Diegetic Musical Motifs in Ibsen's A Doll's House and John Gabriel Borkman

Robert Dean

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle


The music used to accompany a drama can be divided into two main categories: 'Non-Diegetic Music' and 'Diegetic Music.' These two terms draw a distinction between music which is presented as existing within the storyworld (diegetic) and that which emanates from an external position (non-diegetic). However, neither of these designations refers to a specific technique, rather they are the titles of two different categories into which specific aural applications can be divided. This paper focuses on a form of aural accompaniment that will be referred to as 'diegetic musical motifs.' Both diegetic and non-diegetic musical motifs are used to complete a primarily communicative function in the conveyance of narrative themes, developments, and action. However, using diegetic music in a scene generates a number of considerations that do not apply to non-diegetic underscoring. Its presence leads the audience to ask, where is the music coming from, who is playing it, which type of composition has been selected, what does this choice reveal about the character who chose it, and how do other characters respond when it is played? In order to highlight the dramatic potential of this complex signification process the following paper will analyse the motivic construction of two pieces of music used in Ibsen's plays A Doll's House and John Gabriel Borkman.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)51 - 70
Number of pages19
JournalIbsen Studies
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jul 2011


  • diegetic
  • ibsen
  • theatre music


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