I n Ingmar Bergman’s 1978 autobiography Laterna Magica, he wrote about Bach’s joy: “All through my conscious life, I had lived with what Bach calls his joy. It had carried me through crises and misery and functioned as faithfully as my heart, sometimes overwhelming and difficult to handle, but never antagonistic or destructive. Bach called this state his joy, a joy in God. Dear Lord, may joy not leave me.”

It was an astonishing confession, coming from a man who in many of his films concluded that religion provides no answers and little comfort. Few directors have so relentlessly explored the human condition and questioned the existence of God. Bergman’s admission that he was totally devoted to Bach came as less of a surprise. It had been evident all along on the soundtracks of many of his films; Bach, Chopin and Beethoven were his household gods. 

Apart from Ken Russell, can you think of any other film director who so frequently delved into the minds and private lives of musicians? In almost half of Bergman’s movies and films for television some form of classical music can be heard. In early films it can just be a Bach...

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