Commissioned by the London Sinfonietta. First performed at the Queen Elizabeth Hall, London, on 28 May 1986 conducted by David Atherton.

  • 11(ca)1(bcl)1/1100/[=cel].amp hpd/str(
  • 16 min

Programme Note

Dream Dancing is a piece which had been in my mind for some years, when the London Sinfonietta commissioned a work from me to celebrate my 50th birthday in 1986 and I decided to carry out the idea.

A number of musical and extra-musical influences went into the planning of the piece. The late works of Claude Debussy have always been of the utmost importance to me. Dream Dancing is the fifth in a series of works based on Debussy's Syrinx for solo flute; the others being After Syrinx I (oboe and piano), Sonata after Syrinx (flute, viola, harp) and the solo piano pieces After Syrinx II and Tango after Syrinx.

At the end of his life Debussy was planning a series of six sonatas, of which he only lived to complete three - the violin sonata, cello sonata and the sonata for flute, viola and harp. The fourth was to have been for oboe, horn and harpsichord, the fifth for clarinet, bassoon, trumpet, piano and double bass, and the six for an ensemble made up of all the instruments used in the previous five sonatas. This is in fact the ensemble which I have used in Dream Dancing (with certain doublings).

The work is two extended movements, each suggested by a brief quotation. The first (Adagio tranquillo) uses lines from A Winter's Tale by Dylan Thomas:
And the dancers move
On the departed, snow bushed green,
wanton in moon light
As dust of pigeons.
The second movement (Molto vivo) takes lines from John Keats's The Eve of Saint Agnes:
the argent revelry
With plume, tiara and all rich array,
Numerous as shadows.
Both movements contain interludes from the small chamber groups from Debussy’s written and unwritten sonatas. The second movement, a fantastic scherzo, is based on the rhythmic structure of Debussy’s Masques (1904) for solo piano.

There are, incidentally, songs by both Cole Porter Jerome Kern entitled ‘Dream Dancing’.

This piece was written in New York City between December 1985 and February 1986, it lasts around 16 minutes, and it is affectionately dedicated to Sir Kenneth and Lady Macmillan.

Programme note © Richard Rodney Bennett