John Field and Nocturn


Today, John Field is known as the man who “composed the nocturnes before Chopin”, very few of his compositions were taught and almost completely removed from concert programs. The truth is, Field has those wonderful flowing and lyrical vocal melodies backed by broken chords [cantilena] created. A few years after that, the style adopted by Chopin was carried to a much higher level than it was.

Although it is difficult for him to rank high in the productivity rankings, Field has composed 18 nocturnes, 7 piano concertos, 4 piano sonatas, 8 chamber music, 4 fantasy, many rondos and variations, and works for solo piano.

Today, Field's influence on the art of music is unknown, except for a few knowledgeable musicians. The aim of this article is to examine the composer's life, his contributions to music while he was alive and after his death, in a very broad perspective.


The word nocturnes is not so new to music. Haydn, Mozart, and other composers used the Italian and German versions of the word for evening performances. Of course, notturni and Nachtmusiken used in the 18th century had little in common with Field's wordless romantic nocturnes. Rather than evoking predecessors, the nocturnes symbolized the crystallized form of an idiom, and as such, new dimensions joining the romantic movement.

The composers of the previous period had managed to capture some of the romantic trend that had also permeated Field's nocturnes. The slow parts of Mozart concertos and some passages of Clementi and Dussek strongly reflect this mood.

For example, Clementi; The adagio part of the piano sonata with work number 31 and Field's approach to nocturnes are very close. Dussek, who had compositions far ahead of his time, was able to produce forms that captured the motifs of Schubert, Schumann, Chopin and even Brahms, although they came after him. Field was more influenced by Dussek's innovative harmonies and motifs than his teacher Clementi.

Examples of Dussek's groundbreaking piano sonatas are Op. 10/1 (1789), Op.35/3 (1797), Op.44 (1800), Kiss. 39/3 (1799) is the final episode.

The second part of Op.45/1 adagio patetico (Example 1) Contains a spelling and modulation far ahead of its time for the 1800s.

The genre that the field nocturnes are closest to is, of course, vocal music and romantic ballroom music. The audience of the period was very surprised to encounter an artist who created the magic of singing with the piano instead of the technical shows he was accustomed to. Moreover, this artist could make poignant and romantic expressions without the need for the power of words.

Biographical Sketch

Field was born on July 26, 1782 in Dublin, Ireland. His father played the violin and his grandfather the organ. Overwhelmed by the harsh and disciplined family teachings, young Field ran away from home for a while, but returned home, realizing that he would not be able to stand on his own.

Returning to his compulsory studies, Field was entrusted to Tommaso Giordani, who came to Dublin with his opera team when he turned 9 years old.

Young John, who has an understanding teacher, improved his technique in a short time and gave his first concert.

The announcement regarding this concert in the 22-24 March 1792 issue of the Freeman Music Newspaper is as follows:

Master Field, who is only 8 years old, will play Madame Kumpholtz's challenging Harp Concerto on the grand piano.

Field had gone to England with his father in December 1793. In the late 18th century, London was a sanctuary for artists, music and opera a privileged way of life for the nobility.

Musician and businessman Muzio Clementi, who lived in London, was undoubtedly the most prominent artist of the period.

At his father's initiative, Field began work as Clementi's apprentice in April 1794. For a five-year apprenticeship, his father paid Clementi 100 guineas, about £8.500 in present-day money.

Clementi, who would give music lessons to the young boy in return for this price, would at first glance seem to save Field from the discipline and pressure of his family, but would put him in an intense work tempo in his stores and factories.

Giving his first London concert in May 1794, Field's program included only piano sonatas of his teacher Clementi. Giant names such as Haydn, Dussek and Cramer were among the audience.

Seeing the benefits of working with this master teacher in a short time, the young pianist took part in intercontinental journeys with his teacher and boss Clementi, and played works on pianos offered for sale. His first stops were in Paris, where he played Bach and Handel fugues and influenced Pleyel and the leading artists of the period.

Field, who took composition lessons from the famous name Albrechtsberger, whose second stop was in Vienna, who also taught Beethoven, interrupted the lessons when he found the method of the great master too cocky.

Although they had not met Beethoven, Field's skills had reached the grandmaster's ears. Among the notebooks that Beethoven used due to hearing loss, the one dated April 1823, he had listened to Field in Russia and the following recordings were recorded by his close friend Schuppanzigh:

Field played very well.


Field is such a nice person, you're a fan too.


I've never heard of someone who is as good at the piano as he is.


He earns a lot of money from lessons, but he invests his earnings in alcohol.

After Vienna, St. Petersburg, the duo opened a branch of the Clementi Firm.

Clementi decided to return to England in July 1803, but the two parted ways when his student Field wanted to stay in the country.

In March 1804 St. Field, who gave concerts in St. Petersburg and in Moscow in 1806, achieved great success. After first getting rid of family pressure and then his busy work schedule, Field adopted a more free and la dolce vita lifestyle. He met with alcohol and became addicted in the following years.

The pianist, who married his best student, Adelaide Victoria Percheron, in 1810, had a son named Adrien from this union. Adrien wasn't Field's first child.

His unofficial son Leon was born in 1815 as a result of his illicit affair with Madame Charpentier. Relations with his wife deteriorated shortly after Adrien's birth, and Field divorced soon after.

Continuing his life with Leon, Field had cancer due to his lifestyle and alcohol addiction, but the cause of death would have been different.

Field contracted pneumonia in December 1836 and died in the winter of January 23, 1837. He was buried in Moscow, on the land where he was an idol.


Today, the equivalent of the word 'nocturn' is undoubtedly Chopin. So how was this situation in the past? How did Field's nocturnes disappear from the scenes?

In this part of the article, I will try to illuminate this contradiction with historical examples. First, let's take a look at the history of the nocturn and Chopin duo.

Chopin was only 1814 years old when Field wrote the first of these beautiful musical poems, which he referred to as nocturnes, in 4.

It is an undoubted fact that Chopin was influenced by these lyric works and took a model for himself. Field's nocturnes are highly variable and offer a wide range of emotions, while Chopin's compositions are focused on sadness and passion.

So, what were the factors that made Chopin superior and made Field forget? Was Chopin the reason for preference in the past as it is today?

An article published in the Berlin-based music newspaper Iris (Iris im Gebiet der Tonkunst) on 2 August 1833 provides a striking answer to our question:

Mr. Chopin grimaces when Field smiles, Chopin whines when Field sighs, Chopin slouches like a cat when Field doesn't mind, Chopin spills a handful of pepper when Field seasons his meal… If someone holds Field's expressive romance into a curved mirror, his subtle expressions are exaggerated this way. turns it into an appearance, that person gets Chopin. We beg the talented Chopin, please return to truth and logic.

 Time has proven to us that the Chopin nocturnes are more durable, and it has deleted Field from the programs. Let's go to June 1886. The analyzes published in The Musical Times about the recitals of the piano giant Anton Rubinstein also reveal the demands of the period audience, as they reveal the program selection.

His 1th recital, which he gave on June 5st, consisting of works by Clementi, Field, Hummel, Moscheles, Thalberg and Liszt, had a rather mixed program. Playing the Clementi sonatas poorly, Mr. Rubinstein performed the Field nocturnes with impressive grace.


The June 4 recital belonged entirely to Chopin. The extensive program included Fantasy in F minor, six preludes, four Mazurkas, four Ballads, two Impromptu, three nocturnes, three waltzes, Barkarol, Scherzo, and piano sonatas.


Presenting Chopin in his seventh recital on June 8, Rubinstein performed 11 etudes of the Polish composer.

The demand for Chopin and the fact that his works are more resistant to time than Field's can be explained by the technical superiority of his compositions.

Field lagged far behind Chopin in terms of compositional genre diversity.

Despite all these facts, the Chopin and Field comparison is an erroneous method. In my opinion, making a correct classification will highlight the importance of the two names for art and music and the intelligibility of their works.

Although Field's variety of works is limited, his productivity is eye-catching. Eight nocturnes, five piano concertos and other works by Peters and Breitkopf & Hartel were published between 1814 and 1823.

Written in E-flat major tonality, the slow part of the first piano concerto is Field's first step towards nocturnes.

We also need to take into account the generation gap. Field is the product of 18th century piano pedagogy. The harmony vocabulary of the Irish composer, who was born 18 years before Chopin, is more traditional than Chopin's.

Field's first three nocturnes were published in 1814, and Chopin's in 1827.

Russian School and Field

Jack W. Thames, in his 1981 article, stated that Field founded the Russian Piano school. An article published in a Russian music magazine of 1830 supports the Thames:

“…Russia is proud that Field, the founder of the new piano method and the best pianist who ever lived, has been its citizen for 30 years…”

These clear expressions of the Russians are also supported by Field's student profile. Dubuc, Glinka, Mayer, Oman and Alexander Villoing were among the students of the Irish pianist.

Villoing has lectured to Anton and Nicolai Rubinstein. Anton taught Friedheim and Gabrilowitsch, and Nicolai taught Sauer, Siloti, and Taneyev.

Dubuc lectured to Nilolai Zverev, and Zverev to Rachmaninoff and Scriabin.

Father Friedrich Wieck, who taught Clara and Robert Schumann, personally expressed to Spohr and Kalkbrenner that he knew Field's excellent method and that he trained his students with this method, indirectly confirming the legacy of the Irish pianist.

Field brought an original composition form to the piano literature. Chopin, who grew up with intellectual freedom and originality, added a deeper science and poetry to this form.

The fact that John Field nocturnes cannot find a stage today is due to the fact that the history of music cannot be interpreted correctly and transferred to the 21st century audience, rather than the conscious preferences of the pianists.


Patrick Piggott, Proceedings of the Royal Musical Association,95th Sess. (1968 – 1969), pp. 55-65

American Music Teacher,vol. 20, No. 2 (NOVEMBER/DECEMBER 1970), p. 23, 46

The Musical Times and Singing Class Circular,vol. 27, No. 521 (Jul. 1, 1886), p. 401

Nicholas Temperley, Music & Letters,vol. 56, No. 3/4 (Jul. – Oct., 1975), pp. 335-340

American Music Teacher,vol. 31, no. 1 (SEPTEMBER-OCTOBER 1981), pp. 34-37

Studies: An Irish Quarterly Review,vol. 33, no. 132 (Dec., 1944), pp. 516-526

The Musical Times,vol. 123, No. 1668 (Feb., 1982), pp. 92-93+95-99


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