Sunday, April 8, 2012

I dreamed a dream Final Analysis


Music Analysis on I dreamed a dream

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.

Key & Form

This piece is in Eb major that later modulates to the supertonic - F major, involving mixture relations. The song ends in F major. Unlike classical style compositions, the piece does not return to the tonic key instead it ended in F 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….

Harmonic Structure

Bass line seems to give an “ostinato idea” as the chord progression repeats. The bass line seemed to be a chromatic implied lament bass as the bass line moves from tonic Eb to F. Indeed, the typical lament bass is written in minor keys and hence I explained that the bass line seemed to be an implied lament bass written in a major key. In my opinion, though the bass line was not written in the minor key, the descending bass line still serves its “lament” function.

Intro: Eb major

I – 7d – vi – Ib – IV – V9d

I dreamed a dream in time gone by

I 7d vi 7d

When hope was high (melody ascends)

IV 7d

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)

F major

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 - ii9 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. It is interesting to observe that tertian chords are not required to be prepared nor resolved, rather it is used as a form of voice leading, creating a descending bass line. Unlike traditional hamony, tertian chords are often required to resolved and not allowed to use consecutively one after each other without preparing or resolving. Schonberg also made use of borrowed chords and common tone diminished 7th chords 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.

In addition, Schonberg used CT7 and borrowed chord as a transition to the supertonic related key by creating a chromatic bass line and intelligently uses the borrowed chord to pivot on the dominant chord of F major.

Looking at the harmonic structure from a larger context, Schonberg seem to use many harmonic sequences as he repeats his chord progression of I – I7d – vi – vi7d – IV – IV7d – ii7 – V 6-5 quite often. This chord progression made up the verses of the song. The same chord progression is also used after the modulation to F major.

Melodic Structure

Bass line seems to have an independent melodic function with its descending line, creating the lamenting effect that enhances the negative mood of the song (Eb – D – C – Bb – A – G – F – Bb)

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. In addition, Schoberg uses the vocal range to change the tone colors of the voice by writing at a lower register in the section where Fantine sings “but the tigers come at night”.

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.

Phrase Structure

This song is generally quite symmetrical in the verses but there are asymmetrical phrases as well. The symmetrical phrases seem to form a simple period although harmonically the phrases are left ‘open’. The simple period is made up of 2+2 short phrases. Note the following example:

Note the antecedent phrase in bars 4-5 has a melodic line somewhat learning somewhere with its ascending line. The consonant phrase in bars 6-7 sounded like an answering phrase to the first line and although harmonically it is not ‘closed’, but aurally it does sound complete. This is because the first phrase had an ascending line and in contrast or to compliment that, the next phrase had a leap downwards. When listened, it somehow imply a reply to the listeners’ ears.

This is the list of phrases that makes up a simple period. In Eb major: bars 4-7, 8-11, 12-15, 16-19, 20-23, 24-27. In F major: bars 38-41, 42-45.

The remaining bars not mentioned here are generally extended phrases and asymmetrical phrases utilized by Schonberg to create a sense of uncertainty and insecure. As I have mentioned, the song is pretty symmetrical and even the chord progressions are generally repetitive. In order to heightened the mood of the song, Schonberg uses chromatic harmonies and asymmetrical phrases to surprise the audience and giving audience a sense of uncertainty when the music began to sound ‘uneven’.

Rhythmic Structure

It is interesting to note that Schonberg uses the displacement of chords in this song, which resulted in the chords entering before or after the vocals. This is a typical style of popular song writing where the melodic line and the accompaniment in this song tend to be of off beats and dotted rhythms (note the right hand parts in this piano rendition of the song).

In generally, it was an interesting experience analyzing our favorite pop songs! Although, I dreamed a dream may not necessarily be classified under the "typical pop song" category, but having looked at how the song was constructed, I am certain to say that this is definitely a 20th century piece of work. In the process of analyzing I liked how I was able to relate to the knowledge I have gained from AAI104 class and apply it during my analysis. From this experience, I am more aware that the "new" harmonies we listen to now are basically developments of the traditional harmony and what we have learnt so far are relevant in our future.


  1. Form: Note the AABA structure for the Eb section, then only AA (modified, imitation introduced) in the F maj section. The key shift up a maj 2nd is common in pop music.

    Lament bass: Whilst you've qualified your use of the term here, I don't recommend it as it may create unnecessary misunderstanding of this common term.

    Harmonic analysis:
    i. use P4/2 instead of 7d to indicate function
    ii. V9 at b. 3
    iii. V/ii - V6/ii - ii at bs. 20-21
    iv. ditto at bs. 22-23 but ii now replaced by V/V
    v. the ascending voice-leading is doubled a 6th below (3-4-5-6) at bs. 27-28
    vi. IV-iii6-I-V6-iihalfdim4/3 of ii - V/ii at bs. 35-37
    (Please clarify your understanding of applied chords and other chromatic harmonies, as well as our RN analytical system before the test)

    Melodic writing: The melodic leap at b. 11 can be heard as dipping down to an implied lower voice (recall compound melody)

    Phrase Structure: the pairs of phrases should be understood within the larger AABA structure mentioned above.

  2. Dear Dr Chong, Thank you for your comments. I understand where I was wrong now and will learn from it. This has also clarified some of my doubts. Thank you!

  3. Hi, we are secondary school students from Hong Kong, and we are currently working on a music assignment about Les Miserables. We find some of your information really useful, so we hope to ask whether we can refer to some of your information in doing the assignment. Thank you so much!

    1. Sure. Do note ec's comment to help u out in picking the mistakes in this post:)