Albert Coates (musician)
Albert Coates was an English conductor
Conducting is the art of directing a musical performance by way of visible gestures. The primary duties of the conductor are to unify performers, set the tempo, execute clear preparations and beats, and to listen critically and shape the sound of the ensemble...

 and composer. Born in Saint Petersburg
Saint Petersburg
Saint Petersburg is a city and a federal subject of Russia located on the Neva River at the head of the Gulf of Finland on the Baltic Sea...

 where his English father was a successful businessman, he studied in Russia, England and Germany, before beginning his career as a conductor in a series of German opera houses. He was a success in England at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden
Royal Opera House
The Royal Opera House is an opera house and major performing arts venue in Covent Garden, central London. The large building is often referred to as simply "Covent Garden", after a previous use of the site of the opera house's original construction in 1732. It is the home of The Royal Opera, The...

, and in 1919 was appointed chief conductor of the London Symphony Orchestra
London Symphony Orchestra
The London Symphony Orchestra is a major orchestra of the United Kingdom, as well as one of the best-known orchestras in the world. Since 1982, the LSO has been based in London's Barbican Centre.-History:...


His strengths as a conductor lay in opera and the Russian repertoire, and he was not thought as impressive in the core Austro-German symphonic repertoire. After 1923 he failed to secure a permanent conductorship in the UK, and for much of the rest of his life he guest conducted in continental Europe and the U.S. In his last years he took orchestral appointments in South Africa, where he died at 71.

As a composer, Coates is little remembered, but he composed seven operas, one of which was performed at Covent Garden. He also wrote some concert works for orchestral forces.

Early years

Coates was born in Saint Petersburg, the youngest of seven sons of a Yorkshire
Yorkshire is a historic county of northern England and the largest in the United Kingdom. Because of its great size in comparison to other English counties, functions have been increasingly undertaken over time by its subdivisions, which have also been subject to periodic reform...

 father, Charles Thomas Coates, who managed the Russian branch of an English company, and Mary Ann Gibson, who was born and raised in Russia to British parents. He learned the violin, cello and piano as a child in Russia. From 12, he was raised in England. After attending the Royal Naval College, Dartmouth, he studied science at Liverpool University.

Coates returned to Russia to join his father's company, but he also studied composition with Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov
Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov
Nikolai Andreyevich Rimsky-Korsakov was a Russian composer, and a member of the group of composers known as The Five.The Five, also known as The Mighty Handful or The Mighty Coterie, refers to a circle of composers who met in Saint Petersburg, Russia, in the years 1856–1870: Mily Balakirev , César...

. In 1902, he entered the Leipzig Conservatory, to study the cello with Julius Klengel
Julius Klengel
Julius Klengel was a German cellist who is most famous for his etudes and solo pieces written for the instrument. He was the brother of Paul Klengel....

 and the piano with Robert Teichmüller
Robert Teichmüller
Robert Teichmüller was a German concert pianist and music educator.He studied piano and music theory with Carl Reinecke at the Leipzig Conservatory where he later became a faculty member in 1897, promoted to professor in 1908. He became one of the most influential piano teachers of his time...

, but he was drawn to conducting by Arthur Nikisch
Arthur Nikisch
Arthur Nikisch ; 12 October 185523 January 1922) was a Hungarian conductor who performed internationally, holding posts in Boston, London and - most importantly - Berlin. He was considered an outstanding interpreter of the music of Bruckner, Tchaikovsky, Beethoven and Liszt...

's conducting classes.

Nikisch appointed Coates répétiteur
Répétiteur , repetitore , or Korrepetitor / Repetitor , originally from the French verb répéter meaning "to repeat, to go over, to learn, to rehearse"....

 at the Leipzig opera, and he made his debut as a conductor in 1904 with Offenbach
Jacques Offenbach
Jacques Offenbach was a Prussian-born French composer, cellist and impresario. He is remembered for his nearly 100 operettas of the 1850s–1870s and his uncompleted opera The Tales of Hoffmann. He was a powerful influence on later composers of the operetta genre, particularly Johann Strauss, Jr....

's The Tales of Hoffmann. He was engaged as the conductor of the opera house at Elberfeld
Elberfeld is a municipal subdivision of the German city of Wuppertal; it was an independent town until 1929.-History:The first official mentioning of the geographic area on the banks of today's Wupper River as "elverfelde" was in a document of 1161...

 in 1906, in succession to Fritz Cassirer
Fritz Cassirer
Friedrich Leopold Cassirer, was a German conductor. He was one of the early proponents of the music of Frederick Delius, and conducted the premiere of Delius's first opera.-Biography:Cassirer was born in Breslau...

. From there he progressed to the post of assistant conductor at the Semperoper
The Semperoper is the opera house of the Sächsische Staatsoper Dresden and the concert hall of the Sächsische Staatskapelle Dresden . It is located near the Elbe River in the historic center of Dresden, Germany.The opera house was originally built by the architect Gottfried Semper in 1841...

, Dresden
Dresden is the capital city of the Free State of Saxony in Germany. It is situated in a valley on the River Elbe, near the Czech border. The Dresden conurbation is part of the Saxon Triangle metropolitan area....

 (1907–8), under Ernst von Schuch
Ernst von Schuch
Ernst Edler von Schuch, born Ernst Gottfried Schuch was an Austrian conductor, who became famous through his working collaborations with Richard Strauss at the Dresden Court Opera....

 and Mannheim
Mannheim is a city in southwestern Germany. With about 315,000 inhabitants, Mannheim is the second-largest city in the Bundesland of Baden-Württemberg, following the capital city of Stuttgart....

 in 1909 under Artur Bodanzky
Artur Bodanzky
Artur Bodanzky was an Austrian-American conductor particularly associated with the operas of Wagner.- Career :...

. He made his London début in May 1910, conducting the London Symphony Orchestra
London Symphony Orchestra
The London Symphony Orchestra is a major orchestra of the United Kingdom, as well as one of the best-known orchestras in the world. Since 1982, the LSO has been based in London's Barbican Centre.-History:...

 (LSO) in a programme consisting of a symphony by Maximilian Steinberg
Maximilian Steinberg
Maximilian Osseyevich Steinberg was a Russian composer of classical music born in what is now Lithuania.-Life:...

, Tchaikovsky
Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky
Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky (Russian: Пётр Ильи́ч Чайко́вский ; often "Peter Ilich Tchaikovsky" in English. His names are also transliterated "Piotr" or "Petr"; "Ilitsch", "Il'ich" or "Illyich"; and "Tschaikowski", "Tschaikowsky", "Chajkovskij"...

's First Piano Concerto
Piano Concerto No. 1 (Tchaikovsky)
The Piano Concerto No. 1 in B-flat minor, Op. 23 was composed by Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky between November 1874 and February 1875. It was revised in the summer of 1879 and again in December 1888. The first version received heavy criticism from Nikolai Rubinstein, Tchaikovsky's desired pianist....

 and Beethoven
Ludwig van Beethoven
Ludwig van Beethoven was a German composer and pianist. A crucial figure in the transition between the Classical and Romantic eras in Western art music, he remains one of the most famous and influential composers of all time.Born in Bonn, then the capital of the Electorate of Cologne and part of...

's Seventh Symphony
Symphony No. 7 (Beethoven)
Ludwig van Beethoven's Symphony No. 7 in A major, Op. 92, in 1811, was the seventh of his nine symphonies. He worked on it while staying in the Bohemian spa town of Teplice in the hope of improving his health. It was completed in 1812, and was dedicated to Count Moritz von Fries.At its debut,...

. The Times
The Times
The Times is a British daily national newspaper, first published in London in 1785 under the title The Daily Universal Register . The Times and its sister paper The Sunday Times are published by Times Newspapers Limited, a subsidiary since 1981 of News International...

judged him "sound and artistic", though "not particularly inspiring to watch." In the same year he was invited by Eduard Nápravník
Eduard Nápravník
Eduard Francevič Nápravník was a Czech conductor and composer, who settled in Russia and is best known for his leading role in Russian musical life as the principal conductor of the Imperial Mariinsky Theatre in Saint Petersburg for many decades...

 to conduct at Saint Petersburg's Mariinsky Theatre
Mariinsky Theatre
The Mariinsky Theatre is a historic theatre of opera and ballet in Saint Petersburg, Russia. Opened in 1860, it became the preeminent music theatre of late 19th century Russia, where many of the stage masterpieces of Tchaikovsky, Mussorgsky, and Rimsky-Korsakov received their premieres. The...


Coates's conducting of Siegfried
Siegfried (opera)
Siegfried is the third of the four operas that constitute Der Ring des Nibelungen , by Richard Wagner. It received its premiere at the Bayreuth Festspielhaus on 16 August 1876, as part of the first complete performance of The Ring...

at the Mariinsky led to his appointment as principal conductor of the Russian Imperial Opera, a post he held for five years, during which he became associated with leading Russian musicians, including Alexander Scriabin
Alexander Scriabin
Alexander Nikolayevich Scriabin was a Russian composer and pianist who initially developed a lyrical and idiosyncratic tonal language inspired by the music of Frédéric Chopin. Quite independent of the innovations of Arnold Schoenberg, Scriabin developed an increasingly atonal musical system,...

, for whose music he became a strong advocate. In July 1910, he married Ella Lizzie Holland.

International career

Coates first appeared at Covent Garden
Royal Opera House
The Royal Opera House is an opera house and major performing arts venue in Covent Garden, central London. The large building is often referred to as simply "Covent Garden", after a previous use of the site of the opera house's original construction in 1732. It is the home of The Royal Opera, The...

 in 1914 in a Wagner
Richard Wagner
Wilhelm Richard Wagner was a German composer, conductor, theatre director, philosopher, music theorist, poet, essayist and writer primarily known for his operas...

 season. He won critical praise for his performance of Tristan und Isolde
Tristan und Isolde
Tristan und Isolde is an opera, or music drama, in three acts by Richard Wagner to a German libretto by the composer, based largely on the romance by Gottfried von Straßburg. It was composed between 1857 and 1859 and premiered in Munich on 10 June 1865 with Hans von Bülow conducting...

and particularly for his conducting of Die Meistersinger
Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg
Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg is an opera in three acts, written and composed by Richard Wagner. It is among the longest operas still commonly performed today, usually taking around four and a half hours. It was first performed at the Königliches Hof- und National-Theater in Munich, on June 21,...

. His conducting of Puccini
Giacomo Puccini
Giacomo Antonio Domenico Michele Secondo Maria Puccini was an Italian composer whose operas, including La bohème, Tosca, Madama Butterfly, and Turandot, are among the most frequently performed in the standard repertoire...

's Manon Lescaut
Manon Lescaut
Manon Lescaut is a short novel by French author Abbé Prévost. Published in 1731, it is the seventh and final volume of Mémoires et aventures d'un homme de qualité . It was controversial in its time and was banned in France upon publication...

later in the same season was also well-received, his Parsifal
Parsifal is an opera in three acts by Richard Wagner. It is loosely based on Wolfram von Eschenbach's Parzival, the 13th century epic poem of the Arthurian knight Parzival and his quest for the Holy Grail, and on Chrétien de Troyes' Perceval, the Story of the Grail.Wagner first conceived the work...

less so.

The Russian Revolution in 1917 did not at first adversely affect Coates. The Soviet government appointed him "President of all Opera Houses in Soviet Russia", based in Moscow. By 1919, however, living conditions in Russia had become desperate. Coates became seriously ill, and with considerable difficulty left Russia with his family by way of Finland in April 1919. After his arrival in England, Coates was appointed chief conductor of the LSO. Reviewing his first performance in the post, The Times praised him warmly, along with the younger Adrian Boult
Adrian Boult
Sir Adrian Cedric Boult CH was an English conductor. Brought up in a prosperous mercantile family he followed musical studies in England and at Leipzig, Germany, with early conducting work in London for the Royal Opera House and Sergei Diaghilev's ballet company. His first prominent post was...

 and Geoffrey Toye
Geoffrey Toye
Edward Geoffrey Toye , better known as Geoffrey Toye, was an English conductor, composer and opera producer....

, in an article on "The Conductor's Art". In September 1919, Coates was appointed to teach a new class for operatic training at the Royal College of Music
Royal College of Music
The Royal College of Music is a conservatoire founded by Royal Charter in 1882, located in South Kensington, London, England.-Background:The first director was Sir George Grove and he was followed by Sir Hubert Parry...

. Reporting the appointment, The Times wrote, "There can scarcely be a musician in this country with so wide and cosmopolitan an experience of operatic performance."

The following month, there occurred an incident for which Coates's name is remembered in many books and articles. The LSO gave the world premiere of Elgar's Cello Concerto
Cello Concerto (Elgar)
Edward Elgar's Cello Concerto in E minor, Op. 85, his last notable work, is a cornerstone of the solo cello repertoire. Elgar composed it in the aftermath of the First World War, by which time his music had gone out of fashion with the concert-going public...

 under the baton of the composer, but Coates, who was conducting the rest of the programme, appropriated most of Elgar's allotted rehearsal time. As a result, the orchestra gave a notoriously inadequate performance. Elgar did not complain publicly, but the musical world knew privately of Coates's behaviour. With this exception, Coates served English composers well in the post-war years, giving the first performances of large-scale works including Vaughan Williams
Ralph Vaughan Williams
Ralph Vaughan Williams OM was an English composer of symphonies, chamber music, opera, choral music, and film scores. He was also a collector of English folk music and song: this activity both influenced his editorial approach to the English Hymnal, beginning in 1904, in which he included many...

's revised A London Symphony
A London Symphony
A London Symphony is the second symphony composed by Ralph Vaughan Williams. The work is sometimes referred to as the Symphony No. 2, though it was not designated as such by the composer...

(1920), Delius's
Frederick Delius
Frederick Theodore Albert Delius, CH was an English composer. Born in the north of England to a prosperous mercantile family of German extraction, he resisted attempts to recruit him to commerce...

 Requiem (1922), Bax
Arnold Bax
Sir Arnold Edward Trevor Bax, KCVO was an English composer and poet. His musical style blended elements of romanticism and impressionism, often with influences from Irish literature and landscape. His orchestral scores are noted for their complexity and colourful instrumentation...

's First Symphony
Symphony No. 1 (Bax)
The Symphony No. 1 by Arnold Bax was completed in 1922 and dedicated to John Ireland. Its outer movements were based on a Piano Sonata in E-flat that Bax subsequently orchestrated, while the central movement was newly-composed for the symphony....

 (1922), and Holst
Gustav Holst
Gustav Theodore Holst was an English composer. He is most famous for his orchestral suite The Planets....

's Choral Symphony
First Choral Symphony
British composer Gustav Holst wrote his First Choral Symphony in 1923–24. It was premiered in Leeds Town Hall on October 7, 1925, conducted by Albert Coates and with Dorothy Silk as soloist...

 (1925). He conducted many other early performances of music by contemporary English composers, including the second complete performance of Holst's The Planets
The Planets
The Planets, Op. 32, is a seven-movement orchestral suite by the English composer Gustav Holst, written between 1914 and 1916. Each movement of the suite is named after a planet of the Solar System and its corresponding astrological character as defined by Holst...

in 1920, two years after its premiere. Among works from continental Europe introduced to England by Coates were Prokofiev
Sergei Prokofiev
Sergei Sergeyevich Prokofiev was a Russian composer, pianist and conductor who mastered numerous musical genres and is regarded as one of the major composers of the 20th century...

's Third Piano Concerto
Piano Concerto No. 3 (Prokofiev)
Piano Concerto No. 3 in C major, Op. 26 is the best-known concerto by Sergei Prokofiev. It was completed in 1921 using sketches first started in 1913.-Composition and performances:...

 and Rachmaninoff
Sergei Rachmaninoff
Sergei Vasilievich Rachmaninoff was a Russian composer, pianist, and conductor. Rachmaninoff is widely considered one of the finest pianists of his day and, as a composer, one of the last great representatives of Romanticism in Russian classical music...

's Fourth Piano Concerto
Piano Concerto No. 4 (Rachmaninoff)
Piano Concerto No. 4 in G minor, Op. 40 is a music piece by Russian composer Sergei Rachmaninoff, completed in 1926. The work currently exists in three versions. Following its unsuccessful premiere he made cuts and other amendments before publishing it in 1928. With continued lack of success, he...

, each with its composer as soloist. In 1925 he gave the first stage performance outside Russia of Rimsky-Korsakov's opera The Invisible City of Kitezh
The Legend of the Invisible City of Kitezh and the Maiden Fevroniya
The Legend of the Invisible City of Kitezh and the Maiden Fevroniya is an opera in four acts by Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov. The libretto was written by Vladimir Belsky, and is based on a combination of two Russian legends: that of St. Fevroniya of Murom, and the city of Kitezh, which became invisible...


After his contract with the LSO expired in 1922, Coates held no more permanent conductorships in the UK, although he directed the Leeds music festivals
Leeds Festival (classical music)
The Leeds Festival was a classical music festival which took place between 1858 and 1985 in Leeds, West Yorkshire, England.The first festival celebrated the opening of Leeds Town Hall by Queen Victoria on 7 September 1858...

 of 1922 and 1925. In 1923 he was appointed joint principal conductor with Eugene Goossens
Eugène Aynsley Goossens
Sir Eugene Aynsley Goossens was an English conductor and composer.-Biography:He was born in Camden Town, London, the son of the Belgian conductor and violinist Eugène Goossens and the grandson of the conductor Eugène Goossens...

 of the Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra
Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra
The Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra is an American orchestra based in the city of Rochester, Monroe County, New York. Its primary concert venue is the Eastman Theatre at the Eastman School of Music....

 in the U.S. He was among the co-founders of Vladimir Rosing
Vladimir Rosing
Vladimir Sergeyevich Rosing , aka Val Rosing, was a Russian-born operatic tenor and stage director who spent most of his professional career in England and the United States...

's pioneering American Opera Company
American Opera Company
The American Opera Company was the name of four different opera companies active in the United States. The first company was a short-lived opera company founded in New York City in February, 1886 that lasted only one season...

. Coates left Rochester in 1925 as a result of a disagreement with the orchestra's sponsor, George Eastman
George Eastman
George Eastman was an American innovator and entrepreneur who founded the Eastman Kodak Company and invented roll film, helping to bring photography to the mainstream...

 over artistic policy. The reason for Coates's failure to secure a permanent position in the UK was, according to one commentator, that although he was a fine conductor of opera and of Russian concert music, "his interpretations of the Viennese classics were less acceptable" and as the latter were more important in British musical life, "Coates failed to win for himself the highest reputation among his own countrymen."

Later years

In 1925, Coates was invited to Paris to conduct at the Opéra
Paris Opera
The Paris Opera is the primary opera company of Paris, France. It was founded in 1669 by Louis XIV as the Académie d'Opéra and shortly thereafter was placed under the leadership of Jean-Baptiste Lully and renamed the Académie Royale de Musique...

. He continued to make regular guest appearances in many of the world's artistic centres until 1939. He conducted opera in Italy (1927 to 1929), and Germany (Berlin State Opera
Berlin State Opera
The Staatsoper Unter den Linden is a German opera company. Its permanent home is the opera house on the Unter den Linden boulevard in the Mitte district of Berlin, which also hosts the Staatskapelle Berlin orchestra.-Early years:...

, 1931), and concerts with the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra
Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra
The Vienna Philharmonic is an orchestra in Austria, regularly considered one of the finest in the world....

 (1935) and in the Netherlands, Sweden and the USSR, which he visited three times.

On 13 November 1936 the BBC broadcast the world's first televised opera: scenes from Coates's Pickwick, directed by Rosing, were shown in advance of the work's premiere. Coates and Rosing launched a season of the British Music Drama Opera Company at Covent Garden the following week.

When World War II broke out, Coates moved to the US. There, together with Rosing, he founded the Southern California Opera Association. Productions included Coates's opera Gainsborough's Duchess. He guest conducted the Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra and worked briefly in Hollywood, making cameo appearances in two MGM
Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Inc. is an American media company, involved primarily in the production and distribution of films and television programs. MGM was founded in 1924 when the entertainment entrepreneur Marcus Loew gained control of Metro Pictures, Goldwyn Pictures Corporation and Louis B. Mayer...


In 1946 Coates moved to South Africa. He accepted the conductorships of the Johannesburg Symphony Orchestra and, later, the Cape Town Municipal Orchestra. He settled in Milnerton, Cape Town
Milnerton, Cape Town
Milnerton is a suburb of Cape Town in South Africa situated on the Atlantic Ocean 11 kilometres to the north of Cape Town city's centre.The Milnerton area of Cape Town includes Cambridge Estate, Century City, Du Noon, Joe Slovo Park, Lagoon Beach, Milnerton Ridge, Royal Ascot, Sanddrift, Tygerhof...

, with his second wife Vera Joanna Nettlefold (a soprano professionally known as Vera de Villiers). He died there in 1953. The Oxford Dictionary of National Biography says of him "Although he was important to the fortunes of the London Symphony Orchestra immediately after the First World War, his contribution to British musical life was ephemeral. As a composer he has lost his place in the repertory, and as an executant he is remembered generally by collectors with an interest in historic recordings."


In its obituary of Coates, The Times wrote that his compositions "fell between the two stools of national character and international sympathy, with a resulting ambiguity of achievement." The Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians
Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians
The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians is an encyclopedic dictionary of music and musicians. Along with the German-language Musik in Geschichte und Gegenwart, it is the largest single reference work on Western music. The dictionary has gone through several editions since the 19th century...

describes them as "technically proficient rather than imaginative". His works include the operas Samuel Pepys and Pickwick; the former was given in German in Munich in 1929, and the latter in English at Covent Garden in 1936. His five other operas included The Myth Beautiful (1920). His concert works included a piano concerto and a symphonic poem The Eagle, dedicated to the memory of his former teacher Nikisch, which was performed in Leeds in 1925.


Coates made important early contributions to the representation of orchestral music on record, beginning in 1920 with Scriabin's The Poem of Ecstasy
The Poem of Ecstasy
Alexander Scriabin's The Poem of Ecstasy op. 54 is a symphonic poem written between 1905 and 1908, when Scriabin was actively involved with the Theosophical Society...

and afterwards conducting many excerpts from Wagner's Der Ring des Nibelungen
Der Ring des Nibelungen
Der Ring des Nibelungen is a cycle of four epic operas by the German composer Richard Wagner . The works are based loosely on characters from the Norse sagas and the Nibelungenlied...

and (in 1923 and 1926) two complete recordings of Symphony No. 9
Symphony No. 9 (Beethoven)
The Symphony No. 9 in D minor, Op. 125, is the final complete symphony of Ludwig van Beethoven. Completed in 1824, the symphony is one of the best known works of the Western classical repertoire, and has been adapted for use as the European Anthem...

 of Beethoven
Ludwig van Beethoven
Ludwig van Beethoven was a German composer and pianist. A crucial figure in the transition between the Classical and Romantic eras in Western art music, he remains one of the most famous and influential composers of all time.Born in Bonn, then the capital of the Electorate of Cologne and part of...

. He was the conductor for the 1930 premiere recording of Rachmaninoff
Sergei Rachmaninoff
Sergei Vasilievich Rachmaninoff was a Russian composer, pianist, and conductor. Rachmaninoff is widely considered one of the finest pianists of his day and, as a composer, one of the last great representatives of Romanticism in Russian classical music...

's Piano Concerto No. 3 in D minor
Piano Concerto No. 3 (Rachmaninoff)
The Piano Concerto No. 3 in D minor, Op. 30, composed in 1909 by Sergei Rachmaninoff is famous for its technical and musical demands on the performer...

, with Vladimir Horowitz
Vladimir Horowitz
Vladimir Samoylovich Horowitz    was a Russian-American classical virtuoso pianist and minor composer. His technique and use of tone color and the excitement of his playing were legendary. He is widely considered one of the greatest pianists of the 20th century.-Life and early...

as soloist.

External links

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