Albert Coates (April 23, 1882–December 11, 1953) was an English conductor, arranger, and composer. Coates was born on April 23, 1882, in Saint Petersburg, Russia, the youngest of seven sons of a Yorkshire father, Charles Thomas Coates, a successful businessman who managed the Russian branch of an English company, Thornton Woollen Mills, 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 where he received his general education. His first music teacher, Henry Riding, encouraged composition as well as a general love of music. After attending the Royal Naval College, Dartmouth, he studied science at Liverpool University, and studied organ with an elder brother who was living there at the time. At age twenty, Coates returned to Russia to join his father’s company, but he also studied composition with Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov. In 1902, he entered the Leipzig Conservatory, to study the cello with Julius Klengel and the piano with Robert Teichmüller, but he was drawn to conducting by Arthur Nikisch’s conducting classes.
Nikisch appointed Coates répétiteur at the Leipzig opera, and he made his debut as a conductor in 1904 with Offenbach’s The Tales of Hoffmann. At Nikisch’s suggestion, he was engaged as the conductor of the Elberfeld opera house in 1906, in succession to Fritz Cassirer. From there he progressed to the post of assistant conductor at the Semperoper, Dresden (1907–08) under Ernst von Schuch, and Mannheim in 1909 under Artur Bodanzky. He made his London debut in May 1910, conducting the London Symphony Orchestra (LSO) in a program consisting of a symphony by Maximilian Steinberg, Tchaikovsky’s First Piano Concerto and Beethoven’s Seventh Symphony. In the same year, he was invited by Eduard Nápravník to conduct at Saint Petersburg’s Mariinsky Theatre. Coates’s conducting of Siegfried 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. In July 1910, he married Ella Lizzie Holland.
Coates first appeared at Covent Garden in 1914 in a Wagner season. 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, he was appointed chief conductor of the LSO. In September 1919, he was appointed to teach a new class for operatic training at the Royal College of Music. Coates made his New York debut in 1920 at the invitation of Walter Damrosch. After his contract with the LSO expired in 1922, Coates held no more permanent conductorships in the U. K., although he directed the Leeds music festivals of 1922 and 1925. In 1923, he was appointed joint principal conductor with Eugene Goossens of the Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra in the US. He was among the co-founders of Vladimir Rosing’s pioneering American Opera Company.
Coates left Rochester in 1925 when he was invited to Paris to conduct at the Opéra. He continued to make regular guest appearances in many of the world’s artistic centers until 1939, conducting opera in Italy (1927 to 1929) and Germany (Berlin State Opera, 1931), and concerts with the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra (1935) and in the Netherlands, Sweden and the USSR, which he visited three times. On November 13, 1936, the BBC broadcast the world’s first televised opera when scenes from Coates’s Pickwick, directed by Rosing, were shown in advance of the work’s premiere. When World War II broke out, Coates moved to the U. S. 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 and worked briefly in Hollywood, making cameo appearances in two MGM films.
After returning to England in 1944 Coates made several distinguished recordings during 1945 for Decca with the LSO and the National Symphony Orchestra, which contained a high proportion of musicians from the armed forces. In 1946, Coates moved to South Africa, accepting the conductorships of the Johannesburg Symphony Orchestra and, later, the Cape Town Municipal Orchestra. He settled in Milnerton, Cape Town, with his second wife Vera Joanna Nettlefold, a soprano professionally known as Vera de Villiers), where he composed, conducted the Johannesburg Symphony Orchestra and later the Cape Town Municipal Orchestra, and taught at the University of South Africa at Cape Town. He died there at age 71 on December 11, 1953.
Albert Coates was one of the most outstanding, if unheralded, conductors of his generation. 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. Coates was a prolific composer, but his works had few performances, and as a composer, he is little remembered, though he composed seven operas, one of which was performed at Covent Garden. These include the operas Samuel Pepys, given in German at Munich in 1929, and Pickwick at Covent Garden in 1936. His five other operas included The Myth Beautiful (1920). He also wrote some concert works for orchestral forces. These include 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.
The following work by Albert Coates is contained in my collection:
—material selected, adapted, and edited from several different sources