What’s it like to be Frank Corcoran?
1. How and when did you get interested in composing?
A seven year old lad: my first piano-lesson with kindly Sister Francis at Borrisokane Convent. I wanted to re-compose sections of The Rosebud Waltz. I was then studying intensively — and intensely.
2. Is composing your ‘day job’ or do you do something else as well?
I am a music professor at Hamburg’s Staatliche Hochschule für Musik und Theater (‘day-job’). However, when the Cúchulainn warp-spasms get me with a new composition, I work day and night also at that.
3. Where do you mostly get your ideas?
Triggers of the past: poor Mad Sweeney (turned biography and breakfast — of cress and pure, cold water — into art); a poem (Rosenstock, John Barth, medieval Irish lyrics, etc.); a scaffolding (rondo as rosary-beads, etc.); an obscure form (e.g. exploding tonal shell or mine, etc.); out of the living air…
4. What are you working on at the moment?
Tradurre-Tradire: electro-acoustic with many voices, commission of Deutschland Radio Berlin for 2 July 2004 premiere. Hope to begin a strange new work for orchestra straight after that. Obscure longings…
5. Describe your typical working day.
As with Brahms and other Viennese, the best ideas come very early, by first light; are worked and whittled and soldered at any available hour of the not long enough day.
6. What is it like hearing a new piece played for the first time?
My Platonic Form becomes Sounding Flesh. No (even excellent) performance ever is that form. But it is my sounding embodiment of it. Like so many other (I do hope) composers, I must also respect good musicians’ wishes: a nuance here, a wood-wind phrasing there. The past greats were always humble about having occasionally to watch the weight of their orchestration. Me too…
7. What has been the highlight of your career so far?
The premiere in Vienna (luminous 1981) of my Symphonies of Symphonies of Wind (O.R.F. Symphony Orchestra — glorious wind-sounds! — conducted by Lothar Zagrosek).
8. What has been the lowlight of your career so far?
When the then RTÉ Symphony Orchestra (it wasn’t their fault; the repeat performance was great!) premiered my Two Meditations on [texts by] John Barth in, I think, 1973-ish in the Francis Xavier Hall, Dublin. My work for speaker and orchestra sounded (Oh technology!) as a work for orchestra without speaker. Next time, I was on the alert.
9. What is your greatest ambition?
To keep the courage up; moral, artistic courage. To go out on the edge. With new work in different genres, e.g. my present, new Tradurre-Tradire, ‘How to translate her scream’.
10. Which musician in history do you most admire and why?
Of the many candidates, today it’s Schubert. In his death-year, he knew how he would syphilitically end. He continued to the last to produce high masterpieces, music of the highest order and, I’ll say it again, courage.
11. Which present-day musician do you most admire and why?
Ligeti, my former colleague at Hamburg, is still living. Late Boulez: works, e.g. Sur Incises, continue to stretch him and us. Lutoslawsky up to the end, a high heroism.
12. Which period of history would you most like to have lived in and why?
I’ll stay put in today. In spite of the most vicious neo-con anti-art winds known to man.
13. What is the best thing about being a composer?
I can’t let up till a new work, being born, gives me relief from the creative, itching obsession.
14. What is the worst thing about being a composer?
My fellow-Irish have not yet (will they?) accepted music as an art on a par with Irish literature, Irish painting, etc. I include fellow Irish artists — especially my Aosdána colleagues — intellectuals, cultural philosophers, pub-poets and princes, powerful potentates. Is this fear of Irish art-music, Irish composers, genetic? Education-induced? Very strange for a ‘European’ nation. Very.
15. If you weren’t a composer, what other career might you have chosen?
A thinker, tinker, philosopher, theological traveller.
16. What is your concept of heaven?
Please email Dante…
17. What is your concept of hell?
Please email Richard Perle and other U.S. neo-con think-tankers.
18. What is your favourite food?
Cannelloni cooked in any village in Umbria, Lazio or Chianti. Also well-composed Irish Stew (where’ll I get it?).
19. If someone gave you three months off with unlimited travel and living expenses, what would you do?
Month 1: Skellig Rock, composer´s camp for one. Month 2: An Umbrian village I’m keeping nameless, cannelloni, and accompaniments to lave the soul’s ear. Month 3: Mount Athos with paper and pencil (shouldn’t be too hot or waterless).
20. If you could have one thing in the world that would really help you as a composer, what would it be?
Change places — for a pleasant while — with eighteenth-century Joseph Haydn. I, too, would enjoy his Duke’s orchestral generosity.
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