Gloria Coates, a prolific American composer who in 1969 relocated to Munich, passed away last week. She was 89.
Coates’ works include 16 symphonies, 11 string quartets, and numerous songs. Additionally, she was active as an abstract expressionist painter, creating art which appeared frequently on her album covers. The music critic, Mark Swed, wrote, “Coates is a master of microtones, of taking a listener to aural places you never knew could exist and finding the mystical spaces between tones.”
The atmospheric nature of Gloria Coates’ music can be heard in her String Quartet No. 7, “Angels.” Composed in 2000, the piece is scored for string quartet and organ, and unfolds in a single movement of 15 minute duration. Haunting and cinematic, it is music which suggests a barren, forbidding landscape. Mournful, wailing glissandi and tone clusters combine with lonely, passing hymn and carol fragments. (At one point, there is a quotation of Angels We Have Heard on High). The “angels” referenced in the subtitle seem as likely to be fallen as celestial. From its deep opening rumble to the throbbing, metallic thrashes of the final moments, this is music filled with spacial expanse. The underlying tension neither dissipates, nor finds resolution. Instead, the sonic “vision” takes us on a journey, and then dissipates.
- Coates: String Quartet No. 7, “Angels,” Kreutzer Quartet, Philip Adams, Naxos