Sunday, March 08, 2015


Last night at a concert I discovered one of my most longstanding misreadings. A countertenor was singing a raft of French songs, including Claude Debussy’s Prelude and Clair de Lune, two of his best known pieces.

The concert program included the lyrics and I was reading the actually kind of lame melodramatic texts of various songs (o my heart) and it was slowly revealed to me that the two Debussy songs were not from what I’ve long been reading as Suite Bergmanesque, but from Suite Bergamasque

In other words, the songs weren’t a homage to the Swedish director Ingmar Bergman as I’ve been unconsciously assuming for about 25 years, but to a clownish dance from the Italian town of Bergamo. Since I never thought about the inspiration for the songs, or dwelled on any associations I made with them, I’d never corrected this abiding trick of the eye. 

You’d think it would have occurred to me that Bergman and Debussy didn't have overlapping lifetimes. In fact they missed each other by four months - Debussy died in March 1918 while Bergman was born in July of that year - meaning the composer never had the opportunity to see Wild Strawberries, or The Seventh Seal, or even the first movie Bergman directed, To Joy.

Well, dear 25 years, it’s been lovely having Debussy’s Prelude evoke all those Swedish walks on the beach, and letting Clair de Lune call forth the light in the foghorn scene from Persona. In fact, I think I’ll continue to let it. It’s much more pleasing than an awkward Italian dance from a town best known these days for its rinky-dink airport, served primarily by Ryanair.


Kathleen said...

I always love your "misreadings," and in this case it was wonderful to go a long imaginary way with you...!

Kelly said...

This was a beaut! 25 years - that must be your record (so far as you, and we, know). I'm more shocked that Bergman was born the year Debussy died. Ingmar made a bonfire of the torch passed but, quietly, in an understated Swedish way.

Kass said...

So wonderful to watch that clip. Persona made a big impression on me when I saw it in the sixties. Bibi Andersson and Liv Ullmann really did look quite a bit alike, and of course the cinematography is stunning. I think a lot of art is misreading, if not misunderstanding.

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