Nocturne in A Major, No.8
John Field (1782-1837)
Norton Recorded Anthology of Western Music, CD 9 Track 18
I have never read a novel by Daniel Steel
and she is not on my reading list, yet the life of John Field impresses me as a story she could have written. Starting out in Ireland, Mr. Field's life seems to make a line, with loops and detours, across an early nineteenth century Europe into Russia. He serves an abusive mentor named Clementi
, has an illegitimate son and a legitimate son, a divorce, his career is touched by alcoholism, he has enemies and friends, dies before he is sixty and his music is admired for generations after his life.
In spite of all these appealing attributes, Mr. Field, though respected, fades in our memory as our attention is consistently drawn to his contemporaries. And his innovations are best displayed in the works of composers other than himself.
Considering his light touch both on our memory and the ivories, it is surprising how radical Mr. Field's Nocturne is in the context of this anthology. As this anthology starts with a song
soon followed by yards of Gregorian Chant, all of the innovations up until now have been focused on how the melody is presented. None of them seemed to have addressed the basics of a good tune: it goes up and comes down, moves mostly by step, and maintains an even rate of speed. Mr. Field, without calling attention to himself, challenges these basics. And one can hear, in his melodies, that the inspiration comes from the voice and instrumental technique equally.