Gloria Coates, a daring composer known for her symphonies and other works, passed away on August 19 in Munich at the age of 89. Coates was one of the rare women who composed symphonies. While her pieces were not frequently performed in her native United States, they found appreciation in Europe, where she spent a significant portion of her professional career.
Alexandra Coates, her daughter, stated that the cause was pancreatic cancer.
Ms. Coates wrote
, in addition to a plethora of compositions for small groups and vocals. While she was crafting her 11th symphony in 1999, the composer and critic Kyle Gann.
penned in The New York Times
'Ms. Coates's symphonies are characterized by their dark and sensual nature, and are notable for her creative use of orchestral glissandos (changes in pitch that are gradual rather than stepwise, similar to slow sirens). These elements powerfully build up to prolonged crescendos.'
Mr. Gann stated in an email this week that the glissando remained her signature.
"He said, 'Gloria mastered the orchestral glissando just as van Gogh claimed his indebtedness to the sunflower. The gradual pitch slides that traverse her symphonies and string quartets can be challenging for the performers to synchronize, likely deterring musicians from showcasing her music. However, these elements render her music unmistakably unique and identifiable. Beneath those glissandos, one can often find a strict adherence to canons, palindromes, and other basic musical structures.'"
"He further added, 'The impact often resembles an impressionistic painting of a stunning building, smeared by the rain on its surface.'"
Ms. Coates initially gained significant recognition when her composition 'Music on Open Strings' was showcased by the Polish Chamber Orchestra at the Warsaw Autumn International Festival of Contemporary Music in 1978. Since then, her work has sporadically garnered attention in the United States, such as in 1989 when her
"Abstract Lines Music"
The world premiere of the work took place at the New Music America festival in Brooklyn. In 2002, New World Records became the first American label to release a recording of her compositions. In 2019, the American Composers Orchestra performed 'Music on Open Strings' at Zankel Hall in Manhattan.
Edition Peters declared in 2021 that they would start publishing her compositions.
Ms. Coates stated that her music is occasionally melodic, but frequently originates from the fusion of microtonal structures.
'She conveyed to The Wausau Daily Herald of Wisconsin, her local newspaper, in 2021, that music should not be viewed as individual notes on a scale, as has been the traditional approach for centuries. Instead, she suggested considering music as sounds that traverse time and space, governed by their own rules, yet still firmly anchored in the historical musical tradition.'
The Crash Ensemble performed her Sixth String Quartet (1999) in Dublin in 2005.
'Her music may be bleak, ascetic, strange, and disturbing, yet its purity makes it uniquely captivating.'
The Irish Times reported
Thus, 'This is not the kind of music that would leave any listener indifferent.'
In 2019, Ms. Coates and conductor George Manahan were at Zankel Hall in New York City, where her 'Music on Open Strings' was performed by the American Composers Orchestra.
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Gloria Ann Kannenberg was born in Wausau on October 10, 1933. Her father, Roland, served as a state senator, while her mother, Natalina (Corso) Kannenberg, was employed in weapons manufacturing during the Second World War, and later worked as a nurse's assistant.
Gloria displayed musical tendencies at an early age.
In early 1939, The Wausau Daily Herald reported that the 5-year-old kindergarten children have formed a rhythm band. Thomas Evenson, Jack Luedtke, and Gloria Kannenberg contributed by bringing drums from their homes.
She had also mastered the toy piano by that time. At the age of 12, she was already composing her own, often unconventional, music. In 1951, one of her compositions received an 'excellent' rating in a national junior composers' competition. However, her more daring deviations from tradition were sometimes discouraged by teachers and competition judges.
In a 2005 interview with The Irish Times, she shared a pivotal moment in her growth that occurred during her teenage years. She attended a Q&A session with Russian composer Alexander Tcherepnin, who later became her mentor. He advised her to prioritize her instincts over adhering to pre-established rules.
She completed her high school education in Wausau and then pursued studies in music and drama at Monticello College in Illinois. Her educational journey continued at other institutions such as the Cooper Union in New York and Louisiana State University. After tying the knot with Francis Mitchell Coates Jr. in 1959, she settled in Baton Rouge for a while and obtained a master's degree in composition from Louisiana State University.
She pursued her education further in New York. However, following her divorce in 1969, she, her daughter, and their dachshund set sail for Europe. Ms. Coates, who had trained in both voice and composition, made Munich her new home and for a while, chased a career in opera singing. However, destiny had other plans.
"Alexandra Coates stated in an email, 'At the age of 7, she was struck by another student while skiing, resulting in paralysis in her upper back.'"
Ms. Coates shifted her attention from singing to painting, another passion she shared with music. She recounted to The Irish Times that during the early 1970s, when the Munich Olympics terrorist attacks and the Baader-Meinhof Gang violence were rampant, the Munich building she resided in was suspected to be a potential terrorist target. Despite this, she chose to remain in the building after moving her music manuscripts to a safer location. Her daughter, during this time, was living with her father in the United States. Ms. Coates believed she was subconsciously sending a message to herself through her actions.
'She admitted that it took her several months to understand the immense importance of music, even surpassing that of her own life,' she said.
From that point forward, music was her main priority. Ms. Coates spent years in Germany, organizing a series dedicated to American contemporary music. Her own musical compositions spanned a broad spectrum. Her daughter mentioned that Ms. Coates once worked as a tour guide at the Dachau concentration camp for U.S. Army personnel. This experience inspired some of her works, including 'Voices of Women in Wartime,' which was a musical interpretation of writings by women in different situations during World War II.
Ms. Coates is survived by her daughter, a brother named Philip Kannenberg, a sister named Natalie Tackett, and a grandson, in addition to other family members.
Even though her work was not frequently recognized in the United States, it was greatly admired for its originality by critics and fellow writers. Among them is Simon Cummings, a writer.
The modern music blog 5:4
stated in an email that Ms. Coates distinguished herself from other unconventional composers as 'one who not only surprises or entertains you upon first hearing their music, but also completely overwhelms you, and profoundly and powerfully moves you, even if, at that moment, you're uncertain as to why you're having such a potent response.'
In 2014, Mark Swed, a music critic for the Los Angeles Times, simply referred to Ms. Coates as 'our last maverick.'