Frank Corcoran

irish composer



IS acher ingáith innocht ·
fufuasna fairggæ find?olt
ni ágor réimm mora minn ·
dond láechraid lainn ua lothlind.

Bitter is the wind to-night:
it tosses the ocean’s white hair:
I fear not the coursing of a clear sea
by the fierce heroes from Lothlend.



Emma Coulthard, flute – Michael McCartney, guitar

The National Museum of Wales, Cardiff

Sunday, 17 March 2013, 1 p.m.

In celebration of the shared Celtic heritage of Wales and Ireland, Still Life with Guitar would like to invite you to

an exciting free concert of new music for flute and guitar, including works by Welsh composers Mervyn Burtch and

Peter Reynolds, plus, for the first time in Britain, works by Irish composers Frank Corcoran, Martin O’Leary and John



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

Irish composer.

He studied music at St Patrick’s College, Maynooth (1961–4), music, philosophy and theology in Rome (1964–7) at the Pontificio Istituto di Musica Sacra and the 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.
Cork Choral Festival Sean O Riada Prize in 2014.

Corcoran has developed a distinct and 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 the early Piano Trio (1978) to Ice Etchings no.1 and Mad Sweeney (both 1996).
The later was the first of a series ofworks initially inspired by Seamus Heaney’s translation of the Irish epic.

His many cultural interests are reflected in the texts of his vocal works; the opera Gilgamesh (1990), for example, is based on a Sumerian epic. The Irische Mikrokosmoi for piano (1993) are based on traditional Irish melodies and rhythms.

From 1999 until 2009 to he worked on a series of works utilizing the descriptor ‘quasi.’
These ranged from orchestral works such as Quasi un canto and Quasi un Visione to solo instrumental works such as Quasi un Basso.

Works (selective list )

Op: Gilgamesh , 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. o fWind Insts’, 1981;
Sym. no.2, 1981; Conc., str, 1982; Farewell Syms.(Corcoran), spkr, orch, tape, 1982;
Shadows of Gilgamesh, 1988; Cantus de calamitate 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, 2013

Vocal(SATB, unless otherwise stated):
Aifreann [Mass], unison vv, org, 1973;
Dán Aimhirgín (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 Unholy Haikus (G. Rosenstock, F. Corcoran), 2011;
Eight Haikus (F. Corcoran),SSAATTBB, 2012

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 gan Fhocail [5 Songs without Words], ob, eng hn, trbn, perc, pf, str, 1984; Music for 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; In the deep heart’s core, hp, 2011; A dark song, b cl, 2011

Balthasar’s Dream, 1980; Joycespeak, 1995;
Sweeney’s Vision, 1997;
Sweeney’s Last Poem, 1998;
Quasi una missa,

Principal publishers: Naxos Selfhelp,

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



A new book. “FRANK CORCORAN AT SEVENTY ” , on Frank Corcoran celebrating his recent 70th birthday has been


frank-corcoran-Umschlag Vorderseite festschrift

The ‘Festschrift’, Frank Corcoran at Seventy, is edited by Hans-Dieter Grünefeld and brings together a range of interviews, articles and reflections on Frank Corcoran and his music from several authors.

Also included in the book are some of the composer’s notes, memories and photos of his musical past, as well as paintings from Lazio, Italy by his wife Katharina Spitzer, an area where they spend several months there each year.

The book will be available to purchase direct from CMC shortly, priced €24.95. To order advance copies, please email


There is certainly a lot of nonsense around ,

including our usual suspects

( Henry Grattan Flood, for example, is hardly usable. P. Henebry also. )
From Breand’an Breathnach I was lucky to inherit healthy scepticism ;

but also to approach Irish music much as an archaeologist would – his

FOLK MUSIC AND DANCES OF IRELAND has good stuff ( eg. on how recent the dances are- or on the genealogy of certain

Slow Airs )

A must , too, is Donal O’Sullivan FOLKSONGS OF THE IRISH

More recent collectors are also sounder – Tom Munnelly, Fintan Vallely, Swedish Professor of Folklore , Bo Almquist.
The odd introductions from the BBC collectors of the thirties to fifties , Seamus Ennis etc. ,
can be pearls.

Yes, a MUST is Breand’an ‘O Madag’ain’s pioneering work on the Old Irish Caoine

and its genealogy- going back to the Fenian “laoi”.

I myself published two important essays in The Journal of Music , was it 2000 and 2002 …

And a gob-smacking must is that beautiful reference in ” Agallamh na Seanorach ” ( “Tales Of The Ancients Of Ireland

where Oisin, quizzed by our St. Patrick, told of Finn McCumhal’s beloved little harper, Ceann Corach who

could play

” the music of all that is…. ”

MARCH 2016 ; I WROTE :

Well, to my mind, the mind intends , craves it, hates and fears the mentally vacuous

– even when preparing to fly South to warmer hours and plants and animals and sights and smells and sauces

Five wintering months maximum, wasn’t so bad after all.

Not too much concentration ; the IRISH DUETS ( Cello and Piano ) and the

PIANO TRIO (with Viola ).

Yet shaping my past music now , what’s the future for 2016?

eg. up-and-coming new orchestral CD . Exciting !

Yes , the mind is stirring, it surveys its remaining time ; I can still imagine great musical shapes and forms.

Flex the shaping muscle. The tones will come.

And good taste also. The ethical. I’ll avoid compromise . Holy shit.

The World and Composed Music – this inherited, miserable scene – I do not take on any responsibility for it thus…

Since Debussy’s death. Gigantic market-forces

at their dirty work of dirtying ears and listening.

Work away in the inner recesses. Keep the head down. Imagine.

Shape the strong stuff.


Horses shat; behold !
It mires our monastery.
Earthly sanctity…

“Apples of the earth ”
Dropping from English horses
They are looting us.

Apples to apples !
We monks are holy ashes,
Wholly holy. YES!

( féach creachadh is truailliú
na nGall garbh!
Mainistir Ros Oirialaigh!

see the looting and desecration
of English barbarians!
Ross Abbey )


RHAPSODIC BOWING for 8 Celli Frank Corcoran

There is here not only rhapsodic bowing but also rhapsodic plonking and plinking, pizzicati and ( col legno ) striking with wood and all the myriad colour possibilities of one cello or of
eight. – Quasi a chest of viols for today.

I wrote this short essay in string choirs and cello colours for the Cello Section of the N.S.O. it is one mighty movement. Of eight minutes. The chthonic opening wooden thumps soon give way to arco lines and melodies,high rapture, rhapsodies ascending and descending. Moving lines bisect each othe , they quiver and announce, until all
gives way to the great sarabande rhythm of Bach’s

C – Major Solo Cello Suite .

After the second Bach shadow the rhapsodic bowing becomes 8-voiced rapture.
Before the high

arpeggioed harmonics take over completely in the end section, comes the repeated bass with two cello as the work streams to its tender end.

Ancient Greek : ” RHAPSOIDEIN” = ” To stitch together songs.”


I sneak back to Irishness.

For the very last time.

– I´d often cursed our lack of a socially bolstered faith in the cultural instutions which composed music (
i.e. my own music ) might seem to need.
We a peasant people? Our lack of giant shoulders onto which I´d glide and clamber as a young whetter of sound-skill and-shenannigans? ) ?

It is a great lack, because we Irish ( still ) have no ” culturally internalized” need for or any perception of “composed music “, of ” ceol cumtha – ealaíonta”.

And yet There was one exception, a literary giant. Musicologists , nota bene: James Joyce was the greatest Irish composer. He penned the wash of sound. Joyce HEARD music and polyphonic flow and heroic courage and the composer´s cheer,
that cheer which I got as my 1997 WDR commission, ” BALTHAZAR´S DREAM”
was awarded the Bourges Festival 1999 Premier Prix.
It helped, of course, these wilting Irish shoulders. Joyce had felt the flow of phonemes and synonyms and syllabic form.

Danger lurked. I didn´t know enough European art-history. How invent the ( musical ) wheel? The sonata as a bicycle? Innocence can breed disaster, lonely, lovely.
Again Hubble´s universe, in a garden-hut near Stuttgart I composed SONATA FOR STRING ORCHESTRA ; I ” wrote ” its stringiness. – I had to. I learned to invent sound forms. I had to.
My American
MUSIC FOR THE BOOK OF KELLS calls for vast percussion.
It is an Early Irish Iron Age window. I had to do it. Nobody showed me how.
I cut pre-digital BALTHAZAR´S DREAM with bleeding fingers at the Berlin Technical University in heady 1980. I had to.
Then, years later, I composed my QUASI UN LAMENTO for a very odd orchestra of three saxophones, wind, percussion, piano and strings.
Was this my scream at the violent death of Rory ( in Hamburg 1987 ) ?

And yet.Beware seeing musical composition as biography´s breakfast, the unmediated andthe raw.
Cook, ye composers !
Yet Horace´s polished art is right: I construct MY sheen, my musical art,
holier than bronze, transmuted amputations and child-cauterizations and orphaned child-emotions;
ghosts and ghosts’ dreams and -terrors.

Too simple? Certainly. And yet….




Yes, I always loved my ” Liber Usualis ” , its lumpy weight , full of black

Apparently I will die, – not only Seamus Heaney and David Frost

have had that privilege.

So who´ll then see this aurora turn to dawn ? Will it turn to dawn?

Where will my universe of felt feelings and drunk drinks and
suffered tones and negative feelings and pettinesses and ecstasy and
ecstasies and big take-offs and small ( – the Phrank Cork Universe, we´ll
call it ),
my mortal sensorium , all my reeling films and thrusts towards love, towards truth,
be gone to?

We´re back to “Cogito ergo cogitans sum”, a grand tautology, the black boot-straps heaving to pull me up
But now stilled for ever after my passing,
my full stop.

How on
earth will all this earth get on at all ?

To be continued.
Watch your cork.

Caoin tú féin ; but only just enough .

Beware processions, Seamus.
Get back, ye millions !

Start the Big YELL at the beginning of my big electronic piece, ” TRADURRE / TRADIRE ” !

Deep brass and tearing timps of my Second Symphony ( -recently re-heard in Blankenese, Hamburg ).

Work well worked.

Reply Reply All Forward