Let’s talk about dreams. Daily references to dreams go something like this: “How was your girls-night-in with Yuja Wang?!” “Girl, it was a dream. She is so chill!” or... “I’m looking for someone to play Sibelius, Brahms, and Tchaikovsky with me on my next recital. BTW, my teacher said no cuts. Are you available?” “Pshhh in your dreams! *clears throat* I mean, erm, I have a conflict...” You get the picture. 

To be honest, dreams are serious business. Whether we like it or not, they accompany us through life and we experience them alone in every sense of the word. If you’ve ever had a friend that likes to share their dreams with anyone willing to listen, you know what I’m talking about (read: save it for your therapist!). Our dreams are so personal and they remind us of our solitude in sleep and death, the two sides of the coin. The coin being the big question mark, the abyss, the unknown. 

Have you ever loved a piece of music or art so much that it feels like a soundtrack or backdrop to your existence, bending subtly with life’s ebb and flow? Despite its omnipresence, you may still feel as though you worship the work from a distance. It is so “perfect” that you feel its transcendent power even on a surface level, as though it’s up to you to allow the work to reveal its essence through your own life experience. For me, that work is Franz Schubert’s setting of Matthäus von Collin’s “Nacht und Träume” (Night and Dreams) and the experience was the death of my father four years ago.

We’ve all had dreams where we swap lives with a Kardashian and we’re poolside in Calabasas getting a foot massage - feel the bubbles of Dom tickling your nose! But not all dreams are so frivolous. Have you ever been visited by a deceased loved one in a dream? It’s a whole other story. Grief dreams come in many different forms. The loved one may return to say goodbye. They may die again, but in another way. They may appear to be fully alive and well as we remembered them years ago, or, like in my case, as we remembered them the day they died. In a grief dream, we can experience an intense visceral feeling of wholeness - of the loved one still in our lives - without facing the immutable truth of their profound absence. Despite the painful reality check that daybreak delivers, we still long to reunite with our loved ones in dreams. Unexpected loss often results in heightened anxiety, depression, and extreme fear of the unknown. However, dreams can foster our hope that the unknown may bring good fortune and fulfillment. In this way, our dreams help us to heal.

Schubert published “Nacht und Träume” (Samuel Beckett’s favorite Lied - he named one of his television plays after it) less than one year after its author, his close friend Matthäus von Collin, died. The music is sublime and it will rock you, be warned. Undulating figures in the piano represent the concurrent stillness of sleep and reel of dreams. An otherworldly modulation to G Major descends like REM sleep. The unaccented appoggiatura of the vocal line and repetition of the text “Holde Träume, kehret wieder!” portray humankind yearning for an echo back from the abyss. This music is a lifeline from the cosmos, a connection to the divine, however you may define that for yourself.

Ann Schaefer

Performers: Janet Baker and Paul Hamburger

Song: “Nacht und Träume” (Night and Dreams)

Composer: Franz Schubert

Poet: Matthäus von Collin

Translation: Richard Wigmore


…and if you’re in the mood (ha!), check out Beckett’s television play “Nacht und Träume”

Cover art: Six Studies of Pillows by Albrecht Dürer (Dürer’s hand studies played an important role in Beckett’s conception of the subconscious in “Nacht und Träume”)