Sound, Act, Presence
: Pre-Existing Music in the Films of Ingmar Bergman

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy


This thesis explores the appearance, function, and meaning of pre-existing music in the films of Swedish filmmaker Ingmar Bergman (1918-2007), with an emphasis on works from the Western classical canon. Active as a director, producer, and writer for sixty-one years, Bergman used his love of music to fuel his films in both form and content, largely eschewing traditional soundtrack scores in favour of pre-existing music used sparingly but precisely, incorporating music into the lives of his characters, and finding artistic inspiration in the works and lives of the composers.

This study’s primary focus is to trace patterns of musical usage in Bergman’s oeuvre through a series of case studies that link film-specific events to broader cultural traditions. Chapter One focuses on Bergman’s relationship with music, sketching his musical life from childhood to his early years as a director and examining how he used the history and language of music to enhance his own biographical legend, interpret his cinematic techniques, and justify his artistic choices. Using The Silence (1963) as a case study, Chapter Two considers the onscreen representation of listening to music (music as sound) and explores how the act of listening can create for Bergman’s characters a channel of communication between listeners and with a larger cultural history, mediated through technology. Chapter Three traces the dynamics of onscreen musical performance (music as act) back to a broader tradition of ritual humiliation, using Music in Darkness (1948) and Autumn Sonata (1978) as case studies. Focusing on In the Presence of a Clown (1997) as a case study, Chapter Four draws upon theories of the Gothic and the uncanny to illuminate how music becomes a haunting presence, enabling Bergman’s characters to transgress the boundaries of fantasy and reality, past and present. The conclusion looks at Bergman’s last film, Saraband (2003), which weaves music through its structure, soundscape, and narrative and offers a glimpse of music at its most transcendent, a gateway to the beyond.
Date of Award2017
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • King's College London
SupervisorRoger Parker (Supervisor) & Emma Dillon (Supervisor)

Cite this