Last modified 13 July 2015

Dreaming (1992)

by Roger Reynolds

         Dreams are rough copies of the waking soul
           Yet uncorrected of the higher Will,
           So that men sometimes in their dreams confess
           An unsuspected, for forgotten, self; ...
           Since Dreaming, Madness, Passion, are akin
           In missing each that salutary rein
           Of reason, and the grinding will of man.

– Pedro Calderón de la Barca (1600-1681), from Life is a Dream, Act III

Whether one’s everyday (public) reality is turbulent or routine, dreams provide a dimensional (though private) counterpoint of distinctive experience and imagery. In recent years, the long, transcultural history of efforts to interpret dreams has been augmented by a newer quest: the hope of understanding the actual mechanisms of the dreaming mind. In Dreaming, I drew upon both of these streams (speculation and investigation) for fuel as I composed: the identification of evocative, dream-related images from literature, and consideration of the processes that distinguish the personal world of dreaming from the waking "reality" we all share.

Naturally, the content of our dreams is implacably private. So with my composing. Still, something of what I had in mind while creating Dreaming can be shared with the listener. The four episodes of the work follow one another without interruption. Their four nourishing quotations are reproduced below, with the particular phrases that have served me as essential kernels highlighted in italics.

I.      "... there was in her walk . . . a gracious torpor, the beginnings of an ecstasy..."
                                  – J. L. Borges

II.    "...behind his words (which were copious, fantastic, and agitated) there was nothing but a bit of cold,
        a dream not dreamed by anyone."
                                    – J. L. Borges

III.    "...angels sing the world to sleep,
        Now that the moon is rising in the heat
        And the crickets are loud again in the grass. The moon
        Burns in the wind on lost remembrances.
        He lies down and the night wind blows on him here.
        The bells grow longer. This is not sleep. This is desire."
                                   – Wallace Stevens

IV.    "A savage place! as holy and enchanted
        As e’er beneath a waning moon was haunted
        By woman wailing for her demon lover."   
                                    – S. T. Coleridge

The music of each section is offered on three metaphoric levels. Waking thought, reverie, and sleep itself are represented, in turn, by soloists, a concertino of twelve players, and the full orchestra. Although the order of these states changes from dream to dream (Only the first moves from soloists to concertino to orchestra.), their contrasted dimensions always contribute to a three-part interplay. The "ecstatic" episode flows from a trio of clarinets, the "fantastic" is characterized by two percussionists joined by harp and piano, the “lost remembrances” are given voice by violin and cello, while a lone oboe seeds the "wailing". There is one more factor to mention in the final episode:  the demonic timpani.

The co-commissioning of Dreaming was made possible by a grant from the Meet The Composer/Reader's Digest Commissioning Program, in partnership with the National Endowment for the Arts and the Lila Wallace-Reader's Digest Fund.  Dreaming was premiered at Carnegie Hall on 10 January 1993 by the American Composers Orchestra, Dennis Russell Davies, conductor.

– Roger Reynolds