About this Recording
8.223682 - NORDGREN: Bergman Suites (The)

Erik Nordgren (1913–1992)
The Bergman Suites: The Classic Film Music of Erik Nordgren


Erik Nordgren, not to be confused with the Finnish composer Pehr Henrik Nordgren, was born in Sireköpinge, in Sweden, on 13 February 1913. He studied the violin, conducting and composition at the Stockholm Royal Academy of Music, qualifying as a teacher in 1941. In 1948 he became recording consultant at Swedish EMI/HMV in Stockholm and from 1952 to 1967 he was music director at Svensk Filmindustri. From then until 1976 he was in charge of the orchestra section of the Swedish Broadcasting Corporation. His compositions include concertos for clarinet and for bassoon, in 1950 and 1966 respectively, a Chamber Symphony (1944), chamber music, including three string quartets, songs and a considerable quantity of electronic music created in his own sound studio. Nordgren wrote incidental music for some forty films directed by Ingmar Bergman, Alf Kjellin, Lars-Eric Kjellgren, Jan Troell (The Emigrants, 1972), Gustav Molander and Alf Sjöberg. Some of his scores for television features make use of electronic music. He died in Stockholm on 6 March 1992.

Of Nordgren’s seventeen scores written for Ingmar Bergman, Women’s Waiting, Smiles of a Summer Night, The Seventh Seal and Wild Strawberries can be considered the most accomplished. The close collaboration between director and composer may be compared with that of Eisenstein and Prokofiev, Hitchcock and Herrmann, Fellini and Rota and Cocteau and Auric. It was based on friendship and on Nordgren’s understanding of the necessity of compromise, as a film composer. A break between the two came when Bergman, after his marriage to the Estonian pianist Käbi Laretei, found himself dealing with music every day and in a totally different way. At that time Bergman began his involvement with opera as an assistant director and completely reassessed his conception of music, scoring his films thereafter mainly with instrumental music by Bach, Mozart and Chopin. In Through A Glass Darkly and Not To Speak of All These Women he selected and arranged music by Bach. Only in three of his last films, The Serpent’s Egg, From the Life of the Marionettes and Fanny and Alexander, did Bergman return to the use of an original score, employing Rolf Wilhelm and Daniel Bell for the purpose. The Garden of Eden (1961) was, in other words, the last original score that Nordgren wrote for Bergman.

There was initial agreement between director and composer that in a film there should be as little music as possible. Some distributors had tried in vain to persuade Bergman to use more music in versions for the American market, although there was an exception in the export version of the film Such Things Don’t Happen Here, where Nordgren’s music was replaced by that of Herbert Steen-Ostling. According to the composer’s widow, Constanze Nordgren, around 1990 Bergman and her husband had felt that with the advanced techniques of modern cinema and the new possibilities of video they would finally have been able to create the film scores they wanted, based on prepared sounds from the real background.

In the credits of the films conductors are not mentioned. It is known, however, that Nordgren used to conduct some of his scores himself and that for others he had commissioned some of his colleagues, the most famous among whom is Sixten Ehrling, who was music director of the Royal Stockholm Opera from 1953 to 1960. Nordgren himself appears in two very small “tuxedo” cameo roles in the films Wild Strawberries and Not To Speak of All These Women, first, in black and white, as a conductor of a Festive March and later, in colour, as a cellist who dies of a heart-attack during a private concert.

The list of films by Bergman for which Nordgren supplied music can be completed with Eva (1948), Thirst (1949), Summer Game (1951), Summer with Monika (1953), Last Couple Out (1956) and The Virgin Spring (1960). The list of other composers who wrote incidental music for Bergman includes other prominent musicians such as Karl-Birger Blomdahl (Evening of the Jesters, 1953) and Dag Wirén (A Lesson in Love, 1954). Bergman also admitted that sometimes classical music had provided inspiration as a starting-point for some of his scripts, as, for example, Carl Orff’s Carmina Burana (The Seventh Seal, with music by Nordgren) and Béla Bartók’s Concerto for Orchestra (The Silence, with music by Ivan Renliden).

Kvinnors väntan (Women’s Waiting)

The script of Women’s Waiting, with which Bergman seemed very satisfied at the time of the film’s release, is mainly based on flashbacks and deals with four sisters-in-law who tell each other about their marriages, while waiting for the arrival of their husbands to spend a holiday for the first time all together.

Anita, the eldest, starts talking of her empty, formal marriage with Paul, in which communication has been reduced to empty gestures of politeness, like two orientals bowing to each other. The second episode (and first flashback) tells us about Rakel, committing adultery with her old flame Kaj in the bath-house. Shortly afterwards she feels compelled to confess her guilt to her husband Eugen, in the presence of her lover. It needs the help of her brother-in-law Paul to prevent Eugen from demanding a divorce and committing suicide. There follows the story of Märta who, while leading a frivolous life in Paris, falls in love with an artist and becomes pregnant. After the death of Martin’s father, his family insists that he give up his bohemian way of life. He leaves Märta, who has to give birth to her child alone. After her return to Sweden, however, Martin rejoins her and they marry. The fourth episode, a little masterpiece of its own, is about a successful manager and his wife, who are trapped in a lift and have to spend the rest of the night there. Karin takes the opportunity to tease Fredrik about his pride, egoism and infidelity and this makes him realize how desirable his wife is. He is seduced by her and promises to cancel his business appointments in order to spend the day in bed with her. In the morning, however, once the couple has been rescued, Fredrik is called to an important meeting and everything returns to the way it was before. Meanwhile, in the present again, Maj, Märta’s younger sister, has followed these adult stories with critical attention. She and her lover Henrik, Anita’s son, decide to run away to find their happiness elsewhere. The film ends with Paul soothing his worried wife by predicting that the young lovers will come back anyway sooner or later and that they should enjoy life now, before experiencing its troubles.

When I saw a copy of this film, I realized how inadequately represented was the manuscript of the music that I had before me and could easily imagine how the composer felt in 1952, particularly after handing over such a valuable score. In the cutting-room the Main Title had been reduced to a piece for harp alone in which the opening cadenza of Variation I is heard. Isolated harp chords occur during the action that shortly follows. Some longer sequences with throbbing timpani and the climactic chords of Variation II are used to emphasize Eugen’s crisis. The only episode in which music plays an important role is Märta’s, where excerpts of Variations III, IV and V are used, in addition to a can-can, a blues, a Charleston and an organ-grinder’s piece. A passage from Variation IV accompanies Märta and Martin on their carriage-drive through Paris, with the wood-blocks suggesting a horse, and represents the longest excerpt of original music used in the film. When, later in the film, Märta is giving birth to her child, the dissonant climax of Variation V is heard in a montage with the can-can, to underscore the young mother’s anguish and pain. Of the remaining music nothing is heard in the other episodes of the film, except towards the end, where a couple of bars of Variation IV are used again to underscore the return home of the women’s husbands, as well as the final fade-out of the film. An intriguing aspect of this score is that Bergman, to illustrate marital love, has fallen back on the Lament of Eurydice, the same piece for flute and strings that Cocteau had used two years before in his film Orphée. In both films Gluck’s music is first heard as coming from a radio and later on as a normal cue.

In the six musical episodes of Women’s Waiting Nordgren makes use of a romantic leitmotif and two secondary motifs which are varied and combined in an interesting way and with great skill, through very transparent and sensitive orchestration. In various passages Nordgren’s musical language diverges from the tradition of romantic Scandinavian composers to become more atonal, giving this score both symphonic dimensions and a higher artistic level for its genre. The instrumentation calls for one flute, oboe, clarinet and horn, three trumpets, harp, timpani, percussion and strings. Once again the part for the harp, an Instrument with which Nordgren seems to have shown great sympathy throughout his career, is important and admirably set.

Sommarnattens leende (Smiles of a Summer Night)

The early comedy Smiles of a Summer Night, rather pessimistic in tone and, as usual, strongly autobiographical in character, became Bergman’s first international success after winning an award at the 1956 Cannes Festival. In 1973 the composer Stephen Sondheim and writer Hugh Wheeler adapted the script to create a musical play in two acts under the title A Little Night Music. In both German and Swedish productions, for which Bergman’s original title was restored, the famous Swedish singer and actress Zarah Leander was seen in her last stage appearance, in the role of old Mme Armfeld.

Bergman had started work on his script during a winter holiday in 1955 in Southern Switzerland and the film was shot in Sweden during the following summer. It was released as “starring Sweden’s four most beautiful women”. Inspired by Shakespeare and by Strindberg, it offers a story, set at the beginning of the twentieth Century, involving two married couples, with the two husbands as rivals in an affair with Désirée Armfeld, an extremely attractive and clever actress. She eventually invites the two men and their wives to a party held in the castle of her wise old mother, a former courtesan, to challenge both their marriage relationships, which are based either on total idealism or on hatred. What had started as a relaxed summer gathering becomes the hour of truth for everyone involved, and love is discussed and experienced in such a way as to give courage and make everyone decide the best way to recover earlier happiness. According to Bergman, this film “explores the frightening insight that it is possible for two people to love each other even when they find it impossible to live together”.

This score may be considered the longest by Nordgren for a film by Bergman, owing also to the fact that most of the music written has survived the cutting-room. The Main Title and the Finale, not recorded here, appear in the form of songs for soprano with harp accompaniment (the Main Title also includes a women’s chorus) and two more such songs are heard in scenes involving Désirée, who in the action is also seen playing the harp and the guitar. Six movements of the present suite are taken from music underscoring the principal scene of the film, the midsummer-night party, in which the Menuet and Gavotte, based on old forms, emphasize the irony of the Situation. Chaste Love, the Siciliano-like motif of which occurs at various times during the action, depicts the platonic marriage between Fredrik and Anne Egerman, the principal characters in the film. Listening to this movement, I have the strong feeling that it was originally conceived as a Main Title and that the song with harp was a later substitution. I feel that this is Nordgren’s nearest approach to Hollywood style and that fortunately very little of his film music indulges in the Contemporary musical clichés of Hollywood films. The Galop symbolizes small-town social structure, in which military parades, theatre and balls provide social highlights. As for the March, a cartoon caricature of Fredrik’s awkward attempts to conceal his affair with Désirée, making him steal away from home on tiptoe or even fall into puddles in the street, I could not resist the temptation to use a slower tempo than the original and change the strings to sempre pizzicato. The Coach and Escape are two movements accompanying travel to and from the castle, first with Désirée as she prepares the party and then with Egerman’s wife, making her escape from it with Henrik. The hunting theme of Escape reminds us of the Karelia Suite of Sibelius. The most dramatic moment is Crisis, describing Henrik’s desperate feelings, tom between the love for his stepmother and that for her attractive young housemaid. Everyone’s urge to pour out his own problems is actually provoked by glasses of Dangerous Wine, offered by Désirée’s mother to her guests, a scene underscored by an interesting harp duet which had to be reconstructed and arranged from the soundtrack. The Park, describing the site of Mme Armfeld’s castle, where finally Egerman is challenged by his rival to Russian roulette with pistols loaded with blanks, is the longest movement in Nordgren’s score and almost the only part to have been drastically cut. In the film we can also hear a music-box Waltz, sounding while one of Mme Armfeld’s notorious guest-room beds is automatically wheeled to the adjacent room through a secret mechanism.

The score is orchestrated for two flutes, oboe, two clarinets, bass clarinet, bassoon, two horns, two trumpets, trombone, two harps, timpani, percussion and strings.

Smultronstället (Wild Strawberries)

In his masterpiece Wild Strawberries, which won many international awards, Bergman is said to have moved “effortlessly and quite spontaneously between different planes—time-space, dream-reality”. It is the story of Professor Isak Borg, a widower, who, approaching death, takes stock of his apparently successful life, which in reality turns out to have been full of disappointments. In the first part the film contains an unforgettable dream-sequence in which the protagonist is seen experiencing his own funeral. Later on Borg travels by car to Lund, where he will receive the honour of Doctor Jubilares, accompanied by his daughter-in-law. During the journey he eventually meets people who are either reflections of his alter ego or of the people with whom he is associated, awakening in him all kinds of memories. Nightmares and dreams make him go through again his private and Professional failures and at the end of the film, when he is reunited with his family on the occasion of the award ceremony, his metaphoric journey ends in melancholy and solitude, but with the prevailing confirmation that he is loved, in spite of his emotional frigidity and smugness. Nordgren’s suggestive and mysterious music serves to underscore the passing from reality to dream or vice-versa. Beautiful passages for the harp, eerie effects from the vibraphone, the heartbeat-like pounding of the timpani, mysterious string tremoli and an ascending leitmotif of longing make of this score one of the most important and effective ever written for a film by Bergman. The first section of Emotions is nothing else than the film’s Main Title and the remaining music contains already the transition to the first nightmare. There follows an Allegro, not used in the film, which I presume to be associated with the optimistic feelings at the beginning of Borg’s journey, and the lyrical ending of Emotions is associated with his memories of happy youth in his family home by a romantic seashore. Memories contains the ascending three-note “strawberries” motif, varied for solo strings, combined with harp glissandi and a pounding timpani motif leading to another dream-sequence. Here too the following Allegro has been cut. The third movement of the suite, Dreams, is the most advanced in style and its final section contains music based on the successive juxtaposition of closely related notes, leading to an impressively dissonant climax. The first section, with its haunting tremoli, is associated with another unforgettable dream-sequence (a superb performance by Bergman’s camera-man Gunnar Fischer), in counterpoint with the sound of a flight of seagulls in a windy landscape, but as soon as the principal characters of the dream become the leading figures of a real episode from the past, Nordgren transforms the leading motif into a Bach-like Variation for solo cello and piano (here omitted). The descending cello motif in the middle of Dreams occurs at the moment when Borg remembers his wife’s adultery. The film also contains short source music pieces for guitar and a serenade for three voices and guitar. It should be added that Nordgren himself is seen for a few seconds on the screen in close-up, before raising his baton to conduct the ceremonial march in honour of Borg, in the cathedral in Lund. The film ends with a simple solo harp cadenza.

Ansiktet (The Face)

The script of The Face was inspired by GK Chesterton, but once again it reflects Bergman’s own theatrical experience as director at the Malmö Theatre in the late 1950s. To use his own words: “We become victims of our own illusion; we subject ourselves to passion and marry each other and forget that our starting-point is our profession and not how we appear out in the Street after the last curtain”. The Face, also released under the title The Magician, set in the year 1846, is the story of a troupe of strolling entertainers called “The Magnetic Healing Theatre”. The troupe is invited to perform at Counsellor Egerman’s house in order to be tested before permission is given for a performance at court.

Albert Emanuel Vogler, the mute director of the troupe, accompanied among others by his wife Manda disguised as a young man, turns out to be a swindler as far as occult powers are concerned, even after a first interview.

On the other hand, the man’s unusual behaviour will certainly change the lives of Egerman, of both his friends, the doctor and the head of police, and even those of his servants. A coachman, after being subjected at a subsequent performance to magical experiment, becomes aggressive and strangles the magician. Vogler is believed dead and is eventually dissected by Doctor Vergerus. Egerman himself experiences nightmarish moments in the attic in which lies Vogler’s body, which eventually assumes the form of a threatening ghost. It is finally revealed that Vogler is alive and had replaced his own body with that of one of his actors who had really died, and that he is not a mute. Egerman, made to appear ridiculous, mocks Vogler and sends him and his troupe away. As they are about to leave, a messenger from Stockholm arrives, telling them that they are invited to perform for the King at the Royal Palace.

The extremely economical score of this film contains, beside two amusing pieces for brass band, March and Galop (underscoring the unexpected happy ending of the story), a dozen very short pieces for harp and two guitars. In the Main Title timpani and percussion are added to build up an ostinato climax on three notes, punctuated by abrupt guitar chords. The present arrangement brings together the most interesting musical episodes by adding to the first section a part for double bass that was only sketched out in the manuscript. As we can hear, before making use of electronics, Nordgren experimented with musical minimalism. It is interesting to note that the soundtrack also often makes use of the sound of bells from clocks and churches, and in a particularly revealing scene in which Vogler and his wife decide to resume their true identity again, the song Der Mond ist aufgegangen is heard from a belfry carillon.

Lustgärden (The Garden of Eden)

The Garden of Eden, also known under the title The Pleasure Garden, was a picture in colour directed by the Swedish actor Alf Kjellin, for which Bergman supplied the script, in collaboration with the actor Erland Josephson, both writers using pseudonyms. Since at the time Bergman had become a producer for Svensk Filmindustri, it is hardly possible to imagine that his strong personality would not have influenced the directing of this, which was apparently the company’s first colour picture. Bergman apparently retained a warm feeling for the film, although it unfortunately turned out a fiasco. In Bergman’s own words: “It came out at the wrong time, in the middle of the New Wave, and when middle-aged people preferred to stay at home watching television”. The press reaction included a review which may have, above all, caused the composer some amusement: “The dominant music was there to shield a talentless director and conceal the fact that nothing is happening on the screen”.

The film tells the story of David Samuel Franzen, an unmarried schoolmaster living in a small Swedish town around 1900, who has an affair with Fanny, a waitress. Franzen himself tums out to be the author of a pseudonymous book of romantic poems, „Secret Chambers of the Heart“. Unmasked by a colleague, he plucks up the courage to admit authorship and reveal his relationship with Fanny, presenting their own hitherto concealed daughter to the people of the town. The latter react coldly and with contempt. Franzen and Fanny, in spite of the scandal, decide neither to separate nor to marry, although they need each other, and leave the town together.

The highly atmospheric music for The Garden of Eden displays again Nordgren’s lyrical and dramatic skills. The pastoral introduction of the first piece is followed by a dry fugato section, in the style of Hindemith or Eisler, to be associated with small-town gossip and scandal-mongering. A passionate motif brings a following climax, dying away simply and almost too soon. The Galop that opens the second episode is apparently an arrangement of Hans Christian Lumbye’s Railway Galop. Before its return another lyrical theme is heard, played by the flute with harp accompaniment, followed by a short quotation of the principal theme.

The Garden of Eden calls for an ensemble of flute, oboe, two clarinets, bassoon, two trumpets, trombone, harp, timpani, percussion and strings.

On this recording

Early in 1991 I had contacted Erik Nordgren, asking if he would welcome a recording of some of his film music. He immediately started to look for manuscripts. In 1993 a large parcel of photocopies was received, accompanied by a letter from Constanze Nordgren with the sad news of her husband’s death and the information that unfortunately some of the scores, including that for The Seventh Seal, could not be found.

Nevertheless the music received was sufficient for a CD. With this recording, therefore, we pay tribute to a composer of whom practically nothing else is now available and whose contribution to film music deserves consideration and study.

The present suites were prepared directly from the manuscripts and from video copies of the films, except in the case of The Garden of Eden, a film of which no copy could be made available. The sequence of movements in the suites generally does not correspond to the chronology of the film plots and all titles are mine. Some cues have been augmented by da capo repetition or with music from earlier or later cues, or with newly composed, short linking sections, especially in cases where these cues seemed to be too short or incomplete. The improvisatory and sometimes not fully notated percussion parts of some marches, polkas and galops had also to be composed. Two pieces of interest, Dangerous Wine and Swindle and Deceit, with some other short sections, were reconstructed and arranged directly from the soundtrack. Instrumental retouching was only carried out in the case of the earlier mentioned arrangements. It is also most interesting to hear for the first time many pieces that Bergman had discarded, some of which, however, I should personally still have liked to hear included in various film sequences, or at least not faded out so soon. While preparing these scores and listening again to the music, the atmosphere of Bergman’s world came inevitably to life again, with, before my eyes, close-ups of those unforgettable faces of Max von Sydow, Viktor Sjöström, Ingrid Thulin, Eva Dahlbeck, Bibi Andersson and others. I hope that I have been able to bring to life again here Nordgren’s music in all its original freshness and beauty.

In the notes some quotations of Bergman have been taken from his autobiographical essay Images, My Life in Film (translated by Marianne Ruth, Faber and Faber, 1994) and further data was found in Frank Gado’s valuable study The Passion of lngmar Bergman (Duke University Press, 1986), both indispensable reference books for a better understanding of Bergman’s art and character. Bergman’s own conceptions of music and its relationship with films has hitherto remained unexplored in detail, but receive homage in a short chapter in the recently published study, La musique au cinéma, by the French composer and musicologist Michel Chion (Fayard, Paris, 1995).

Special thanks are due to Constanze Nordgren, without whose friendship, precious help and patience this recording would never have been possible. Since this is my own twentieth recording for Marco Polo, and my eleventh in the film music series, I should take the opportunity of thanking Klaus Heymann for having allowed me to realize such a considerable quantity of wonderful and important projects in the domain both of classical and film music.

© 1996 Adriano
Edited by Keith Anderson

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