Background information of I dreamed a dream
Les Misérables, colloquially known as Les Mis or Les Miz, is a musical composed in 1980 by the French composer Claude-Michel Schönberg with a libretto by Alain Boublil and Herbert Kretzmer. Sung through, it is perhaps the most famous of all French musicals and one of the most performed musicals worldwide.
Victor Hugo bases the musical on the 1862 novel Les Misérables. Set in early 19th century France, it follows the intertwining stories of a cast of characters as they struggle for redemption and revolution. The characters include a paroled convict named Jean Valjean who, failing attempts to find work as an honest man with his yellow ticket of leave, breaks his parole and conceals his identity; the police inspector Javert who becomes obsessed with finding Valjean; Fantine, the single mother who is forced to become a prostitute to support her daughter; Cosette, who eventually falls in love with a French student named Marius Pontmercy. After Fantine dies, Cosette becomes Jean Valjean's adopted daughter; the Thénardiers, the unscrupulous innkeepers who thrive on cheating and stealing; Éponine, their young daughter who is hopelessly in love with Marius; Gavroche, a young beggar boy; and student leader Enjolras who plans the revolt to free the oppressed lower classes of France. An ensemble that includes prostitutes, student revolutionaries, factory workers, and others joins the main characters.
I dreamed a dream:
This song is about a dream being destroyed. The song is a lament sung by the anguished, dying and destitute Fantine, who reminisces about her younger days where times were much more contented.
This piece is in Eb major which later modulates into F major, (V/V of Eb major) and ends in F major. Unlike classical style compositions, the piece of lament does not go back to the tonic instead it ended in F major, the V/V Eb major.
In 4/4 simple time, this piece is in strophic form.Short introduction – Verse in Eb – bridge – verse in Eb – Verse in F – end in F with a short outro. Music written by Claude-Michel Schonberg (born 6 July 1944, France) is a famous renowned musical theatre composer who wrote Les Miserables, Miss Saigon, Martin Guerre….
Bassline seems to give an “ostinato idea” as the chord progression repeats. The bassline seemed to be a chromatic implied lament bass as the bassline moves from tonic Eb to F.
I – 7d – vi – Ib – IV – V9d
I dreamed a dream in time gone by
I 7d vi 7d
When hope was high (melody ascends)
And life worth living
ii 7 V 6-5
I dreamed that love would never die
I 7d vi 7d
I dreamed that God would be forgiving
IV 7d ii7 V 6-5
Then I was young and unafraid
I 7d vi I add9
And dreams were made and used and wasted
IV 7d ii7 iii9/ V 7-6
There was no ransom to be paid
I 7d vi7 - 7d
No song unsung, no wine untasted
IV 7d ii7 V(Verse 1 reminisces the good old times where life was full of hope and adventure)
(Singer seems to use a darker tone color to sing this passage, it is also at a lower register)
But the tigers come at night
VI - 6 ii
(borrowed chord from parallel minor)
With their voices soft as thunder
VI - 7 II (IV/VI)
As they tear your hope apart
V - 6 I
As they turn your dream to shame
V I (8-9-10-11) V
(ascending vocal passage but unresolved, giving the music some suspense)
He slept a summer by my side
I 7d vi Ic
He filled my days with endless wonder
IV 7d ii7 iii9/V 7-6
He took my childhood in his stride
I 7d vi Ic
But he was gone when autumn came
IV iii7 I V6 CT7 VI(borrowed chord)/V of F major
(melody descends – somewhat signifying the lyrics : gone)
And still I dream he'll come to me
I 7d vi7 (5-4-3-4 voice leading)
That we will live the years together
IV 7d ii7 iii7
But there are dreams that cannot be
I 7d vi7 I
And there are storms we cannot weather
IV 7d ii7-9 V
I had a dream my life would be
I 7d vi Ic IV 7d
So different from this hell I'm living
ii7 V7 I
So different now from what it seemed
I7d vi Ic
Now life has killed the dream I dreamed.
IV V I 7d
vi7 I6 add9 IV V I (complete tonic expansion)
Chords usage in general seem to be of extended tertian chords, Schonberg also made use of borrowed chords and common tone diminished 7th chord to create a contrast in the color of the music. For example, in the transit to “but the tigers come at night” both the lyrics and music had a major shift, from the hopeful lyrics in verse 1 to the downside of reality. The borrowed chord used here was very effective in changing a darker color to the music.
Bass line seems to have an independent melodic function with its descending line, creating the lamenting effect that enhances the mood of the song.
Looking at the music from a wider perspective, one would noticed that the melody and bass line seems to be going in contrary, which made the music sound so beautiful. It seems to me that the descending bass line is implying the cruel reality of the situation Fantine is in, while Fantine’s melodic line seems to imply her hope as she sings her ascending line, but was later struck with the cruel reality and fears where she her melodic line descends.From a counterpoint view, the music was written with finesse because both the melodic and bass line moving in step-wise motion and even if there is a leap downwards in the melody, it is often complimented with a leap or a step upwards.