Music as a Special Tool of Bergman

Music, its comprehension and implementation was an important and organic part of the whole existence of the great Swedish director Ingmar Bergman. His life was unthinkable without music as it greatly influenced his attitude being a part of his works and one of the strongest factors in Bergman’s artistic means. Unusually complex, deep, controversial man and artist, Bergman summarized many major European tendencies in art and created his own artistic world.

The Issue of Music in the Life and Work of Bergman

Investigating the causes of the phenomenon, recognizing the incompleteness expressed by the words and the visual side, Bergman inevitably came to the need to resort to music. In one of his interviews Bergman said: “The words are created to hide the reality, is not it? Music is much safer to transmit the true meaning of thought.” (Steene). Bergman is one of the most musical directors of the 20th century: “Ever since childhood, music has become for me a great source of refreshment and vigor” (Bergman). He explored a very wide range of musical events from Gregorian chant to the Swedish popular music of 50-60-ies, deeply penetrating into the essence of each piece. The director constantly used the works of his favorite composers: Bach, Beethoven, Chopin, Schumann, as well as the composers of the 20th century: Britten, Kodaly and Shostakovich. Bergman’s ability to cover art in its total synthesis was essential in the highest degree while working on a piece of music. Like Wagner in the 19th century, Bergman created Gesamtkunstwerk in conditions of the second half of the 20th century uniting different art forms and ways of knowing the world in his work. A clear manifestation of this unity was the staging of The Magic Flute by Mozart, which is a combination of opera, theater and film.

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The issue of music in the life and work of Bergman is not considered in the literature on film industry. On the one hand, the film pays little attention to the questions of musical setting of the film. On the other hand, there is a rich literature about Bergman primarily in Swedish, which does not consider the author’s method of work on the musical aspects of the film and the play. Bergman’s artistic world was formed on the basis of deep national traditions. In Sweden there were such directors as Mauritzen Stiller, Victor Shёstrem, Alf Sjöberg and Olof Molander who worked in the first half of the 20th century. Bergman said about the latter: “This was a man who initiated me into the inner sanctum of the magic of the theater, which gave me the very first and most powerful creative impulses” (Bergman). Scandinavian literature and theater also had a huge influence on the world of Bergman.

Modern research has to include all the music of the film sound material: speech, noise, music or silence. Music in the works of Bergman can be divided into four groups.

In this paper the following classification is proposed:

  • Movies in which music is present in the plot being intra-frame sounds (Fortunately, Winter Light, Smiles of a Summer Night);
  • Movies, which use musical concepts, genre designations, verbal descriptions of musical works, etc. without specific musical accompaniment (Shame, After the Rehearsal);
  • Movies where the music is in the subjects connected with professional musicians, has a value of psychological subtext and plays an important aesthetic function (Saraband, Autumn Sonata);
  • Movies where the music serves as an aesthetic and philosophical commentary, summarizing the events, appearing in important highlights. It has extremely high semantic and compositional role, for example in the films Through a Glass Darkly, The Silence, Hour of the Wolf, Persona. Finally, in a number of films Bergman connected various principles of the use of music, such as in the film Fanny and Alexander.

Communication with the music in the films of Bergman takes place at different levels and in various forms:

  • The names containing musical concepts, genre definitions, etc.;
  • The protagonist associated with the arts;
  • The effects of music on the creative process of a film making;
  • Translating the principles of musical composition to the structure of the film;
  • Quoting classical music.

Among Bergman’s films there are those in which the dramaturgic, semantic and shaping role of classical music is particularly evident. The most significant are the following movies: Through a Glass Darkly, Autumn Sonata and Saraband. Through a Glass Darkly (1961) is the first Bergman’s film in which Bach’s music (sarabande from Bach’s second cello suites) affects the shape of the whole, reveals the sense and emotionality of the film underlining the culminating points in the development of each part of the work. In Autumn Sonata the music is used not only as a necessary part of the plot, but also has an important meaning. Music, which should bring together the main characters, mother and daughter, in the end becomes a means of association and strengthens their disunity. Music also defines the composition, drama and story of Bergman’s latest film Saraband that completed his cinematic work career. The protagonists of the film are connected with music. The heroine is a cellist, her father is an organist and cellist and he is writing a book about the “St. John Passion” by JS Bach. The heroes discuss past and upcoming concerts, play and listen to music. Bergman used the works by Bach, Brahms and Bruckner. The genre, the image and the subject of sarabande take a special place in the works of Bergman. Sarabandes appear in the pictures Through a Glass Darkly, Cries and Whispers, All These Women, Hour of the Wolf, The Passion of Anna, Autumn Sonata, Fanny and Alexander and may be perceived as a tragic symbol of heroes’ misunderstandings and disunity. Most often Bergman borrowed themes from Bach’s Cello Suites. The director especially loved the timbre of the instrument for its warmth and ‘humanity’. The composition of the latest film uses not only the music of Bach, but also follows the structure of sarabande. Bergman said: “Sarabande is a dance that couple dances. My film follows the structure of sarabande: there are always two – in all ten stages and in the epilogue” (Macnab). Sarabande from Bach’s fifth cello suite c-moll sounds five times throughout the film, appears in various episodes as a refrain in the structure of the film and a symbol of the tragic fate of all characters of the work.

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The Magic Flute by Mozart in the interpretation of I. Bergman is devoted to one of the climaxes of Bergman’s creativity – The Magic Flute film-opera. This paper reveals the history of creation of the work, especially Bergman’s reading of the masterpiece of Mozart, and provides a detailed analysis of individual scenes. Bergman tended to create this film-opera for many years. He heard this opera for the first time in Stockholm theater when he was 12 years old. Later, he tried to create it four times, but was able to realize his dream only in 1975. In this work Bergman saw the concern in his outlook. Plunging into the meanings and connotations of the opera, the director created one of the most mysterious and scary movies – Hour of the Wolf, which can be regarded as a step towards the production of The Magic Flute. From the creative positions of Bergman these completely different works are intimately connected: the heroes of the film and the characters of the opera are trying to penetrate the mysteries of the unknown. They go through trials to overcome them or die. Bergman said about Hour of the Wolf: “I approached the problems, available, in essence, only to poetry or music” (Bergman). The Magic Flute and Hour of the Wolf as two polar opposites are in mutual attraction. If the fate of the opera heroes through life results in a happy end, the film artist Johan Borg dies first mentally and then physically.

Music plays a dual role in this film. On the one hand Bergman cited the works of Mozart and Bach, on the other he used the material that was specially composed by Lars-Johan Werle, the Swedish composer. Both kinds of music have important semantic and dramatic value. The first is intra-frame music, appearing in a course of the action that determines its turning points, the second is something that sounds behind the scenes and reveals the emotional state of the character. In one of the episodes the artist of the puppet theater sees a fragment of the finale of the first act of The Magic Flute (Singer). Being all alone at the palace, Tamino doll exclaims: “Oh, eternal night! When you’re finished? When light touches my eyes?” The chorus responds: “Soon, the young man, or never!” This episode is the key to understanding the events of the film. For Borg the scene from the opera is a symbolic warning that he, as Tamino, is on the brink of death, and the two-digit answer ‘soon or never!’ in the case of Johan means ‘never’.

The world of opera is significantly different from the director’s world of film, but the idea of The Magic Flute is close to the poetics of Bergman’s work. The Magic Flute contains points that are not found in his other works: the conflict and its happy resolution, testing heroes, as a result of which they stay together and continue to love each other, sincerity of feelings, humor, triumph of virtue and wisdom. Opera, being unique in its versatility, connects many storyline sources (from the Egyptian mysteries and ancient mythology to Gozzi drama), contains the features of different genres (the parable, tale comedies, comic singspiel connection with serious genres). Its music embraces a variety of stylistic directions of the era. All this allowed Bergman to present his own perception of The Magic Flute as a universal product at all times for all people, combining music techniques of theatrical performance and cinematographic techniques into a single unit.

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An overture to the opera becomes one of the most important episodes of the film. During the overture Bergman shows the faces of listeners of all ages, nationalities and races. Spectators from all over the world are a clear embodiment of the idea that Mozart’s music is equally close to all people. The Magic Flute presented the public selected for show. Here are Ingrid Bergman, his wife, Caby Laratei, his former wife and two close friends – Sven Nyukvist, an operator and Erland Yusefson, an actor. Among flitting people attention is drawn to a bright face of a girl. She appears in the film many times with joyful eyes observing everything that is going on. The author expressed his own attitude through her vivid portrait. Comparing her face and a portrait of the composer, Bergman emphasized their resemblance; he found the possibility to transfer the imaginary presence of Mozart through the image of a young child from the audience.

Visuals, accompanying the sound of overtures, were built in accordance with the musical form, structure and phrases: the three primary chords correspond to a change of three statues of Apollo profiles: general, medium and large against the backdrop of the sunset-lit sky. By the same token visual crescendo following six cycles correspond to gradual approximation of the girl’s face. The landscape and the girl’s face appeared at the entrance repeating chords on the verge of exposure and development, and at the end of the overture. Bergman was inventive in showing the public faces. These are single and double portraits, face and profile in large and general plan. The director then built the exact sequence of alternating European and Asian persons, gave a general view of the hall, which corresponded to the culmination of a particular section of the musical form. He commented on this principle of works with visual: “All I am doing inside the frame is a choice. Every second in a series of shots of my works is created in order to attract the attention of the public” (Botz-Bornstein).

One of the main principles of Bergman’s interpretation of this great European opera was its transfer to the Swedish nature. The national essence manifests itself in many different ways: in the language, casting, sets, costumes, and landscapes. The director changed the tradition of opera performance in the original language; the text was sung and pronounced in Swedish, which once again proves the universality of Mozart’s creativity. The Magic Flute in the interpretation of Bergman to some extent replaces the absence of similar works in the history of the Swedish musical culture. Being associated with the folk theater of Austria and Germany, singspiel genre became the representation of the Swedish folk tradition. Bergman abandoned traditional decorations in the Egyptian style, which were usually used for this opera before. In the course of the story he took all the events to Sweden. There is snow, rocks, northern nature and the characters’ winter clothes.

The Magic Flute is a unique synthesis of theater and film. It is revealed in unusual angles, in techniques that are not possible in the theater, in comparison of large and general plans, and the film editing capabilities. The genre of the film opera reveals to the audience the mysterious world in which the action takes place in the performance and life of the actor behind the theater scene at the same time. This line is the moment of removal from the main action, it provides a glimpse at the mysterious world behind the scenes and fills the entire work with confidential intonation.


As for the design stage, Bergman introduced a number of changes in verbal and musical text of the opera. All conversational episodes were rewritten in The Magic Flute. In most cases the dialogue’s plot was kept but reduced in duration. The text became more conversational and closer to the modern listener. The structure of Bergman’s opera also manifested a number of changes in two directions, which relate to both individual acts and whole fragments: notes and a permutation of acts in comparison with the original. The most significant changes were done in the second act. By creating a script for the film, Bergman literally reshaped its drama. This is due to the laws of the genre and the difference in viewer’s perception. Mozart acted on the principle of chiaroscuro scenes while Bergman built a clear sequence of five episodes, which makes subject line and time-lasting of the film more natural.

The Magic Flute united the principles of Bergman and theater actor. It also reflected Bergman’s own childhood memories and artistic motifs which were characteristic for mature works. This work completed his stage life, about which he once said: “Creative time, day and night draws inspiration from the music of Mozart” (Bergman).

During his early work Bergman turned to a wide range of works of the world literature. Bergman staged Shakespeare, Strindberg, Ibsen, Camus, Kafka, Anouilh, Brecht and others. A number of works runs through his whole life. These are Macbeth by Shakespeare (3 plays), A Dream Play and Ghost Sonata of Strindberg (4 plays), The Misanthrope by Moliere (3 plays), and Hedda Gabler by Ibsen (3 plays). Bergman never set the task to be a reformer, but the process of his work on the plays was really reforming. Taking into account the real needs of the theater, Bergman rebuilt the Swedish Theatre in terms of artistic and administrative development.

Almost all Bergman’s work at the theater is associated with the sounds of music. The concept of sound comes as sounding words spoken by actors and musical side of his performances.

General principles of musical stagecraft that Bergman followed can be divided into two groups:

  • the numerous sound effects contained in the author’s instructions that get incarnation on the stage;
  • the music, which Bergman selected.

With the help of music the director:

  • Highlighted semantically important moments of action;
  • Identified the principles of drama plays;
  • Commented on the events taking place on the stage;
  • Created a general atmosphere of the performance.
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In the theater, as well as in the films, Bergman referred to specially created modern compositions as well as to classical music. Most often he involved the performance of Mendelssohn funeral march and Chopin’s piano miniatures, some themes from Tchaikovsky’s ballet and fragments of works by Bach. These quotes are like leitmotifs, which pass from the statement to the statement. They acquire a symbolic meaning and are used in different situations on the stage. In addition to classical music, the director turned to works by contemporary composers with whom he had to work in some theaters in Sweden.

Connection with the musical art in the work of the director was carried out at various levels and took various forms. The names of many Bergman’s films are connected with music or sound images, Music in Darkness, The Silence, Cries and Whispers, Autumn Sonata and Saraband. Music influenced the creative process of Bergman from the idea of a movie or play to its embodiment. Bergman compared his own directorial work in cinema and theater with the work of the conductor of the orchestra and repeatedly noted that if he had not been engaged in the film industry, he would have chosen this particular musical profession. Music often appears in the films and performances of Bergman when the word is powerless. It was Bergman’s perfect tool to fill the stage with powerful emotional charge. The director often replaced the text with the drama music that clearly expressed what was going around in a deeper and stronger manner. Music was one of the most important arts for Bergman, which itself is able to uncover the deepest secrets of human life in the framework of cinema and theater.

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