John Field Piano This Dilettante!

This Dilettante!

As a self confessed Classical Music dilettante I continue to discover large gaps in my ‘knowledge-base’ The one I found the other day was so big you could drive a Queensland road train through it!

My brother in law, with whom I frequently discuss music, casually mentioned John Field (b1782 – d1837)

To discover that he studied with Clementi, collaborated with Hummel, Chopin admired his nocturnes and Liszt made a fuss about them too; was just another small humiliation for this dilettante, not having heard his music before.

Here’s part of what Liszt said, None have quite attained to these vague eolian harmonies, these half-formed sighs floating through the air, softly lamenting and dissolved in delicious melancholy. Nobody has even attempted this peculiar style, and especially none of those who heard Field play himself, or rather who heard him dream his music in moments when he entirely abandoned himself to his inspiration.

Bottom line: These piano pieces are very easy on the ears. Simpler in their construction than Liszt or Chopin, but certainly charming and appealing. The strong ostinato element in the pieces makes me wonder if modern minimalist composers of the ilk of Phillip Glass may not have found inspiration here.

*In music, an ostinato (derived from Italian: “stubborn”, compare English: obstinate) is a motif or phrase, which is persistently repeated in the same musical voice. An ostinato is always a succession of equal sounds, wherein each note always has the same weight or stress. The repeating idea may be a rhythmic pattern, part of a tune, or a complete melody in itself.[1]

Here are his nocturnes 1 – 7 (about 28 minutes worth)

  • admin
    January 20, 2012 at 9:37 am

    This is just about the best damn comment I’ve ever received on this site! Good on ya Ben.

  • Ben Leet
    January 20, 2012 at 3:29 am

    I heard an interesting radio interview about artificial intelligence. The expert who had studied and written many papers over his career said that he did not believe in artificial intelligence but believed in “Pattern Recognition”. He said that he believed that in about two decades machines will have the upper hand over humans because they will have figured out how to manage affairs and recreate themselves and extract mineral resources and reproduce themselves, and they will regard humans as a sub-species, much as we humans regard the insects of the world. This lead-up pertains to Chopin and John Field. The pattern recognizer of the interview said that by the time he was 19 years old he had developed a machine that had recognized the patterns in Chopin’s compositions and could compose its own Chopinesque pieces — machine Chop-en. He modestly said they were second-rate Chopin pieces created by a second-rate Dr. Frankenstein. By now you get my drift. Was John Field a Chopin imitator or did his inspiration precede Chopin? What difference does it make? Did he surpass Chopin? Does it matter? It reminds me of the contest to write a chapter of a novel ala Hemingway. Or ala Raymond Chandler. I think, feel, that in the middle of the selection here John Field comes into his own mastery.He achieves a beauty that is not derivative, but his own mastery of form, not second rate. That’s why the encomiums from Liszt came forth. Liszt heard the mastery. It is still a great mystery — the music of the music. Furthermore, there may be hope for us slavish sight readers to actually evolve into musicians. — Now I just read the Wikipedia account of Field. So it must have been Chopin who reproduced Field. I’m wrong. Chopin developed his mastery in the shadow of Field. Field on dying said that he was not a Calvinist but a Claveciniste (harpsichordist). It is a religion, I know well. I spurn Calvin, but God save me, the claveciniste has a direct shot at the divine. Thanks Jim.