Dream Children (Elgar)

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Dream Children, Op 43 is a musical work for small orchestra by Sir Edward Elgar. There are two movements:

1. Andante in G minor
2. Allegretto piacevole in G major


These two pieces were written in 1902, when Elgar was approaching the peak of his fame and popularity. Unusually for Elgar they were not written to any commission. Michael Kennedy suggests that they may have been retrieved from the unused material for a symphony celebrating General Gordon which Elgar had been working on since 1898.[1] They are not complete symphonic movements (the first movement takes a little over three minutes to perform and the second a little over four minutes) but it was Elgar's practice to work in small sections and then put them together into a whole.

The orchestral score and parts were originally published by Joseph Williams Ltd. (London) in 1902, then in 1911 by Schott & Co. with the title "Enfants d'un Rêve" and the translation below this "(Dream-Children)". As with his earlier piece Salut d'Amour, Elgar agreed with the same publisher that the French title would sell better.

The first performance was at the Queen's Hall on 4 September 1902, conducted by Arthur W Payne.[2]

Charles Lamb's essay[edit]

The pieces are inspired by ‘Dream-Children ; A Reverie’, one of the Essays of Elia by Charles Lamb published in 1822,[3] and Elgar inscribed on the score the following excerpt from the essay. The essay is in one paragraph of over four pages: the writer imagines telling his 'little ones',[4] called Alice and John, some tales of their great-grandmother Field[5] and her house, and of his own courtship, in hope and eventual despair, for another Alice[6] before, at the end of the essay, mysteriously

* * * And while I stood gazing, both the children gradually grew fainter
to my view, receding, and still receding till nothing at last but two mourn-
ful features were seen in the uttermost distance, which, without speech,
strangely impressed upon me the effects of speech: "We are not of Alice,
nor of thee,[7] nor are we children at all. * * * * [8] We are nothing; less than
nothing, and dreams. We are only what might have been."[9] * * *

The most striking thing shown in the essay is that Lamb, though a lifelong bachelor, longed for family life which he was incapable of attaining. In a strange fit of passion he imagined all this in a dream-like state.

The name 'Alice' was important in Elgar's life: not only was his great friend Alice Stuart-Wortley his muse, but his wife was also Alice. ‘What might have been’ reflects a constant nostalgia throughout Elgar’s music, and is the predominating mood of both the Dream Children pieces, particularly the wistful No 1. No 2 is more smiling in tone, but reverts to nostalgia at the end, where it quotes the theme which began No. 1.


2 flutes, 2 oboes, 2 clarinets in B and A, 2 bassoons, 4 horns in F, 3 timpani, harp and strings.


  • Kennedy, Michael (1987). Portrait of Elgar (Third ed.). Oxford: Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-816365-7.
  • Lamb, Charles, Prose and Poetry, with an Introduction by George Gordon and Notes by A. M. D. Hughes, 1921, Clarendon Press (Oxford)
  • Orchestral score: Enfants d'un Rêve (Dream-Children), Schott & Co. (Mainz) 1911


  1. ^ Kennedy, p. 213
  2. ^ Kennedy, p. 346
  3. ^ First published in The London Magazine, January 1822
  4. ^ Lamb had no children, though he and his sister Mary adopted an orphan called Emma Isola
  5. ^ Lamb's maternal grandmother
  6. ^ The other Alice was the personification of Ann Simmons whom Lamb said he unsuccessfully courted for seven years (exaggerated) before she married a pawnbroker named Bartrum. The dream-children are the imaginary children of Lamb and Ann Simmons - that 'might have been'
  7. ^ In other words "We are neither Alice's children nor yours"
  8. ^ Here the * * * * conceals Lamb's sentence "The children of Alice called Bartrum father", revealing Lamb's anguished fantasy that the children might have been his own, not Bartrum's
  9. ^ The italics are correctly quoted by Elgar from Lamb's essay