Cogan, Philip (c.1748–1833), organist, pianist, and composer, was probably born in Co. Cork, though his parentage is unclear. He was a choirboy and then a lay vicar at St Fin Barre's cathedral, Cork, before taking up a post as stipendiary in the choir of Christ Church cathedral, Dublin (April 1772). In November 1772 he was asked to appear before the chapter for neglecting his duties. Cogan argued that he was in a ‘bad state of health’, and resigned later that year. But another explanation is that he was distracted by the music that was on offer elsewhere in Dublin. In the 1770s he is known to have composed incidental music for operas and pantomimes, such as ‘The rape of the Prosperine’ (1776) and ‘The ruling passion’ (1778). In November 1780 he was unanimously elected by the dean and chapter of St Patrick's cathedral as organist. But his success as a musician and conductor at the concert halls and theatres of Dublin, and his patronage by the nobility and gentry, meant that he neglected his church duties. In December 1795 the chapter of St Patrick's threatened to deprive him of his office ‘unless he gives regular and daily attendance from this day forth’ (RCB Library, chapter book, 1793–1819, p. 79). He managed to cling on to his post at the cathedral until April 1810. Contemporaries described him as ‘Doctor Cogan’, but this may have been a courtesy title since his name does not appear in the records of TCD.
He was an outstanding keyboard player who mastered the harpsichord but was also quick to discover the possibilities of the pianoforte in the 1780s. Michael Kelly (qv), one of his pupils, recalled that ‘his execution on that instrument was astonishing, and his compositions, although not generally known in this country, possess great merit’ (Reminiscences, 299). Both the concert-going public and Dublin newspaper critics were dazzled by his playing (particularly the use of fugal extemporisation and counterpoint) and he was a regular fixture at the Rotunda Hospital and the Smock Alley theatre. He was generous with his time and appeared at benefit concerts in aid of the debtors’ prison, hospitals, and churches until at least 1816. At the annual commemoration performance for G. F. Handel (qv) in 1789 he was described as ‘not only the first performer but the greatest composer of this kingdom’ (Freeman's Journal, 7 May 1789). He was a founding member of the Irish Musical Fund Society (which raised funds for distressed musicians) and became vice-president in 1794 when the society was incorporated by an act of parliament.
His operatic works have been lost but some of his surviving songs, such as ‘In April when primroses’, ‘The lady and the gypsy’, and ‘The chace [sic] on our huntresses’, may have been written for the stage. He wrote at least twenty-one sonatas in the period c.1775–1815 (of which twelve can be traced) and two piano concertos (scored for strings, flutes, and horns). This music was printed in Dublin, London, and Edinburgh and dedicated to prominent Irish patrons such as Lady Earlsfort, Lady Clonmel, the duchess of Leinster (qv), and Mrs John La Touche. He was adept at taking a traditional Irish air or dance rhythm and then transforming it into a recurring theme for a second movement or finale. The ‘capital sonata’ is based in part on ‘the celebrated air of Colin’ and in the concerto Op. 5 he uses ‘the favourite air of Malbrouk’.
Cogan was the foremost keyboard player and composer working in Ireland in the years 1775–1815 and was also well known in England and Scotland. His sonatas are of a particularly high standard and compare favourably to similar variations by Mozart. During his long life Cogan remained a highly respected figure in Dublin society; his pupils included Michael Kelly, George Buchanan, William Rooke (qv), and Patrick Moran. His reputation as a composer began to fade in the 1820s due to the rise of a younger generation of gifted musicians such as John Field (qv). It is unfortunate that Cogan's work has been rarely played in public since his death. He is known to have married (his wife died in Bath in 1810) and had at least one daughter, Margaret. Cogan lived at addresses on Clarendon St., Exchequer St., South Anne St., and Upper Baggot St., Dublin. He died on 3 February 1833 at the residence of his son-in-law, Patrick Clinton, at 14 Old Dominick St., Dublin, and left an estate worth £750. Most of his known published musical works can be found in the Plunket collection of early Irish music (NLI).