Film-musical moments in Ingmar Bergman’s films
in Ingmar Bergman

The notion and theoretical importance of ‘musical moments’ in film has recently attracted more and more attention; but this development has mostly been confined to musical numbers, usually song performances. In Bergman’s films, we quite often find scenes with musical numbers and musical numbers that constitute musical moments; in other words, the moments are of narrative importance. These kinds of musical moments are not in focus in this chapter, however. Instead, the searchlight is placed on scenes that use film music—that is, music which was originally composed for the films in question and is almost impossible to listen to as autonomous music. These film-musical moments in Bergman’s films deviate from the narrative and the aesthetics of the film and are distinctively transformative in that they constitute turning points. Hence, this chapter’s use of the concept ‘musical moment’ expands the notion from a musical number (in the form of a song) to the integrated use of film music in a transformative moment, but a moment where the music still ‘takes over’. Bergman’s transformative film-musical moments are rare; but when they do appear, they are striking and powerful. Examples occur in Sawdust and Tinsel (1953), Persona (1966), and Hour of the Wolf (1968). The transformation operates on two levels: the scenes are transformative for the lives of the characters in the film, as well as transformative for the narrative and the unfolding of the film. Besides, they offer a profound aesthetic experience even when they are not seen in their narrative context.

In recent years, scholars have been devoting more and more discussion to Ingmar Bergman’s films from a musical perspective.1 Considering that Bergman himself had a heartfelt love of music, and worked meticulously on the soundtrack of his films where music was often foregrounded as an essential conveyor of narrative information and the character’s emotions, it is odd that his film music has not come in for greater attention before. Of course, this circumstance has also been noticed by other writers. Per F. Broman and Alexis Luko—the latter being the scholar who, along with Charlotte Renaud, has written the most extensive and penetrating study on Bergman’s music in films and his relation to music in general—want to sort Bergman into the category of acoustic auteur, a label reserved for a very few notable directors such as Stanley Kubrick, Quentin Tarantino, and Alain Resnais.2 The term is paraphrased from what film-music scholar Claudia Gorbman, in her article ‘Auteur Music’, calls mélomane—a word for ‘music-loving directors [who] treat music not as something to farm out to the composer or even to the music supervisor, but rather as a key thematic element and a marker of authorial style’.3 According to Gorbman’s definition, Bergman may certainly join this group of acoustic auteurs, perhaps even as one of its most prominent members. The majority of writings about Bergman and music scrutinize his use of classical music, often in connection with an analysis of those of his films that depict musicians, musical performances, and music listening. Another point of interest in scholarly writings has been how musical form has inspired the organization of a film, for example the use of music to structure films into acts that correspond to specific musical forms. Hence, the music as such constitutes the point of departure for the analyses, and the music per se is in focus.

This chapter explores Bergman’s use of music from a different perspective, an angle based on the notion of a musical moment, a theoretical and analytical concept that has gained much attention in film-music research in recent years.4 Many writers use the term as an equivalent to musical numbers; thus, the definition of musical moments generally refers to performances of different kinds, most often song performances. Consequently, even if musical moments in this sense are supposed to appear in various genres, they are mostly found in musicals. Watching Bergman’s films over the years, I have noticed a special kind of music drama that supersedes a narrative which is usually filled with dialogue. These particular scenes appear to be very prominent and significant. In Bergman’s films, there are a number of instances of musical moments, even if they are not performances of songs; autonomous music and pre-composed music are foregrounded and, in a sense, ‘take over’ the scene. These kinds of musical moments are not in the focus of this chapter, though. Instead, I wish to highlight scenes that make striking use of film music, that is, music originally composed for films and music that is almost impossible to listen to as autonomous music. These film-musical moments in Bergman’s films, albeit few in number, differ remarkably from the narrative and the aesthetics of the films, being distinctively transformative in that they constitute a turning point or a narrative kernel. Hence, my use of the ‘musical moment’ concept expands that notion from a musical number (in the form of a song) to the integrated use of film music in a transformative moment.

Scholars and writers specializing in studies of Bergman have often stated that he turned to music when verbal communication was not sufficient. An analysis based on such an assumption seems to diminish the use of music to a kind of substitution, a way of putting something else in the place of ‘better’ stylistic devices. On the contrary, I think that Bergman very consciously chose other modes and other styles to emphasize the scenes that are the narrative kernels in the films, moments that play a decisive role in the telling of the story. The choice to construct these critical narrative scenes as film-musical moments—moments which sometimes refer to other periods in the history of film—opens another perspective on Bergman as a cinematic narrator. A director emerges who is an acoustic auteur of considerable significance.

Musical moments: a theoretical background

Musical moments in films can be defined as moments when the music takes over, in the sense that music is no longer a mere accompaniment but foregrounded, frequently influencing editing and camera movements. Over the years, discussions on musical moments have often been based on such a definition.5 In the growing number of studies on musical moments, scholars have in most cases derived their examples from musicals or diegetic songs in non-musical films. Sometimes this reflects an ideological standpoint, as when film scholar Phil Powrie wants to upgrade the status of diegetic songs as compared to symphonic non-diegetic scores.6 He refers to James Buhler, who writes:

Orchestral music is where the art is. The result has been a heavy interpretive bias towards the symphonic non-diegetic score […] If non-diegetic music is opposed to diegetic, then symphonic sound is opposed to the dance band, ‘classical’ music to popular (jazz, or later, rock), and, therefore, high art and aesthetic values are set against low art and commercial value.7

Powrie wants to show that the crystal song—Powrie’s theoretical concept of a musical moment, based on Gilles Deleuze’s crystal image—can emanate from newly composed as well as pre-composed music and may, in that way, ‘contest [the] cultural value’ of the customary focus on classical music.8

Phil Powrie and Amy Herzog are the two scholars who have recently published the most extensive theories and analyses of musical moments. Media historian Amy Herzog, in her book Dreams of Difference, Songs of the Same: The Musical Moment in Film, focuses on the relations between the cinema and popular music; and in this endeavour, she bases her theories chiefly on Deleuze’s works. Though Herzog does not want to establish ‘firm distinctions between musical and nonmusical films’, her work nonetheless relies more on musicals than on non-musical films.9 The reason for this, she argues, is that musical moments ‘are often most fully realized within the musical genre’.10 In short, she defines a musical moment as a moment that ‘occurs when music, typically a popular song, inverts the image-sound hierarchy to occupy the dominant position in a filmic work’.11 It can be problematic to speak about ‘dominant position’ and ‘hierarchy’ regarding the relationship between image and sound in film, and I will return to this discussion. The formal characteristics of musical moments in Herzog’s terminology are that these moments break the narrative chain and disrupt the time–space flow. Song becomes dominant in the sense that it is foregrounded, structuring and influencing time, space, and movements in the picture. Besides these formal characteristics, Herzog points to some of the moments’ most essential functions, which are that they often incline towards ‘aesthetic and thematic excessiveness’ and thus evoke strong affective responses in the audience.12

The affective power of musical moments is central to Phil Powrie’s discussion in his monograph Music in Contemporary French Cinema: The Crystal Song in which he, like Herzog, draws on the writings of Gilles Deleuze as a starting point for discussion. However, as mentioned, Powrie mostly confines himself to Deleuze’s notion of the crystal image, which he transforms into the crystal song. The use of a crystal song indicates a turning point in a film (a narrative function not emphasized by Herzog); it is momentous and has high affective power, and, like a crystal, it is both confluent and centripetal, not least in the sense that different temporalities come together.13 In general, Powrie agrees with Herzog’s definition of musical moments with the exception of a couple of decisive points. First, the musical moments that Powrie defines as crystal songs appear more often in non-musical films than in musicals:

Indeed, [the difference made by a crystal song] may well be more apparent if it does not form part of a sequence of musical numbers in a film that could be defined as a film musical, precisely because it functions as a critical fragment rather than as a part of a series closely tied to the narrative.14

Secondly, Powrie does not agree that we need to reveal the significance of a musical moment, as opposed to Herzog’s project of laying bare the musical moment’s potential as a ‘disruptive force’ in its tension between ‘repetition’ and ‘difference’.15 The moment’s significance is, according to Powrie, distinct, not least because of its strong affective expression. While Herzog also discusses affective responses to musical moments, to Powrie this is a paramount characteristic which intensely and simultaneously influences both the protagonist and the audience:

It is the moment in a film when the coming together of sound and image transports us, if only momentarily, to a different place, a place of difference, when the music takes flight, and we fly with it, whether that flight is soaring emotion or searing insight, or, more properly for what I call the ‘crystal song’, a combination of the two.16

However, Powrie asserts that for this to happen, the crystal song needs to be performed and accordingly be diegetic. The diegetic performance is central to all writers on musical moments and to the theorists to whom Powrie refers as predecessors in relation to his theory on crystal songs. Powrie claims that in performed musical numbers, and preferably with pre-composed music, the emotions experienced by both performer and audience are immediate, present, and authentic because of the embodiment by the performer.17 In research on musical moments, these moments hence cover everything from musical numbers with minor significance for the narrative to moments in the form of crystal songs—moments which are very important to the story and emotionally intense, and which have a powerful impact on the audience. Sometimes the use of the concept is confusing as to which measure the moment serves to highlight.

When I first encountered Powrie’s discussions on the crystal song, they shed much light on how I had experienced scenes in Bergman’s films which struck me as extraordinary music-dramatic narratives. However, when delving more deeply into both the theory and Powrie’s productive and informative analyses, it became clear that it is not possible to transfer the concept in its entirety to Bergman’s transformative film-musical moments. The usefulness of the notion of crystal song is limited primarily because these moments are not songs, and they do not merge different time layers in the sense that Deleuze intended with his conception.18 Nevertheless, other characteristics of the crystal song are valid and helpful. In Bergman’s films we find musical moments of a more traditional kind: musical moments using pre-composed diegetic music and, finally, the transformative film-musical moments that are exceptional also from the perspective of film-music aesthetics in general.

Different kinds of musical moments in Bergman’s films

Generally speaking, Ingmar Bergman used music in his films in ways that were highly diverse, ranging from traditional underscoring to symphonic concert scenes, popular music, and modernistic film music. At the beginning of his career, music in Bergman’s films functioned in ways that adhered to the film-musical aesthetics of the time, using extra-diegetic original music underlining actions and emotions. Even if it could be obtrusive, as in Erland von Koch’s scores for wind instruments, it worked according to the functions of ‘unheard’ narrative film music: to bridge scenes, set emotions and moods, signal crucial actions, and follow and underline the dramaturgy.19 As was customary for many filmmakers in Sweden during the 1940s and the 1950s, Bergman turned to Swedish art composers of the time: Erland von Koch and Erik Nordgren (as mentioned earlier) and, later on, Karl-Birger Blomdahl, Dag Wirén, and Lars-Johan Werle. Erland von Koch composed music for Bergman’s first six films; he was succeeded by Erik Nordgren, who wrote music for as many as twelve of Bergman’s films and was involved in two more. Even in Bergman’s early films, however, the music was not subordinated in the way we usually associate with the phrase underscoring, or classic narrative film music. Even though the music mainly supported the flow of narrative action, it was seldom heard in combination with dialogue, nor was it audible for very long. This discrimination—this generally eclectic use of music in Bergman’s films—makes scenes with music stand out as something extraordinary in the narrative.20 There are, of course, exceptions; but it seems reasonable to claim that for the essential scenes in his films—regardless of whether those films are regarded as being of major or minor importance—he chose music as a narrative and stylistic device. Hence, all scenes with music are protrusive in some way; they are apprehended as a different level in the narrative and provide a heightened sense of experience. In this sense, music in Bergman’s films often constitutes some kind of musical moment.

There are two main categories of straightforward musical moments in Bergman’s films. Firstly, his films contain ample musical numbers, that is to say, scenes with performed orchestral numbers and songs. Musical numbers mostly occur in films that involve musicians as protagonists, for instance To Joy (Till glädje, 1950); but they also appear in films not explicitly about musicians, for example in The Devil’s Eye (Djävulens öga, 1960). Films containing musical numbers of varying lengths are, for instance: Music in Darkness (Musik i mörker, 1948), Thirst (Törst, 1949), To Joy, Smiles of a Summer Night (Sommarnattens leende, 1955), The Seventh Seal (Det sjunde inseglet, 1957), Wild Strawberries (Smultronstället, 1957), The Magician (Ansiktet, 1958), The Silence (Tystnaden, 1963), The Devil’s Eye, All These Women (För att inte tala om alla dessa kvinnor, 1964), Hour of the Wolf (Vargtimmen, 1968), The Serpent’s Egg (Ormens ägg, 1977), In the Presence of a Clown (Larmar och gör sig till, 1997), and Saraband (2003). The musical numbers in these films are not narratively decisive or strongly affectional, although such numbers do appear in some of these films. The musical numbers range from symphonic music, as in To Joy, to simple guitar songs such as Naima Wifstrand’s in The Magician (with a text by Bergman himself), and performances of popular music as in The Serpent’s Egg. The film All These Women is on the verge of being a musical because of the abundance of musical numbers. The Devil’s Eye also contains many numbers that structure the film into narrative parts and may almost be said to ‘play the film’.

Secondly, we find musical numbers that also constitute musical moments—that is to say, the moments are of narrative importance, and they have some characteristics in common with the moments defined by Herzog and Powrie in that the music ‘takes over’ in these scenes. These musical moments are characterized by narrative, have dramaturgic and dramatic importance, and are constituted by scenes with performances which mostly use pre-composed, diegetic music, where the music can be said to be the primary conveyor of narrative information and to influence editing, camera movements, and movements in the images to varying degrees. Examples in this category are To Joy, Autumn Sonata (Höstsonaten, 1978), and Saraband. All three films are about musicians, and they have musical titles. A brief analytical example from To Joy is supplied below (analyses of the use of music in the other two films are more frequent).

The dominance of music is apparent in some scenes in To Joy. In this film, which has much diegetic music in the soundtrack, we find at least two scenes that are typical examples of musical moments where the images adapt to the music: the pictures are edited to fit the rhythm of the film. The longest and most prominent one is when the character Stig, a violinist, is offered the chance to play the solo violin in Mendelssohn-Bartholdy’s concerto for violin and orchestra, and he sees an opportunity for a breakthrough as a solo violinist. His wife Marta nervously follows Stig’s unsuccessful performance from behind the stage, and this scene marks a narrative point after which everything develops in a tragic direction. The other moment is the last scene in the film, which pictures a rehearsal of Beethoven’s ‘An die Freude’ at which a broken Stig takes up his position in the orchestra for the first time after a long pause and the death of his wife. During the rehearsal, his young son comes to listen; and the sight of him, and the influence of the music, make Stig look towards the future with new hope.

Besides these instances of musical moments, we find something of a similar nature in three films containing scenes of dreams or hallucinations: in Music in Darkness (Musik i mörker, 1948), Prison (Fängelse, 1949), and Waiting Women (Kvinnors väntan, 1952). The dreams and hallucinations in these three films are musical moments of a kind; they comply with most of the characteristics of musical moments, even though the music is non-diegetic and does not consist in performances. However, Bergman’s way of designing dreams and hallucinations in his films is quite common in cinematic narratives, indeed almost a cliché: with no dialogue, only non-diegetic music and sometimes sound, and with a different visual style from that of the surrounding scenes. Hence, these scenes do not stand out as narratively exceptional in terms of film-musical aesthetics. Conversely, more prominent sequences form the third category of musical moments in Bergman’s films, that of transformative film-musical moments.

Transformative film-musical moments

Bergman’s transformative film-musical moments are rare; but when they do appear, they are forceful and momentous. Here we find Sawdust and Tinsel (1953), Persona (1966), and Hour of the Wolf (1968). The transformative moments in these films are of an unusual length, between five minutes and over eight minutes. The length, altered style, and different mode of expression in these moments make them more like plays within the play, or rather films within the film.21 What, then, constitutes a transformative film-musical moment, and what significance do such moments have in Bergman’s oeuvre?

The transformative film-musical moments in Bergman’s films are extraordinary experiences that have the potential to evoke strong responses and affects in the audience owing to the music and the actions in combination—moments which depict and express the characters’ emotions. The transformation operates on two levels: the scenes are transformative for the lives of the characters in the film, as well as transformative for the narrative and the unfolding of the film. Besides, they offer a profound aesthetic experience, even if they are not seen in their narrative context. In Powrie’s terminology, crystal songs are a combination of ‘soaring emotion’ and ‘searing insight’, a description that effectively captures Bergman’s film-musical moments.22 Scenes with intense affective power, they are, like crystal songs, momentous, forming crucial narrative moments in the film. The distinctive features of transformative film-musical moments are:

  • the scene is of unusual length
  • the scene is of decisive narrative importance, a turning point, and transforms the narrative and the characters
  • the scene is powerfully charged with emotions
  • the scene is in contrast to other scenes, fenced in with scenes in which the music is silent
  • the music is originally composed for the film
  • the music is non-diegetic
  • the music blends with the images; there is no apparent hierarchy between the pictures and the music
  • no other sound nor dialogue is heard; there is total diegetic silence. If there is any diegetic sound, it is used as a sound effect or even as a musical element
  • the scenes recall silent-film aesthetics.

The scenes in the three films containing transformative film-musical moments constitute what may be labelled film-music dramas, which are narrated in a very different way compared to other parts of the film. A look at Sawdust and Tinsel provides an example. The scene in question is the extended flashback at the beginning of the film.23 The episode shows the humiliation to which both the man, Frost, and the woman, Alma, are subjected, and humiliation is a recurrent motif throughout the film. The music from the opening scene is heard again later in the film when a man feels degraded because of his wife’s infidelity. Bergman himself said that he regarded the film as being cast in a musical form, as a theme with variations ‘both erotic and humiliating in ever-changing combinations’.24 Karl-Birger Blomdahl wrote the music; and in a television interview called ‘Ingmar Bergman och musiken’ (‘Ingmar Bergman and music’), Bergman tells us about how the music was composed.25 Blomdahl and Bergman agreed that during the part where Frost carries Alma along the stony path away from the beach, only kettledrums should be heard. Apart from that, Bergman did not know how the music would sound. In an interview, he claims he met Blomdahl outside Oscarsteatern (Oscar’s Theatre) in Stockholm and was invited to listen to the new composition. Blomdahl warned Bergman that the score did not include any strings, which was quite unusual at the time; but when Bergman listened to the music, played by forty wind players, he was astounded. It was a ‘fabulous experience’, he said. Bergman has expressed a particular delight in this sequence, which was inspired by one of his dreams.26

The sequence is more than eight minutes long, and the music is in a modernist style and closely connected to the images. The kettledrums in the second part of the sequence, as well as the rhythmical irregular circus-like music which creates a mocking, aggravating, and provocative expression in the first part, are very powerful in combination with the pictures. The emotive expression in the scene, as well as the presumably affectional response in the audience, is forceful and compelling. A few diegetic sounds are heard, as well as some short pieces of dialogue. However, we do not perceive the sounds at the same time as we see them being produced, which recalls the way in which sound effects in silent film could often mistakenly be performed asynchronously. This practice contributes to the disturbing experience that the actions are ‘out of synch’. Like in a silent movie, we see people talk, scream, and laugh, but we do not hear their voices. The cinematography further reinforces the silent-film aesthetic with a dissolved black-and-white colour scheme, and close-ups of faces articulating words that we cannot hear.

In this scene, as well as in Hour of the Wolf, the actions narrated are so shocking to the persons involved, so life-changing and stigmatizing, that it seems as though they, and the film, can no longer endure sounds from reality. The shock and the psychological breakdown seem to make the characters involved switch off their normal perceptions, and they hear only the sounds that are central to their experience, that is to say, almost no sounds at all. This wipe-out of most of the realistically motivated or diegetic sounds in situations depicting the deepest of feelings could be compared to the breakdown of the filmstrip in Persona in the middle of the film. In her dissertation about Ingmar Bergman, Maaret Koskinen writes that at this moment in Persona, the film can no longer bear to show these horrible actions; the celluloid is burnt out as a result of pure panic.27 Just as the film itself disintegrates in Persona, it might be possible to suggest that for the people involved, sound from reality collapses in the films containing transformative film-musical moments. The music takes over, opening another space and affording access to another dimension.28

The prologue in Persona is a transformative film-musical moment, although the musical parts are rather scant. Once more, the music is highly modernistic; Lars Johan Werle composed the scores of both Persona and Hour of the Wolf. The characters’ life-transforming experiences, as narrated in the specific sequences, are as striking in these two films as the corresponding experiences in Sawdust and Tinsel. Especially in Persona, the sound composition intertwines music and natural sounds, hence blurring the border between them.29 In the prologue, we hear dripping water, footsteps, hammer blows, the ringing of a telephone, and, as in so many of Bergman’s films, church bells, as well as other sounds. Most sounds are out of synch—that is to say, we do not see the origin of the sounds; we only hear them. When picture and sound are suddenly in total synchronization, as when a nail is hammered through a hand, it becomes a shocking experience.

The diegetic silence, or the absence of speech, produces a kind of ghostlike atmosphere which supports the flashback narration in both Sawdust and Tinsel and Hour of the Wolf—the characters are in some way spirits from the past, disturbingly present in someone’s memory and still, like ghosts, influencing life as it progresses. Eliminating dialogue and diegetic sound is a strategy that can be used to emphasize that something crucial is happening. Danijela Kulezic-Wilson writes about the practice of wiping out all diegetic noises, which could depict a state of shock.30 She claims that Ran (Akira Kurosawa) from 1985 is regarded as the first film to use this strategy. Still, as we see, Bergman explored this device much earlier, and Jan Troell employed it in 1972 in his film The New Land (Nybyggarna).

In all categorization, there will be examples that do not easily fit into groups. Bergman’s oeuvre offers numerous variations and idiosyncratic peculiarities, a fact which makes any organizational effort challenging. However, here I would like to mention two scenes that lie between musical moments and transformative film-musical moments. They are scenes from Through a Glass Darkly (Såsom i en spegel, 1961) and Cries and Whispers (Viskningar och rop, 1972). The music in these scenes is not made up of diegetic performances. In essence, it is non-diegetic music as in film-musical moments; but the music is pre-composed, and, most importantly, the images adapt to the music in editing and movements. The scene in Through a Glass Darkly is very short, about one minute; it is the scene on the boat with Minus and Karin towards the end of the film. The editing adapts to the music, ‘Suite no 2 part 4 for cello’ by Bach, but the form of the scene has points in common with a tableau. In Cries and Whispers, the relevant scene signifies a turning point.31 The three sisters in this film are trying to deal with their life stories as one of them is dying of cancer. In this musical moment, with ‘Suite no 5 for cello’ by Bach, two of the sisters finally reach a moment of peace after years of hostility; it is a moment of reconciliation and intimacy. They are talking to each other; but as in the three films discussed above, there is diegetic silence, and we do not hear their words. The Bach suite for cello, together with the editing and camera work that is rhythmically coordinated with the music, and their expressive faces tell us all we need to know.

One of the crucial features of transformative film-musical moments is that they refer to silent-film aesthetics. The moving pictures and the music coalesce as stylistic equals, and this creates intensely affective film-musical magic. As I argued long ago in my dissertation, silent films could be music-dramatic works of art where music not only illustrated what happened on the screen, it also constituted an integral part of the narrative and thus contributed substantially to the film’s story, mood, and meaning.32 In film-musical moments, other characteristics evoke a silent-film aesthetic; it takes more than just the elimination of diegetic sounds and the addition of music to produce a narrative style that refers to this historical film style. In Bergman’s oeuvre, we find examples of this silent-film aesthetic even in scenes that are without music. One instance is the famous scene at the beginning of Wild Strawberries in which Isak Borg, played by silent-film director Victor Sjöström, dreams about his death. Nonetheless, music and film without any dialogue or natural sounds create a highly poetic film language, and it seems that Bergman, as a lover of music as well as of silent film, perceived the potential of this cinematic form. In the film for television In the Presence of a Clown, Bergman referred explicitly to silent-film music in the scene where the piano accompaniment played in the room becomes an almost diegetic piano piece in the film. The silent movie was by necessity paired with non-diegetic music, even though the music could have a diegetic function and be understood as music in the diegetic universe. However, the profound aesthetic experience that Bergman’s transformative film-musical moments offer is an experience that depends on a very close collaboration between film and music in which music works together with—rather than dominating—the visual narrative in a ‘film-music-dramatic’ way.

Music in film as film music

The film-musical moments in Bergman’s films consist of specially composed music which we apprehend as non-diegetical. There is mostly total diegetic silence, and the music and images merge; neither is more prominent than the other. There is no inverted hierarchy, as in Herzog’s definition and examples. In the musical moments in his movies, which present performances of pre-composed diegetic music, we are apt to find that the images adapt to the music in editing and movements. There are other differences between these kinds of musical moments and film-musical moments; but an essential distinction is that in the latter case, the music was originally composed. Pre-created compositions were written to be played as autonomous pieces of music and are thus differently constructed.

Original film music, on the other hand, is usually arranged in a more ruptured, fragmented, and non-melodic way (although there is of course a lot of original film music that is melodic, for example John Williams’ compositions). In the transformative film-musical moments in Bergman’s films, the music is of a modernist, atonal form which does not feature melody. The original compositions here are not intended to be listened to autonomously; they were written directly for the sequences. The music in Sawdust and Tinsel is one example; it seems impossible to listen to it without the images. Conversely, without the music, the narrative and affective power of the images would be substantially weakened. In transformative film-musical moments, pictures and music hence seem to blend; they are equivalent parameters, depending on each other without either dominating the other. I regard this as a film-musical relationship; the music becomes more of a cinematic element, a stylistic parameter like other cinematic parameters. Here Bergman adopts a narrative style that is a form of film-musical drama. If Powrie’s mission was to raise the status of songs in movies, my purpose would be to re-establish the status of non-diegetic, original music that is not intended to be listened to autonomously. From a musical point of view, non-diegetic film music that underscores a film is often regarded as a minor musical form, partly because of the formal characteristics that make the music impossible or at least difficult to enjoy as autonomous unless it is reworked for listening. Non-diegetic orchestral music is frequently considered as something inferior and subordinate to the images, not as music proper, along the lines expressed in a comment in Herzog’s monograph: ‘Film scores exist as fragmented themes that can be woven in and out of the soundtrack as the image dictates.’33

In my opinion, discussions about hierarchy and dominance involve highly complicated matters, and it seems too facile to assert that non-diegetic film music is always supposed to be dominated or dictated by the images (to be fair, Herzog does point out that there are exceptions, such as Bernard Herrmann’s scores for Hitchcock’s films). In the transformative film-musical moments in Bergman’s films, film and music work together in an artistic unity. The complete integration of music and images seems to transfer the music from a place outside the diegesis so that it becomes part of the diegesis instead. The distinction between diegetic and non-diegetic music can be problematic; and in instances of the kind outlined above, non-diegetic music is vital when it comes to ‘producing the diegesis itself’.34 Transformative film-musical moments, as they occur in the films discussed in this chapter, are comparatively rare in film history. Paul Schrader has, however, observed that Robert Bresson and Ozu Yasujirō both use ‘a blast of music’ to signal ‘decisive moments’ before ‘decisive actions’.35 As was mentioned at the beginning of the chapter, it is astonishing that so little research has been done on Ingmar Bergman’s music in films, and that this topic has surfaced quite late in comparison to all other research on Bergman’s films. Music plays a central role in many of his films, and the integration of music into the narrative and diegesis is remarkable. He was without any doubt an acoustic auteur; indeed, I would claim that he was a film-music-dramatic auteur with an unusually distinctive position and stature. Bergman often asserted that music and film were the same, and he was able to make the two art forms merge into a superbly realized wholeness.

1 Charlotte Renaud, ‘La Citation Musicale dans les Films d’Ingmar Bergman’ (unpublished doctoral dissertation, Université de la Sorbonne Paris III-Censier, 2007); Per F. Broman, ‘Music, Sound, and Silence in the Films of Ingmar Bergman’, in James Wierzbicki (ed.), Music, Sound and Filmmakers: Sonic Style in Cinema (New York and London: Routledge, 2012), pp. 15–32; Marcos Azzam Gómez, ‘Die Musik in Ingmar Bergmans Filmen’, Kieler Beiträge zur Filmmusikforschung 11 (2014), 278–301 (originally the PhD dissertation, ‘La Música en el Cine de Ingmar Bergman’, Universidad de Salamanca, 2013); Alexis Luko, Sonatas, Screams, and Silence: Music and Sound in the Films of Ingmar Bergman (New York: Routledge, 2015); Estela Ibáñez-García, ‘Music in Play on Screen: Performing Reality in Ingmar Bergman’s Late Work’ (PhD dissertation, University of Hong Kong, 2016), available at: (accessed 17 March 2021); Anyssa Neumann, ‘Sound, Act, Presence: Pre-Existing Music in the Films of Ingmar Bergman’ (PhD dissertation, King’s College London, 2017), available at: (accessed 17 March 2021). Several articles have been published, too, some of which I will refer to later.
2 Luko, Sonatas, Screams, and Silence; Broman, ‘Music, Sound, and Silence’.
3 Claudia Gorbman, ‘Auteur Music’, in Daniel Goldmark, Lawrence Kramer, and Richard Leppert (eds), Beyond the Soundtrack: Representing Music in Cinema (Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 2007), pp. 149–163.
4 Ian Conrich and Estella Tincknell (eds), Film’s Musical Moments (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2006); Amy Herzog, Dreams of Difference, Songs of the Same: The Musical Moment in Film (Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota Press, 2010); Phil Powrie, Music in Contemporary French Cinema: The Crystal Song (Cham: Palgrave Macmillan, 2017). Musical moments were the theme of the conference ‘When the Music Takes Over: Musical Numbers in Film and Television’ organized by the University of Salzburg, 8–10 March 2018.
5 Conrich and Tincknell, Film’s Musical Moments; Herzog, Dreams of Difference; Powrie, Music in Contemporary French Cinema.
6 Powrie, Music in Contemporary French Cinema.
7 James Buhler, ‘Analytical and Interpretive Approaches to Film Music (II): Analysing Interactions of Music and Film’, in K. J. Donnelly (ed.), Film Music: Critical Approaches (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2001), pp. 39–62 (p. 43).
8 Powrie, Music in Contemporary French Cinema, p. 21.
9 Herzog, Dreams of Difference, pp. 2–3.
10 Herzog, Dreams of Difference, p. 3.
11 Herzog, Dreams of Difference, p. 7.
12 Herzog, Dreams of Difference, p. 8.
13 Powrie, Music in Contemporary French Cinema, pp. 2, 166–173.
14 Powrie, Music in Contemporary French Cinema, p. 11.
15 Herzog, Dreams of Difference, pp. 7, 37–38.
16 Powrie, Music in Contemporary French Cinema, p. 3.
17 I do not agree with Powrie’s assertion that performance is a prerequisite for such a powerful affect to occur.
18 Gilles Deleuze, Cinéma. 2, L’Image-Temps (Paris: Minuit, 1985).
19 Claudia Gorbman, Unheard Melodies: Narrative Film Music (Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press, 1987).
20 This is also noted by Egil Törnqvist, ‘The Role of Music in Ingmar Bergman’s Films’, North-West Passage: Yearly Review of the Centre for Northern Performing Arts Studies 8 (2011), 25–46.
21 About Bergman’s use of play within the play, see Maaret Koskinen, Spel och speglingar: en studie i Ingmar Bergmans filmiska estetik (‘Plays and Mirrors: The Cinematic Aesthetics of Ingmar Bergman’, PhD dissertation, Stockholms universitet, 1993).
22 Powrie, Music in Contemporary French Cinema, p. 3.
23 For a close analysis of the sequence, see Luko, Sonatas, Screams, and Silence. See also Ann-Kristin Wallengren, ‘När själen spiller över’, Filmhäftet 122 (2002), 20–25.
24 Renaud, ‘An Unrequited Love of Music’, (accessed 3 May 2017).
25 ‘Ingmar Bergman och musiken’, an interview by Camilla Lundberg (SVT 2001).
26 Bergman om Bergman, interviews by Stig Björkman, Torsten Manns, and Jonas Sima (Stockholm: Norstedt, 1970).
27 Koskinen, ‘Spel och speglingar’.
28 Astrid Söderbergh Widding, ‘Gränsbilder: det dolda rummet hos Tarkovskij’ (‘Liminary Images: Off Screen Space in Tarkovsky’, PhD dissertation, Stockholms universitet, 1992), discusses how sound and music can afford access to other spaces in the films of Tarkovsky.
29 For a close analysis of the sound, music, and images in the prologue in Persona, see Michel Chion, Audio-Vision: Sound on Screen, translated by Claudia Gorbman (New York: Columbia University Press, 1994), pp. 198–213. The scene has been analysed by several scholars throughout the years.
30 Danijela Kulezic-Wilson, ‘The Music of Film Silence’, Music and the Moving Image 2:3 (2009), 1–10.
31 For a close analysis of Cries and Whispers, see Renaud, ‘An Unrequited Love of Music’.
32 Ann-Kristin Wallengren, En afton på Röda kvarn: svensk stumfilm som musikdrama (‘An Evening at Röda Kvarn: Swedish Silent Film as Music Drama’) (Lund: Lund University Press, 1998).
33 Herzog, Dreams of Difference, p. 6.
34 Anahid Kassabian, Hearing Film: Tracking Identifications in Contemporary Hollywood Film Music (New York: Routledge, 2001), p. 42. The theory on diegetic and non-diegetic music has been problematized by several authors, for example Robyn J. Stilwell, ‘The Fantastical Gap between Diegetic and Nondiegetic’, in Daniel Goldmark, Lawrence Kramer, and Richard Leppert (eds), Beyond the Soundtrack: Representing Music in Cinema (Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 2007), pp. 184–205; Jeff Smith, ‘Bridging the Gap: Reconsidering the Border between Diegetic and Nondiegetic Music’, Music and the Moving Image 2:1 (2009), 1–25; Ben Winters, ‘The Nondiegetic Fallacy: Film, Music, and Narrative Space’, Music & Letters 91:2 (2010), 224–244.
35 Paul Schrader, Transcendental Style in Film: Ozu, Bresson & Dreyer (New York: Da Capo, 1988).

Ingmar Bergman

An enduring legacy

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