A Freelance Composer, 1918–1922
The years after the end of the First World War were full of struggle and hardship for the Coates given their lack of income, but nonetheless, Coates was beginning to focus more on orchestral music. His final orchestral work to be completed during his years as a professional viola player was somewhat incongruously entitled Summer Days (it was written during the winter months of 1918). It had a longer than usual gestation period (presumably due to commitments with the New QHO), with the opening movement, ‘In a Country Lane’, finished in mid-November and the concluding valse the following January, completed during a sojourn with Coates’ family in Hucknall. The first performance of Summer Days was probably at the Promenade Concerts on 9 October 1919 under the composer’s direction, though several contemporary sources list this as the first London performance. The finale was especially well received and had to be repeated.1 Alick Maclean once remarked after a concert Coates conducted in Scarborough: ‘Well, there you are Eric, you’ve done it again one-third sitting, two-thirds standing!’2 Summer Days (though only in the piano solo version) bears a dedication to Alick Maclean and one wonders whether he had the honour of launching the work. Later in his career, Coates regretted the use of cornets in A, presumably dictated by the composition of the orchestras playing his works, thinking they sounded ‘so plebeian!’3Summer Days is clearly modelled on the structure of the Miniature Suite, following the exact pattern of movements. ‘In a Country Lane’ resorts to a binary structure with a coda (letter E) recalling the A-section; the B-section (with its theme being a close relative to the A-section) moves towards the relative minor, but as is usual with Coates, the key is never clear-cut.