[A re-post in memory of American composer Gloria Coates, who recently died in Munich, Germany, age 89.] At last, the aural equivalent to Salvador Dali’s melted watches! Gloria Coates (b. 1939) has created a string quartet language out of glissandos: long, short, abrupt, gradual, creaky, rounded, often dissonant, sometimes consonant. The music conjures up vivid aural images. The Fifth Quartet, for instance, begins with delicate high-register, insect-like squeals. These assiduously descend into detuned, slow moving canons that resemble a chorus of drunken cartoon cats and coyotes intoning half-remembered hymns and barroom ballads. Its second movement is built from glissandos that ascend and descend in super-slow motion. By contrast, the third movement nearly recaps the second at a hundred times the speed, the double stops suggesting a veritable orchestra of quartets whizzing before you in a race against time.
The brief First Quartet dates from the composer’s late 20s and reveals that the basic elements of her present style already were in place, if not so extreme in their deployment. I especially like the Sixth Quartet’s concluding “Evanescence” movement, where palpable melodic shapes emerge from intertwining long, sustained, slowly modulated glissandos, demarcated by occasional gentle pizzicato dabs. If Coates is the painter, the Kreutzer Quartet is the widely varied palette of colors and the big, austere canvas. The sheer variety of nuance and timbre the players bring to these scores will be hard to equal, let alone surpass. Kyle Gann’s exemplary notes are analytical without being academic.