When we hope, we can dream; then, the lives we desire begin to come into focus.
Hold fast to dreams
For if dreams die
Life is a broken-winged bird
That cannot fly.
Hold fast to dreams
For when dreams go
Life is a barren field
Frozen with snow.
[Langston Hughes, “Dreams”]
A dream, or goal, is a word we use for an idea that is associated with hope and optimism. Hope looks toward an object, which may be specific or general but it is not void. The content of the idea is important, because when we act to fulfill our hopes we must direct our actions in a way that is likely to bring about our desired ends. However, hope may persist without a specific goal, and may sustain the individual emotionally, at least for a while.
- Denise Gigante, The Keats Brothers: The Life of John and George (Belknap Press, 2011): “Suppose you wanted to write a novel about John Keats, everyone’s favorite English Romantic poet, whose travels in ‘realms of gold’ were purely imaginary, and who died in 1821, poor and spitting blood, at the obscenely young age of 25. Faced with such narrative restrictions, you might be tempted to invent a brother who was everything that Keats was not: practical, rich, footloose, married with a child, healthy enough to reach middle age. . . . The good news for Denise Gigante, an English professor at Stanford, is that Keats really did have such a brother . . .”
- André Aciman, Alibis: Essays on Elsewhere (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 2011): “Most of its chapters are travel essays, and Aciman is a spirited guide, sensitive to history but alive also to food, sunshine, art and aimless wandering. The pleasure of reading him resides in the pleasure of his company.”
- Suketu Mehta, This Land Is Our Land: An Immigrant’s Manifesto (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 2019): “ . . . a meticulously researched and deeply felt corrective to the public narrative of who today’s migrants are, why they are coming, and what economic and historical forces have propelled them from their homes into faraway lands.”
- Fiona Hill, There Is Nothing for You Here: Finding Opportunity in the 21st Century (Mariner/HarperCollins, 2021): “The arresting title of Fiona Hill’s new book . . . is what her father told her when she was growing up in Bishop Auckland, a decaying coal-mining town in North East England. He loved her, and so he insisted that she had to leave.”
- Norman Rockwell, Boyhood Dreams
- Salvador Dali, Dreams on a Beach (1934)
- Salvador Dali, The Dream Approaches
- Paul Klee, Strong Dream (1929)
- René Magritte, Attempting the Impossible (1928)
- Wassily Kandinsky, Small Dream in Red (1925)
- Max Ernst, Paris Dream (1925)
- Paul Klee, Dream City (1921)
- William Blake, The Youthful Poet's Dream (1816-20)
- Michelangelo Buonarotti, The Dream of Human Life (c. 1533)
(Ordered to fetch water and a loaf of bread, Cosette sees a doll in a shop.)
At the moment when Cosette emerged, bucket in hand, melancholy and overcome as she was, she could not refrain from lifting her eyes to that wonderful doll, towards _the lady_, as she called it. The poor child paused in amazement. She had not yet beheld that doll close to. The whole shop seemed a palace to her: the doll was not a doll; it was a vision. It was joy, splendor, riches, happiness, which appeared in a sort of chimerical halo to that unhappy little being so profoundly engulfed in gloomy and chilly misery. With the sad and innocent sagacity of childhood, Cosette measured the abyss which separated her from that doll. She said to herself that one must be a queen, or at least a princess, to have a "thing" like that. She gazed at that beautiful pink dress, that beautiful smooth hair, and she thought, "How happy that doll must be!" [Victor Hugo, Les Misérables (1862), Volume II – Cosette; Book Third – Accomplishment of a Promise Made To a Dead Woman, Chapter IV, Entrance On the Scene of a Doll.]
She dreamed of a beautiful country,—a land, it seemed to her, of rest,—green shores, pleasant islands, and beautifully glittering water; and there, in a house which kind voices told her was a home, she saw her boy playing, free and happy child. She heard her husband’s footsteps; she felt him coming nearer; his arms were around her, his tears falling on her face, and she awoke! It was no dream. The daylight had long faded; her child lay calmly sleeping by her side; a candle was burning dimly on the stand, and her husband was sobbing by her pillow. [Harriett Beecher Stowe, Uncle Tom’s Cabin or Life Among the Lowly (1852), Volume 1, Chapter XIII, “The Quaker Settlement”.]
- Louisa May Alcott, Little Women (1933), about the tension between dreams and family ties.
- Leonard Gardner, Fat City (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 1969).
- Laura Lippman, Lady in the Lake: A Novel (William Morrow, 2019): “What makes this book special, even extraordinary, is that the crossword puzzle aspect is secondary. Lippman, who is the closest writer America has to Ruth Rendell, is after bigger game. The arc of Maddie’s character — her mid-1960s ‘journey,’ if you like — reflects the gulf which then existed between what women were expected to be and what they aspired to be.”
- Johannes Anyuru, A Storm Blew in from Paradise: A Novel (World Editions, 2019): “In his hypnotic semiautobiographical novel, Johannes Anyuru, born in Sweden in 1979 to a Ugandan father and a Swedish mother, peels back these layers of turmoil, revealing how Amin’s rise to power altered his father’s life and provided a prologue for his own.”
Film and Stage
- Fat City, examining“the meager hopes and resigned dreams of small-time boxers”
- Hoop Dreams, abouttwo high school basketball players trying to rise to stardom in a sea of competition
- Little Women (1933) and (1994), of aspirationsand family ties
- Toy Story, about the power of believing we can beanything we choose to be
On the shadow side:
Music: songs and other short pieces
- Chuck Mangione, “Land of Make Believe,” and with Esther Satterfield
- “Skylark” (Paul Desmond) (Ella Fitzgerald)
- Emily Bear, “Tomorrow’s Wishes”
- Nawang Khechog, “Dream”
- Grace VanderWaal, “So Much More Than This”
- Judy Collins, “Someday Soon”
- Paul Simon, “Another Galaxy”
- Wadada Leo Smith, Natsuki Tamuri, Satoko Fujii and Ikue Mori, “Aspiration”
- Franz Schubert (composer), “Abendlied” (Evening Song), D. 499 (1816) (lyrics)
Music: Composers, artists, and major works
Musicologist Joachim Kaiser observes that Beethoven’s Op. 31 piano sonatas seem to "strive toward a goal (and) the unfolding of certain problems".
- Piano Sonata No. 16 in G major, Op. 31/1 (1802) (approx. 21-22’): “After completing his Op. 28 Piano Sonata, Beethoven told his friend Krumpholz that he was dissatisfied with what he had written and was setting out to compose in a new way.” The Opus 31 sonatas mark that effort to move forward.
- Piano Sonata No. 17 in D minor, Op. 31/2, “Tempest” (1802) (approx. 23-27’): “Beethoven, caught between his deafness and his creativity, decided to let his art, not his illness run his life. His greatest works were still ahead of him in 1802 and, although the Heiligenstadt Testament shows us the depths of his despair, the works he created show how he used his talents to draw himself back into the world.” These lines from Shakespeare’s play “The Tempest” summarize the sonata: “Let me live here ever! So rare a wondered father and a wise / Makes this place paradise. Cheer up. Our music-and-dance spectacle is over.”
- Piano Sonata No. 18 in E-flat major, Op. 31/3, “Hunt” (Die Jagd) (1802) (approx. 20-23’): “A playful jocularity is maintained throughout the piece, earning it the occasional nickname of The Hunt, although like many of Beethoven's early works, the 'jocular' style can be heard as a facade, concealing profound ideas and depths of emotion.” This sonata also represents a dream of Beethoven, who was striving to move his compositions forward, and “had come to regard virtuosity merely as the necessary medium of a new type of musical expression.”
As their titles suggest, Frédéric Chopin’s three fantasies for solo piano evoke an imagined state of being. Though not idyllic, these compositions are dream-like and aspirational, suggesting a state of longing. They are:
- Fantaisie-impromptu in C-Sharp Minor, Op. posth. 66, B. 87 (1834) (approx. 5-6’);
- Fantaisie in F Minor, Op. 49, B. 137 (1841) (approx. 12-14’); and
- Polonaise-fantaisie in A-Flat Major, Op. 61, B. 159 (1846) (approx. 12-14’).
Carl Maria von Weber, Konzertstück (Concert Piece) in F Minor, Op. 79, J. 282 (1821) (approx. 15-17’): “Its four interconnected movements are said to describe a medieval lady’s longing for her absent knight, her agonized fears for his safety, the excitement of his impending return, and the joys of reunion and love.” Top recorded performances are by Casadesus & Barbirolli in 1935; Arrau & Szell in 1945; Arrau & Erich Kleiber in 1947; Casadesus & Szell in 1952; Casadesus & Hubertus in 1954 ***; Brendel & Abbado in 1979; Drewnowski & Wit in 1988; Frith & O’Duinn in 1994; Pletnev in 1996; and Brautigam & Willens in 2021. Best solo performance (arr. Liszt) is by Mayer in 1991.
Other Western "classical" works:
- Robert Schumann, Fantasie, Op. 17 (1836) (approx. 30-32’), is a sometimes dream-like work evoking aspirations. He composed it for Clara Wieck, who would later become his wife, but it can also be heard in other contexts. Top performances are by Pollini, Perahia, Brendel, Lewis and Vanden Eynden.
- Beethoven, Piano Sonata No. 13 in E-flat Major, Op. 27/1, “Sonata quasi una fantasia” (1801) (approx. 15’)
- Franz Schubert, Fantasie in C Major, Op. 159, D. 934 (1827) (approx. 21-26’): “Although the Schubert setting whose tune is used in the middle section of this Fantasy may seem sentimental and gushing (‘Be greeted by me; be kissed by me…’), Schubert authority Graham Johnson is convinced the song is more epic and tragic.”
- Arnold Bax, Violin Sonata No. 2 , GP 171/248 (1915, rev. 1921) (approx. 31’), “reflects the composer’s concerns regarding the First World War.” However, the mood lightens as the work proceeds, suggesting Bax's aspirations.
- Bax, Quintet for Harp and Strings, in one movement, GP 214 (1919) (approx. 14’): “Bax once described himself as 'a brazen Romantic -- by that I mean [he added] that my music is the expression of emotional states. I have no interest whatever in sound for its own sake or in any modernist "isms" or factions.'”
- Edward Elgar, The Starlight Express (1915) (approx. 70-75’): “A family of children, trapped in the oppressive world of adults, forms a secret society whose members collect stardust and live in star caves.” The story is from Algernon Blackwood’s book, A Prisoner in Fairyland (1913).
- Leoš Janáček, Pohádka (le Conte) (Fairy Tale) (1923) (approx. 11-13’) for cello & piano, presents dreams of romantic love. “. . . the gist (of the tale) is that the handsome young Tsarevitch, Prince Ivan, has had his soul promised to the King of the Underworld, Kashchei, but on mature consideration decides that he would much rather run away with the grumpy King’s fetching young daughter, Maria, a decision which leads to an adventure-ﬁlled chase over hill and dale until the two lovers ﬁnally reach safety and live happily ever after.”
- Claudio Monteverdi, L’Orfeo, SV. 318 (1607) (approx. 103-120’) (libretto): in this early opera, Orfeo imagines a blissful life amid a harsh world. Performances with video are conducted by Harnoncourt in 1978, Savall in 2002, Florio, Jacobs, Agnew in 2017, and Rotem in 2019. Excellent audio-recorded performances are conducted by Harnoncourt in 1989, Toro in 2020, and Malmberg in 2021.
- Henri Dutilleux, Violin Concerto, “L'arbre des songes” (The Tree of Dreams) (1985) (approx. 25-31’)
- Jon Appleton, Fantasy for Cello & String Orchestra (2007) (approx. 11’)
- Arne Nordheim, Draumkvedet (The Dream Ballad) (2006) (approx. 10’)
- Missy Mazzoli, Proving Up (2018) (approx. 75-80’) presents a dystopian view of an early version of the American dream, based on homesteaders in the 1860s.
- Roger Reynolds, Aspiration (2005) (approx. 30’)
- David Matthews, A Vision of the Sea, Op. 125 (2013) (approx. 21’): “Round sea-birds and wrecks, paved with Heaven’s azure smile, The wide world of waters is vibrating. The herring gull calls heard at the start are pervasive throughout the piece: as I was composing I could almost always hear them.” [From the composer’s programme notes.]
Music of youthful enthusiasm, American popular music albums before alienation set in, and a throwback artist:
- “America’s Greatest Hits - History” (1974) (39’)
- “The Very Best of The Eagles” (with additional tracks)
- Chicago’s Greatest Hits, a compilation (100’)
- England Dan and John Ford Coley, “Complete Albums 1976-1979” (144’)
- Linda Ronstadt, compilation and “Simple Dreams” (1976) (32’)
- Kate Rusby, compilation
- Procul Harum, playlists“
- Janis Joplin’s Greatest Hits” (1973) (47’)
- Eva Kess, “Sternschnuppen” (“Falling Stars”) (2020) (42’): “. . . the music as a whole is both a reimagination of strings as jazz instruments, and of the fuller possibilities of a jazz ensemble.” “The remarkable thing about Kess’ whole conception—which embraces her writing, playing and her sense of ensemble—is how confidently she embraces both the ethereal and the strongly physical, often in the same piece.”
- Chico Pinheiro, “City of Dreams” (here is the title track)
- Jerfi Aji, “Alexander Scriabin: Poems, Colours, Flames” (2022) (69’): dreamlike works – from a Russian composer, uncharacteristically – evoking desire
- Rising Appalachia, “The Lost Mystique of Being in the Know” (2021) (54’): after enduring near-exile during the COVID-19 pandemic, the band reunited, and recorded this album in a single day. Lead vocalist Leah song says: “You enter a dreamscape . . . It’s like a movie score, traveling this river of experimental pause. The album is a creative response to a year full of unknowns. It’s not time yet to have clean and tidy answers.”
After a long day of work in my hot-houses
Sleep was sweet, but if you sleep on your left side
Your dreams may be abruptly ended.
I was among my flowers where some one
Seemed to be raising them on trial,
As if after-while to be transplanted
To a larger garden of freer air.
And I was disembodied vision
Amid a light, as it were the sun
Had floated in and touched the roof of glass
Like a toy balloon and softly bursted,
And etherealized in golden air.
And all was silence, except the splendor
Was immanent with thought as clear
As a speaking voice, and I, as thought,
Could hear a Presence think as he walked
Between the boxes pinching off leaves,
Looking for bugs and noting values,
With an eye that saw it all: --
"Homer, oh yes! Pericles, good.
Caesar Borgia, what shall be done with it?
Dante, too much manure, perhaps.
Napoleon, leave him awhile as yet.
Shelley, more soil. Shakespeare, needs spraying --"
Clouds, eh! --
[Edgar Lee Masters, “Gustav Richter”]
- Wallace Stevens, “Final Soliloquy of the Interior Paramour”
- Langston Hughes, “As I Grew Older”
- Naseer Ahmed Nasir, “Dreams Lost in Water”
- Robert Frost, “But Outer Space”
- Natasha Trethewey, “Domestic Work, 1937”
- Edgar Lee Masters, “Emily Sparks”
- John Keats, “Fancy”