|Main||Essential Library||Archives||Resources||Composer Bios|
I felt that this must be a symphony. It then occurred to me that the other longer works were somewhat like this one, but were earlier and not quite as complex. They were also rather dark and heavy. I decided to take the ones that satisfied several criteria such as the development of my microtonal structures and the fact that they were introverted but had an emotional expression. I numbered them in the order of composing them so that the new work turned out to be Symphony No. 7."
In 1995 CPO
brought out three of the symphonies, Nos. 1,4, and 7 on a disc...Dr.
Giselher Schubert who is director of the Hindemith Institute and also an
authority on Charles Ives was asked to write the booklet. When
he asked me to send him the scores, it occurred to me that it was rather
presumptuous of me to rename the pieces symphonies, and perhaps theywould
not be recognized as such by an authority from 'the land of the symphony'.
It was a relief to read in his liner notes that he not only accepted them,
but also gave his arguments to prove they were, which included the 1907
remark by Mahler to Jean Sibelius, "The symphony has to be like the
world. It has to
Between 1973 and 2002, 13 symphonies have been 'born', something that I could never have imagined back in 1989.
S21/: How do you decide what form a musical idea may take? What are some of the external things that inspire you to create music?
GC: Whenever there is a text, it is rather simple since the form might be derived from a symbolic meaning in the text, the melodic line of the language or something concrete in the story. The forms in more abstract music might come from any source, but mostly from whatever is being contained or expanded.
For instance, my fascination with mirror canons has a long history. Mirror canons which are disguised in the middle movements of String Quartets 5 and 6 on the new Naxos CD are derived from one written back in 1974 as part of "Symphony No. 2". It is an exact notated mirror canon with linear microintervals forming glissandos.
canon was not difficult to compose since there was a flow while working
on it, or so I thought. Alas, there was a chord in the middle that took
three weeks to resolve before I could finish it. This original canon has
gone through various transformations over the years and expanded to great
complexity in "Symphony No. 7"
on my music might well be the subconscious transferring of our daily world
into musical sounds; sirens, planes, cars, engines of all sorts, storms
and rain falling softly, voices of animals, and people, even visual images
translated into musical lines and densities. As an art student at
Cooper Union, the two most
S21: What were your earliest musical influences? Whose work has influenced you most and why?
GC: My earliest musical influence was my Italian-born mother who sang and improvised Italian songs in a beautiful coloratura spinto voice. Singing came before speaking, so strong was this influence. When still under age 5, my older sister and I sang at my father's political rallies and also on radio programs. In Wisconsin at that time, we had a progressive music system in the schools. We learned the entire Peer Gynt Suite, dancing to the music, and works by Nevin and MacDowell, among others while in kindergarten. There was no television then, but the radio programs broadcast everything from jazz to classical music.
As a first grader, I remember pushing my ear against the wooden laced speaker to hear a muffled program every week broadcast from a great distance of folk music with singers such as Burl Ives and a group similar to Peter, Paul and Mary.
J.S. Bach has been the greatest influence on my music. For me his greatness lies in his intense emotional expression pressed into exquisite forms. His music has always been an inspiration to me.
S21: What was the first piece of music you ever wrote? Do you remember what it felt like?
GC: At age three there was a toy piano for me under our Christmas tree, and I can remember very well my mother saying that she had a dream about some music and played it on that toy piano. This was very exciting to me, and I then began making up my own tunes. This improvising continued on my 'real piano' and became a separate world from the formal piano lessons I had beginning at age seven.
It wasn't until
I was 12 that I began writing down the music. The first such work
was a song with words and music entitled "My Heart Yearns." This was a
very emotional song with crashing chords and a pleading
When I was 16, I went to a lecture in Milwaukee by the Russian composer, Alexander Tcherepnin, who had been in the United States for a short time, entitled "How a Composer Works." After the lecture in the question/answer period I asked him about those chords and why they couldn't be used. He asked to see me after the discussion, and then told me it was possible to write the chords and asked me if I had written any music. I told him about my piece with the chords, and he asked to see it. This was the beginning of many years of encouragement by a truly great and inspiring musician which continued until his death in 1977.
S:21 What do you consider your most important formal training?
GC: The most important formal training was at Louisiana State University with a "pioneer" woman composer-teacher named Helen Gunderson who had studied at Yale in the 20s and had attended the new music seminars at Bennington College in the summers. Her courses in counterpoint were excellent as well as her Form and Analysis classes. We analyzed Bach; the "Art of Fugue," "Inventions," and "The Goldberg Variations." After that we analyzed all the Beethoven Sonatas. This was very helpful in my own writing in evaluating proportions in my own structures and forms. The early counterpoint courses, especially renaissance counterpoint, gave me a security in writing linear music and a feeling for its harmonic consequences.
In 1962 in
a graduate composition class I had written a string quartet entirely of
glissandi. My professor became very upset and wrote on the piece, "A glissando
is used once or twice in a piece for color, but the entire piece with glissandos
is too...too...." He couldn't finish his sentence. I continued my own intuitive
composing parallel to the work I was doing in composition at the university.
It was in the post-graduate courses at Columbia University with Jack Beeson
and Otto Luening that I was exposed to a freer approach to composing in
which my views and uses of instruments and colors were respected.
S21: Who are some younger composers whose works interest you?
GC: There are too many to name that I find interesting, often because of their use of the computer. The computer creates a different sound world. It might be that there will be a division in music history of BC (before the computer) and AC (after the computer). It enables the composer to easily use complex ellipses and modulations, rhythms and microtones, and to experiment with various electronic sounds. I find this all very exciting.
S21: Most establishment music organizations are fairly conservative and tend to play music they think will attract an audience. That usually translates into a lot of Brahms, Beethoven and Mozart. How difficult is it to get contemporary works played and heard? What can be done about it?
It has always been difficult to have contemporary music performed, but
I do believe that in our country
Of course, it would help even more if there were music appreciation and rhythm bands in the grade schools like at the time when I was a child in Wisconsin. Besides this, it would help if more new music were played on radio stations. I think this is a problem of subsidy and public radio support by the government. There is an audience for new music as proved by the CDs that are sold and produced.
S21: You have lived much of your life in Germany. Is it easier or more difficult for a contemporary composer to be heard in Europe than the United States?
The European countries are comparatively small so that a composer will
be more easily found and heard.
We also promote
our own American composers, but sometimes prefer the foreign composers
over our own. I
was not true during the 'Cold War" at which time many composers of new
music from the
Otherwise, it is better to stay home, for a composer can easily be lost in the cracks "between the keys."
Tell us about your day-to-day life, your family,your work habits, and how
you achieve a balance
I have no real balance in my life anymore. At one time I had, but
now after more than 40 years of
S21: This is a tough question, but what would be your five Desert Island disks?
GC: Many amusing answers come to mind such as "Jurassic Park" music for the lizards, "Someday my Ship Will Come," "Desert Song," 'I'm Wishing" from 'Snow White' and a very loud electronic piece to signal a passing ship.
To be more serious, I would take with me positive music such as "The Art of Fugue" by Bach, Mendelssohn's "Midsummer Night's Dream," Mozart's "Magic Flute," "Magnificats" by Orlando di Lasso, "The Four Seasons" by Vivaldi.
S21: What are you working on now? How is it going?
There are three commissions that I am now working on in a thought process
somewhere in my subconscious mind. One of them is due in a month.
Unfortunately, I am too superstitious to talk about them until they are
Visit Gloria Coates sites: