that largely denies outside reference or figurative association. Corcoran’s rejection of established compositional components as applied aesthetic tools in lieu of a compositional process short-circuited to nascent creative impulses accounts for the unpolished vernacular of his music; its material is never quite reified by external attributes such as ‘style’ or ‘idiom’. The result is what I will call Corcoran’s ‘de-aesthetisised aesthetics’. However, what we lose in stylised sophistication, we gain in raw psychic and emotional authenticity, a uniquely ‘autonomous and […] absolute character hitherto unknown’.[8]

Furthermore, a Joycean tendency towards the condition of anonymity also impacts the character of Corcoran’s structural frameworks. As I have outlined, in the Symphonies and other instrumental works, musical discourse is driven by what might be described as ‘gestures of non-specificity’. Organised coherence relies less on established rhythmic formulae, predetermined harmonic patterns, recognisable principles of melodic construction and mimetic motions of expression than upon spontaneous and irregular sequences of gestures that generate themselves directly out of instinctive emotional and psychological impulses. The unfolding of these energetic impulses creates the structural character or what Adorno calls the ‘formal progress’ of the music. Rather than being a pre-fabricated entity, the architecture of Corcoran’s Symphonies emerges out of that which has been structured by gesture.[9] This encourages us to consider Corcoran’s forms less as autonomous and paradigmatic components than as gestalten ensuing from musical impulses that are completely emancipated from predictable compositional discursivity and programmatic narrativity. As Adorno clarifies: ‘If musical structure or form […] are to be considered more than didactic schemata, they do not enclose the content in an external way, but are its very destiny, as that of something spiritual.’[10] In Corcoran’s case, such spirituality emerges, I think, out of the music’s coterminous relationship with instinctive emotional and psychological impulses. Unmediated by the external filtering and reifying influences of established compositional rhetoric and formal architectures, his creative responsiveness to these impulses gives his music a deeply humane quality.

Modi Operandi

Heretofore, I have discussed how Joyce has provided significant models for Corcoran’s technical approaches to composition. Also common to both is a certain self-consciousness relating to the modi operandi of their respective creative endeavours. Through Dedalus, Joyce has spoken about ‘forging in the smithy’ of his soul ‘the uncreated conscience’ of his race. Corcoran has boldly stated that ‘no Irish composer has yet dealt adequately with our past.’ For both artists, permanent exile has had the dual impact of sharpening objective perceptions of Ireland while fostering an ache for remembrance and healing. Thus, foundational to their creative impulses is an extravagant, almost messianic desire to provide through their respective works ways of regenerating latent and unexpressed energies within the collective Irish psyche.

However, the extensive coterminous ground occupied by Joyce and Corcoran in relation to techniques and aesthetics does not preclude certain differences that exist within their creative approaches. While both recognise the broad failure of Anglo-Irish representations of the Irish psyche, each focuses on different strands of society in their projects to revitalise it. Aware that he could not penetrate the secrets of Irish rural life, Joyce concentrated his literary focus upon the milieus of post-Independence metropolitan Dublin. His themes centre upon the growing consciousness of middle-class Catholicism, its aspiration to emulate Ascendancy mentalité and the socio-cultural suffocation of the emergent theocratic nation state. While certainly a radical experiment in modernist literature, Ulysses is also a damning critique of Ireland’s religious, social and cultural stagnation. Joyce’s literary mythos thus creates a powerful, alternative vision to the restrictive and impoverished actuality of Ireland. While he is also astutely critical of Irish political and cultural malaise, Corcoran’s artistic position differs from Joyce’s in its recalibration of ethnic and cultural-spiritual landscapes; his attention evades the urban and the contemporary in favour of resuscitating lost socio-cultural practices that predate, some extensively, the polity of modern life. Music for the Book of Kells is exemplary in this regard:

This was my way of reassessing Ireland – what was this little island I came from? Contemporary Ireland didn’t interest me at all, nor does it today. But, by God, 5th and 6th-century Ireland did. This was my big myth.[11]

The renovation of lost cultural and spiritual practices thus forms the basis of Corcoran’s project to re-invent Ireland through music rich in mythic significance. I now want to discuss some ways in which he achieves this.

Onomatopoeia and the Abstract-figurative Dichotomy

While Corcoran’s instrumental music largely strives for aesthetic anonymity and abstraction, there are occasions where figurative elements are consciously introduced. For example, the piano music that emerges near the end of Music for the Book of Kells intones fragments of Bach’s Chorale melody, Es ist genung (BWV 60), and the early medieval Irish plainchant Ibunt sancti appears in Quasi una Fuga as an apparition in high harmonics. Because of the dominance of abstraction in his musical canvases, and because such abstraction speaks no dialect, Corcoran knows that the slightest figurative references will have a disproportionate and thus powerful symbolic and mythical resonance.

Such manipulation of the abstract-figurative dichotomy does not merely rely on the introduction of melodic or harmonic fragments. In those works devoid of overt figurative quotation, elements of onomatopoeia are skillfully manipulated to innovatively root the music to a sensed locale or to invoke extra-musical phenomena. This point, however, leads us to a contradiction that lies at the heart of Corcoran’s work, about which I think he is aware: ‘The music is about itself. Forget the composer’s breakfast, mistress, death, bank account, experience as a youthful resistance fighter, they’re all there too.’[12] That final ‘they’re all there too’ verifies that Corcoran’s music, while extolling a self-sufficient abstraction, also formulates a type of musical messaging and sonic phenomena that encourage figurative association. The composer tells us even more pointedly that the ‘abstract’ effect of bowing string instruments behind the bridge is, in fact, ‘the barking of seals and human suffering.’[13]

In this sense, a paradoxical Joycean influence is detectable. Whereas Joyce uses the denotational system of language as a basis for creating texts of increasing abstraction and metaphorical potential, Corcoran’s abstract musical language forms the basis for the sonic exploration of potential narrativity and ethnic memory. Such abstract sonorities within Corcoran’s aesthetics, which nonetheless suggest extra-musical phenomena ranging from invocations of tribal violence and animal sounds to rugged landscape, are almost unique in Irish art music in that they avoid overt figurative association.[14] An inherent element of suppressed violence in this music unleashes hidden precincts where ineffable emotional and psychological traits find expressive release. While such sonic phenomena cannot be identified as specifically Irish or Celtic, within the context of Corcoran’s political, cultural and temporal locations, they do elicit an emergent sense of synaesthetic ethnic associations, archaic primitivism, psychological disturbance and even primal aggression that could be located convincingly within a medieval-Gaelic-rural-landscape paradigm. Refusing to restrict himself to limited and reductionist musical dialects, Corcoran creates an ‘Irish’ music entirely out of broader palettes of aesthetic sensibility and augmented emotional registers.

De-aesthetisised Aesthetics

Corcoran’s artistic character determines that when his abstract music invokes such ethnic imagery through the employment of onomatopoeia, it does so not through, for example, the soft ‘vowel-meadow’ sonority of Seamus Heaney’s Anahorish, but rather through a raw and brutal realism more closely akin to Heaney’s other similarly-titled townland poem, Anahorish 1944:

We were killing pigs when the Americans arrived.

A Tuesday morning, sunlight and gutter-blood

Outside the slaughterhouse. From the main road

They would have heard the squealing,

Then heard it stop…

I am not concerned here so much with the programmatic rural environment of Heaney’s verse, but rather with the de-aesthetisised rawness of the subject matter and how the gritty alliteration might translate into music. Corcoran describes the one hundred and twenty pigs, a boar and ten sows his mother kept as ‘his first orchestra’. His natural ear for dissonance and angular, asynchronous rhythm may very well have been nurtured in this ‘inharmonious’ environment:

As a little kid I would carry the big heavy buckets of slop for the pigs, and the ‘Berlin Pigharmonic Orchestra’ would open up – a vast sound continuum from the deepest boar and sow tones up to the highest piccolo of the piglets. Even then I was thinking: ‘God, if there was some way I could record this, manipulate it in some way, this would be great.

Thus, the primal and native sounds of a rural childhood are the seeds of a music composed as an act of memory and recollection of those very kernels. Significantly, the recuperation is not idyllic—a transference of actual life into attractive, aestheticised art. Rather, this is musical memory that seeks to capture the raw emotional weight of an animal scream, to sound the scarring of an exposed landscape, to emit the psychological and emotional grief that informs its ‘gutter-blood’ aesthetics. From his earliest experiences as a child, an endless repository of sound was stored in Corcoran’s mind to find release in the act of composition: ‘I’ve magic memories there of natural sounds, of animal sounds. I still hear the scream of the sawmill in the local village. So there was magic realism and it’s in the best work today—that energy flows in.’[15] Thus, while it might seem extravagant to suggest a coherent trajectory from rural cacophony to atonal soundscape, I am convinced by this idea of sonic recuperation from childhood memory—two minutes into Symphony No. 3 we hear these high-pitched squeals and psychic screams unleashed from the snorting, animalistic groans of low brass and woodwind.

Music as Spiritual Mythos

While synaesthetic associations of a medieval-Gaelic-rural-landscape paradigm can never be emphatically proven in relation to Corcoran’s abstract music, they are obviously a central component of a number of his electro-acoustic and multi-media works that employ archival recordings and other objets trouvés. A prime example is Quasi una Missa, a musique concrète Mass in four movements: ‘Kyrie’, ‘Gloria’, ‘Sanctus’ and ‘Agnus Dei’. Culminating in its fourth movement, vocal fragments comprising text from various sources, disjointed phonemes, objets trouvés (recordings of 1950s Aran Islands keening and port a’bhéil),[16] paralinguistic material and angst-ridden screams are interwoven to create a sonic landscape of multi-narrative complexity. Heard one moment as autonomous entities and the next as part of an overall sound structure, these interweaving elements create a sonic documentary of social and cultural practices. Vocal and guttural interjections by Corcoran and others, which are interpolated into the contrapuntal mix, represent verbalised meditations upon the ‘word’, the ‘sacred syllable’. The superimposition of identifiable verbal fragments with abstruse musical and vocal gestures, which creates a continuous modulation between semantic cognition and pure abstraction, is a thoroughly Joycean conceit. Even the cowbell sound that loudly and repeatedly intrudes into the dramatic action simultaneously conjures up abstract interjectory noise, rural life and church ritualism.

Indeed, ritualism is at the core of Quasi una Missa and other similar works by Corcoran. Utterance is a central aspect, which seeks meaning in etymological deconstruction, a kind of composed ursprache, which assumes a deep relationship between language and its referents—‘In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.’[17] If language has been cognised on the level of consciousness where the subject and the object meet, Quasi una Missa is a meditation that attempts to unveil meaning not just through the utterance of words and their roots but also from whatever latent knowledge may be extracted from the purely sonic resonances these words and fragments emit; thus, in Quasi una Missa, music becomes mantra.

[…] it’s the deepest human utterance; God utterance from over two thousand years of Ireland’s God tradition, with all its crazy pathological and ecstatic forms from the god, Amhergín, who is ‘wind on sea’, as we know, right up to Bishop Berkeley, in the Sanctus […] At the end we have the utterances: Deus est: God is, God is not, God is beyond being – , plus quam which is Neoplatonic […]. I use plus quam, and the very final utterance is reduced to ‘pl’. Of course, this is Joycean. The Gloria, for example, has the great theophanic thunder at the beginning, which I borrowed from Finnegans Wake.

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Yes, Sunday June 4 2017,

my Hugh Lane Dublin Concert with the

Pratoleva Piano Trio.

We put on the new PIANO TRIO with Viola, Cello and Piano.

Also some of the 8 DUETTI

IRLANDESI for Cello and Piano ,

– A Una Bhain 1. and 2. * they are totally distinct * and

Priosun Cluain Meala, Sean O Duibhir An Ghleanna.

The pure drop.