Sarah Bernhardt on Stage and Screen

Nineteenth-Century Theater Music and Early Silent Film


  • Erin Michelle Brooks University of California, Los Angeles



Incidental music, Sarah Bernhardt, film music, theater


Silent film accompaniment owes much to the musical practices of nineteenth-century theater. Yet if we are to fully acknowledge these debts, we must first embrace theater music as a complex entity in its own right. Analyzing the eclectic sixty-year career of legendary French actress Sarah Bernhardt (1844-1923) is one way to approach these connections between theater and film. Bernhardt employed a great deal of music in her theatrical performances, and by the early twentieth century embraced the new medium of film as well, appearing in a number of motion pictures. Drawing on scores, newspaper accounts, production materials, and advertisements, I examine how music for Bernhardt stage dramas such as Théodora, Cléopâtre, Phèdre, and La belle au bois dormant compares and contrasts with accompaniments for her silent films such as Camille, Queen Elizabeth, Jeanne Doré, and Les mères françaises. Through this case study, I hope to provide a more nuanced perspective of the historical lineage between nineteenth-century stage music and early cinema practice.

Author Biography

Erin Michelle Brooks, University of California, Los Angeles

Erin Brooks is a lecturer at UCLA and Colburn Conservatory in Los Angeles. She received her Ph.D. in musicology from Washington University in St. Louis with a dissertation on incidental music used in the productions of French actress Sarah Bernhardt. She has published an article on the operas of Camille Saint-Saëns, and has presented on opera and incidental music at national and international conferences.


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How to Cite

Brooks, E. M. (2013). Sarah Bernhardt on Stage and Screen: Nineteenth-Century Theater Music and Early Silent Film. Journal of Film Music, 5(1-2), 57–76.