Personalities | John Field | Early Romantic | Classical

Irish composer and pianist

Born in Dublin to a Protestant Irish family, Field moved to London in 1793, where he studied with Clementi. His reputation as a pianist spread and he was soon in great demand. In 1802 he went on a prolonged European tour with Clementi, ending up in St Petersburg. When Clementi left the following year, Field stayed on and was soon a celebrity among fashionable society, living in Russia for most of his remaining life.

Field was not only the first to use the title ‘nocturne’, he also originated the style of piano writing that became associated with the genre. With these Field introduced the ‘character piece’, a short work that evokes a particular mood or atmosphere, without the contrasts of opposing thematic subjects associated with sonata form. The mood of the nocturne has been described as ‘sadness consoled’, and Field’s nocturnes were the first ‘songs without words’. The characteristics of the nocturne style are a left-hand accompaniment often based on rocking arpeggios and sustained by the pedal, and an expressive melodic line played by the right hand, often ornamented with gentle arabesques. The genre reached its poetic flowering with the nocturnes of Chopin, which are more highly developed than Field’s in expression and embellishment.

Recommended Recording:
Piano Concertos, Míceál O’Rourke, London Mozart Players (cond) Matthias Bamert (Chandos)

Introduction | Early Romantic | Classical
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