Gloria Coates, Composer Who Defied Conventions, Dies at 89


“When I was 7,” Alexandra Coates said by email, “she was hit by another skiing student and was paralyzed in the upper back.”

Ms. Coates gave up singing and focused on painting, another interest, along with music. She told The Irish Times that in the early 1970s, amid the terrorist attacks at the Olympics in Munich and the violence of the Baader-Meinhof Gang, the Munich building where she was living was thought to be a possible terrorist target. She moved her music manuscripts out of the building but continued to live there. (Her daughter was living with her father in the United States.) She was, she said, sending a sort of subliminal message to herself.

“It was not until several months later that I realized that that music was so important, it was more important than my life,” she said.

From then on, music became her primary focus. For years Ms. Coates curated a series in Germany devoted to American contemporary music. Her own compositional output covered a wide range. Her daughter said that for a time Ms. Coates held a job giving tours of the Dachau concentration camp to members of the U.S. Army. Among the works those tours inspired was her “Voices of Women in Wartime,” a setting of writings by women under various circumstances during World War II.

In addition to her daughter, Ms. Coates is survived by a brother, Philip Kannenberg; a sister, Natalie Tackett; and a grandson.

If her work wasn’t often heard in the United States, critics and other writers admired her originality. Simon Cummings, who writes the contemporary music blog 5:4, said by email that Ms. Coates had set herself apart from other out-of-the-mainstream composers as “one who doesn’t merely surprise or amuse you when you encounter their music for the first time, but who completely knocks you off your feet, and moves you very deeply and powerfully, even if, at the time, you’re not really sure why you’re experiencing such a strong reaction.”

In 2014, the Los Angeles Times music critic Mark Swed called Ms. Coates simply “our last maverick.”

POST AUTHOR: Neil Genzlinger

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