Wausau native Gloria Coates, a prolific classical music composer who wrote unorthodox and dynamic symphonies, died Aug. 19 in Munich, Germany. She was 89.
She was diagnosed with an inoperable form of pancreatic cancer early this summer. She sought treatment at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester and entered hospice there, said her daughter, Alexandra Coates. But Gloria Coates decided that she wanted to return to Munich for the end of her life, a city in which she lived and created in since 1969.
A 1951 graduate of Wausau High School, Gloria Coates began writing critically acclaimed music when she was a teenager.
“I had been awarded a superior rating for a composition while in high school for the National Federation of Music Clubs around 1950,” she told the Wausau Daily Herald in 2021. The story came out after classical music publisher Edition Peters said it would publish dozens of her works.
The Edition Peters announcement was important to Coates, she said, because it meant “my musical creations have a chance to make a contribution to the history of the evolution of music. … If our lives are seen in a large line or spiral in time, I hope my tiny speck will have a glow that will push music’s eternal elements in a slightly new direction.”
To an unsophisticated listener who expects classical music to sound like Mozart and Beethoven, Coates’ work can be daunting. However, even a listener with a tin ear can feel the depth, energy and passion vibrating through her pieces.
Coates said her music “sometimes is melodic, but often derived from structures of microtones together. It is a way of thinking of music not as separate tones on a scale as we have for centuries, but as sounds gliding through time and space which have their own laws and still have roots in the historical musical tradition.”
Her avant garde compositions attracted critical acclaim.
In 2014, Los Angeles Times music writer Mark Swed called Coates “a mesmerizing American symphonist” and “our last maverick.”
Swed wrote that Coates’s music didn’t enjoy a high profile in America because she lived in Munich, and she was “an outsider.”
Coates’s maiden name is Kannenberg, and her father was Roland Kannenberg, a Wisconsin state senator in the Progressive Party from 1935 to 1939. Her uncle was John Kannenberg, mayor of Wausau from 1964 to 1988.
After leaving Wausau, she continued to study music, eventually earning a master’s degree in composition at Louisiana State University and also took some post-graduate classes at Columbia University.
She met and married Francis Coates in New York City, where he worked for a law firm. They moved to Baton Rouge, Louisiana, where his family lived. They divorced in 1969 after 10 years of marriage, Alexandra Coates said.
In addition to Alexandra, Coates is survived by her grandson, Alexander; her brother, Philip Kannenberg; and her sister, Natalie Tackett.
Contact Keith Uhlig at 715-845-0651 or email@example.com. Follow him at @UhligK on X, formerly Twitter, and Instagram or on Facebook.