Following the phenomenal success of The Dream of Gerontius and the Enigma Variations Elgar was firmly established as a composer of national – and increasingly international – reputation. By nature a private man, handling this new-found fame proved to be difficult for Elgar. His friend and eminent music critic Ernest Newman recalled that Elgar was, “rather bewildered and nervous at the half-realisation that his days of spiritual privacy … were probably coming to an end: while no doubt gratified by his rapidly growing fame he was in his heart of hearts afraid of the future”.
Elgar’s musical reaction was to revisit the music of his past. Indeed, Dream Children (his first work of 1902) enshrines few aspirations for the future: instead, the two movement work conveys a wistful longing for lost youth laced with a vein of nostalgia that typified his style for the rest of his life. Elgar quoted an extract from Charles Lamb’s essay of the same name at the head of the score, which ends: “We are not of Alice, nor of thee, nor are we children at all …We are nothing; less than nothing, and dreams. We are only what might have been …”