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Book Review: Suite in Four Movements, by Eric Coates This has been… - The Titfield Thunderbolt
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Book Review: Suite in Four Movements, by Eric Coates
This has been sitting on my shelves for a few years now, and I decided it was time to pick up Eric Coates' autobiography. Coates came from a comfortable background - his father was a local GP and certainly the description of his childhood suggests quite a level of privilege for the time. Coates was musical from an early age though there was some resistance to pursuing a career in that direction; however his parents were persuaded to see how things panned out as he went to London for training at the Royal Academy of Music, studying both the viola and composition. The viola offered an early opportunity to earn, participating in various theatre orchestras and chamber ensembles (the former with success, the latter rather more varied although including a tour of South Africa in the first decade of the twentieth century).

For several years Coates was principal viola in the Queen's Hall Orchestra, giving concerts including Henry Wood's Promenade series. Medical conditions (neuritis in the arm) prevented him from serving during the First World War, and the conflict features only briefly in his memoirs, these years forming the early years of his marriage. Coates increasingly focussed on composition, and his contract with the Queen's Hall Orchestra was eventually not renewed by Wood. Though moving frequently between flats, houses, and lodgings of various kinds, there is no suggestion of much real hardship. Coates was a leading member of the Performing Rights Society and no doubt his popular pieces provided a decent income.

The autobiography takes the reader up to 1953, so of course it misses one of Coates' most remembered works, The Dam Busters March. But from a musical point of view there is mention of many other popular works - By the Sleepy Lagoon, the London Suite, Calling All Workers, The Three Elizabeths and the Saxo Rhapsody, as well as many songs. Coates admits in the final pages that his talent was for writing music, not words; and whilst the book is sincere and full of anecdote, it is a bit pedestrian and also feels rather dated in some of its attitudes, and it probably isn't a particularly good read unless you're already interested in the subject matter.

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