While the instrumentation is unique, a work cannot stand on instrumentation alone. Again, I go back to Mahler when he equated the symphony to the universe – it must contain everything. Musical structure and cohesion are of utmost importance. Without a clear meaning, a complex work is lost to the listener.
The idea behind Forest of Dreams is a nocturnal journey through one’s mind in the dreaming state. Dreams a fluid. One dream morphs into the next with no regard to what came before it, but all seem to have a common thread to them. We aren’t aware when the dreams change. As such, Forest of Dreams is a single movement work lasting around 50 minutes. It is divided into six main sections with connecting material in between the main sections.
The introduction starts with an ominous clarinet chord and a rising motif in the Alto Clarinets, bassoons, and Harp. This section is the darkness we see when we’re falling asleep. It is nebulous and murky. We have not begun dreaming yet, but the ideas of our dreams are beginning to form. An undulating pattern tells us we are between dream. This pattern will appear in all the interludes as we drift between dreams. After a fitful episode, we begin to dream.
The Dream of Innocence
As we drift into the land of dreams, we dream back to childhood and a time when things were innocent. We are surrounded by toys and every day is Christmas. There is no strife or discord. In fact, the harmony of this section reflects this. There is not a single chord in this section that has any dissonance in it at all. Everything is made up of major and minor triads.
In order to make this section feel like Santa’s toy workshop, light tinkles of the Triangle and Sleighbells are heard throughout this section. Couple this with some unusual pairings in the winds (like Tenor Flute, Bassoon, and Vibraphone or Alto Flute, Baritone Saxophone, and Alto Horn), we get a sense of a magical realm where things are mysterious and quirky, but full of joy.
As the first dream fades back into sleep, we are back to a floating sense. Low flutes intone an ominous chorale while the lowest clarinets provide an uneasy tremolo. Solos pass back and forth between the Piccolo, E-flat Clarinet, and Oboe. The undulating pattern from the introduction comes back, and suddenly we have a raucous outburst from the brass, which fades as soon as it began, and we drift back into the dream.
The Dream of Nature
Here, we enter the forest. Everything in this section is played at a whisper. Nature is beautiful, but it is not innocent. Whereas the Dream of Innocence contained no dissonance, the Dream of Nature is nothing but dissonance. Trombones play in one key while trumpets play in another. Above this, Flügelhorns and tubas intone a theme of organic simplicity. Underneath everything, the percussion section is creating the sounds of geologic forces – thunder, water, the Earth itself. As night progresses on, the birds in the forest begin to sing. These birds are all North American nocturnal species (Common Poorwill, Eastern and Mexican Whippoorwill, Barred Owl, and Western Screech Owl). Eventually, the background sounds fade away and we’re left with the birds alone singing in a complex fugue in four voices spread amongst the highest voices in the ensemble. Slowly, a new melody in the low voices encroaches on the bird’s fugue and we lead directly into the next dream.
The Dream of Flight
We have seen the fantastic toy shop, we have heard the birds, now, we want to create for ourselves. We want to fly. One of the most common dreams is that of flying. This section is joyous and ecstatic. Everyone in the ensemble is finally active all at once. There are moments of massive counterpoint juxtaposed with passages of simple accompaniment. Eventually, all the various themes of the section are played together in a massive climax only to be suddenly stopped as the dreamer moves on.
We’re back to floating in between the dreams. Here, we begin with the voice of nature calling to us from the high Tenor Bassoon which gradually grows to an anticlimax. We heard the return of the undulating passage from the introduction only to be lead to a vision of death. The Dies Irae intones in the lowest possible notes from the ensemble while sinister fluttertounging from Bassoons and Euphoniums and muted glissandi from Alto and Tenor Trombones give the listener an uneasy feel. This is followed by a long solo for the Contrabass, and later Contra-Alto, Clarinets. Eventually, we die away into the Dies Irae on the very bottom notes of the Contrabassoon.
The Dream of Love
We sweep aside the brief vision of death only to turn our thoughts towards love. Here we envision ourself as a hopeless romantic who yearns for a soulmate. Our hero is strumming away on his Harp and playing a lonely melody on the Oboe. This melody is familiar, only now distorted to include all twelves tones in the chromatic scale. As other voices enter, we get a lush chromatic and complicated gesture representing the complex nature of love itself. The chromaticism and counterpoint fades away briefly to give us a vision of the hero as he truly is as shown by the solo Mezzo-Soprano Oboe and a quartet of Horns. This builds and we return to our yearning and longing. Eventually, the melody returns in the brass as heroic, but our love hasn’t arrived yet. Finally, in the distance, a trumpet sounds, and a beautiful woman in shining armor approaches. We build to a level of triumph not yet heard in the whole work and never to be heard again, as our hero and the lady knight embrace.
The Dream of War
Suddenly, out of nowhere, the drums of war sound. Everything that we loved, everything that we cared for, has been taken away from us in a moment of pure anguish. We hear the distant marching of troops as the march off to fight an unknown monster. As the troops approach, sirens sound, and we are called to battle. A virtuoso Xylophone solo leads the way into the swirling chaos that is battle and war. Eventually, our enemy shows himself for the monster he truly is, and everything comes crashing down around us.
As soon as the war has begun, it is over. The undulating figured from the beginning tells us we are drifting again. However, the figure of our love is still there, now distant and fading, as the solo Mezzo-Soprano Oboe has gone from the stage and is nowhere to be seen, but calls back to us as a parting goodbye. We begin to dream for the last time.
The Dream of Death
We are now solemn. War and old age have caught up with us. A quintet of trombones sounds out a miserere for the dead in the style of a Renaissance motet. The soaring Alto Trombone part shows grief and anguish, but ultimately resignation. Three Tam-Tams signal the Dies Irae one last time, and we walk into the land of the dead. A stark chord signals the dead are heard. We float through a mysterious landscape. We see relics of the dreams that came before. We great loved ones. Finally, the Organ makes its first appearance signaling something akin to a religious experience. We are at peace with our dreams. A last moment of sunshine makes us smile and we hear in the distance the call of our beloved in the Mezzo-Soprano Oboe from a spot we know not where. And everything fades to black.
The Forest of Dreams is not merely a series of dreams, but it also represents the whole of human existence from an innocent child to the death of the elderly. Along the way, we experience joy (Flight), love, and strife (War), but underneath it all is Nature – the world in which we live – which should never be underestimated.