a site by John Cobley

a coppice gate

Munch: The Dance of Life

Interpretation of Munch's Dance of Life

Dance of Life (1899-1900) is generally regarded as one of Munch’s major paintings, and most of the literature refer to it and briefly analyse it, not always accurately. There has been only one thorough examination (Müller-Westermann, Munch by Himself, Chapter 3). This essay will carefully examine the 1899-1900 painting as well as the preliminary 1898 sketch and Munch’s 1925 copy. It will find that Dance of Life is a personal statement on marriage—an interpretation that hasn’t been made before.

Miles Davis: Recruiting the Sixties Quintet

An account of the fours years Miles Davis took to recruit for his sixties quintet

In 1960 Miles Davis was on top of the jazz world. With five brilliant albums in the previous three years (three with Gil Evans, Milestones and Kind of Blue), he was in great demand and winning many jazz polls. But life caught up with him; for the next four years he had to deal with problem after problem as he tried to recruit the right musicians for his next band.The first crisis was the departure of John Coltrane. Although this wasn’t a great surprise to him, Davis took four years to find an acceptable replacement. He tried out at least eight saxophone players (Jimmy Heath, Sonny Stitt, Sonny Rollins, Hank Mobley, Frank Strozier, George Coleman, Rocky Boyd, and Sam Rivers) before getting the right one--Wayne Shorter.

Ingmar Bergman: Sound Techniques in The Passion of Anna

An investigation into the innovative sound techniques in Ingmar Bergman's The Passion of Anna

                                                                                                   It is a powerful film and shows a break from accepted film practices.                                                                                                                                                                                                                     Ingmar Bergman

Jazz Covered in the 1938 Oxford Companion to Music

The four-page entry on jazz in the 1938 Oxford Companion to Music is discussed.

 I thought it would be interesting to see how this seminal 1938 OUP book of 1087 pages dealt with jazz, which was becoming increasingly popular with the Swing Era. Of course this publication reflects the British outlook of the time, when jazz was played primarily across the Atlantic Ocean. Nevertheless by 1938 jazz was familiar to the British scene. Indeed the Original Dixieland Jazz Band had performed in London as early as 1919. In 1923 Paul Whiteman’s Orchestra visited, to be followed by Louis Armstrong in 1932 and Duke Ellington in 1933. 

Shostakovich: His Choice of Tsvetaeva's Poems for Op. 143

Shostakovich Opus 143: His Choice of Tsvetaeva's Poems

Like most educated Russians, Shostakovich was a regular reader of poetry. Throughout his life, he set many poems to music, not only Russian but also Japanese, Jewish, English, Italian, German and French. He covered some of the major Russian poets from Lermontov and Pushkin to Blok, Yevtushenko and Tsvetaeva. The very last of these Russian poets he worked on was Marina Tsvetaeva, whose poetry had become more accessible in the USSR since a major publication of her work in 1965.  Shostakovich wrote the music for Six Verses of Marina Tsvetaeva in just one week in August 1973, when he was vacationing in Estonia.  His health at this time was bad, and he already knew he had a terminal illness. His familiarity with Tsvetaeva’s work was increased in 1971 when he set to music Yevtushenko’s “Yelabuga Nail,” a poem about Tsvetaeva’s suicide. Soon after, he heard Tishenko’s “Three songs on Verses of Tsvetaeva” and subsequently ordered a copy (Fay 277)

The Sinking of the Rigel in 1944

Story of the Allied sinking of MS Rigel in WW2

This World War 2 disaster took an astonishing 2,571 lives. It was the result of mistaken identification by British RAF planes. In November 1944, MS Rigel was sailing south under the German flag. It was picking up prisoners of war at various ports and planned to disembark them at Trondheim. Not too far from this destination on November 27, the Rigel was spotted by a British air patrol, mistakenly identified as a troopship, and attacked and sunk. In terms of lives lost, this was the third worst sinking in history, exceeding even the 1912 sinking of the Titanic.

Doctor Zhivago: The Russian Countryside after the Revolution

Extract from Doctor Zhivago describing the Russian countryside after the Revolution

Yury completed the last stage of his journey to Moscow by train, having done the first and far longer part on foot.            The condition of the villages he passed through was no better than what he had seen in Siberia and the Urals during his escape from the Forest Brotherhood. Back then he had been traveling in winter; now at the end of summer, the dry, warm autumn weather made things much easier.            Half the villages he passed through were deserted, as if there had been an enemy invasion. Fields were abandoned unharvested. Such were the consequence of war, a civil war, in fact.

Yevtushenko: The Torments of Conscience

Translation of Yevtushenko's "The Torments of Conscience" preceded by an introduction

 The Torments of Conscience Yevtushenko dedicated this poem to Shostakovich. He was initially approached by Shostakovich in 1961, when the Russian composer was writing a symphony based on Yevtushenko’s poem “Babi Yar.” The two men spent time together discussing both the project and literature in general. “Shostakovich completely changed me as a poet,” Yevtushenko wrote later. “He amazed me with his profound rendering of the poem.” (quoted in Ethel Wilson, Shostakovich, 385-4)_  

Manfred Eicher: The Genius Behind ECM Records

Profile of Manfred Eicher, record producer

Our concept is still more or less the original idea of producing music that I love and that I would like to introduce to people. That's all it is, and it has not changed and will not change because it's the only thing I can do.   Manfred Eicher My contact with ECM is beyond categorization: it is a natural supplement to my composing.   Arvo Pärt The founder and presiding spirit of ECM Records is not a typical music industry executive, which is perhaps why Eicher has managed to survive the virtual disintegration

Michael Meyer, Not Prince Hamlet: Book Review

Review of autobiography of Michael Meyer

It’s over 30 years since this autobiography was published, but Michael Meyer’s “literary and theatrical memoirs” are still of great interest, especially to those interested in mid-twentieth-century drama. He found little success as a creative writer (plays, novel, poems), but as a biographer and translator of both Ibsen and Strindberg he achieved worldwide success. His Ibsen biography was especially praised (George Steiner: “A major achievement”) while his translations at the time of this book’s publication were “on average…staged or broadcast somewhere in the world every four or five days.”