Music John Field
by
Majella Boland
  • LAST MODIFIED: 21 January 2016
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199757824-0173

Introduction

The perception of John Field (b. 1782–d. 1837) as the father of the piano nocturne genre dominates Field historiography. As a posthumous construction, however, this image of the composer/pianist is misleading. Consequently, the extent of Field’s contribution to 19th-century musical life, and to piano literature, has yet to be truly explored. For example, his piano nocturnes are widely performed, but during his lifetime Field was well known for his piano concerti, of which there are seven. Furthermore, he appeared before London audiences thirty-one times over an eight-year period (1793–1801), and on twenty-five occasions he programmed a concerto; either his First Concerto or a concerto by a contemporary. Field also toured major European capital cities including Paris and Vienna, and, as an apprentice to Muzio Clementi, the foremost businessman in the music industry in the first half of the 19th century, he became adept in this trade; a closer look at Field’s activity as a composer/pianist and teacher/entrepreneur makes clear Clementi’s influence. Yet Field’s contemporary success stands in direct contrast to his posthumous neglect, which has been supported by the large presence of anecdotal material and of uncorroborated reports of the composer as lazy. The disparity between Field’s contemporary and posthumous receptions has created ambiguity in Field scholarship. This is in part due to his national identity—he was born in Dublin, apprenticed in London, and resided in Russia for more than thirty years—and to the dearth of literature on Field’s musical activity in Russia. Consequently, Field historiography tends to orbit reviews of the composer on his second and last tour in western Europe primarily because music journalism had firmly taken hold by this time; this tour was separated from his first by three decades. As a result, these images represent two extremes: first, as one of the most sought-after and promising pianists of the future and, second, as a pianist who was symbolic of an “archaic” school of music, interesting only as a novelty from the past. Despite the ubiquity of this second image, its misinterpretation is palpable; these reviews in fact reflect what was then considered negative changes in 19th-century musical life, where Field epitomized the “old” and “true” virtuoso. This is in part due to the abundance of popular literature on Field that, unlike the scholarly authoritative work on the composer, is widely distributed and easy to acquire. Nevertheless, its pervasiveness should not be confused with authority. Such literature is primarily not supported by extant scholarly work relevant to Field and his musical environment, and it consequently serves to maintain perceptions of Field that have been misinterpreted to the extent that they are now perceived as truisms. Although scholarship concerning Field uniquely is scant, there is a wealth of scholarly work pertaining to Field and to issues in Field historiography, which are included in this bibliography.

General Overviews

The research that has had enduring influence on Field scholarship predates the 1980s. Dessauer 1912 is the first doctoral dissertation on Field in which the general perceptions of the composer that had been circulated in music literature by this time are collated; in addition it provides the first analytical study of Field’s concerti. Branson 1972 demonstrates the extent to which Chopin is indebted to Field, while Piggott 1973 remains the most “up-to-date” biography on the composer. Nikolayev 1973 is not widely distributed, but nevertheless it provides insight to Field’s reception in Russia. The only bibliographical thematic catalog on Field, Hopkinson 1961, has been an invaluable source for scholars. Two recent studies challenge many of these works: Horton 2011 suggests an alternative method for the analysis of Field’s concerti, and Boland 2013 situates both Field and his works in a historical and musical context, thereby reinterpreting what have become staple aspects of Field historiography.

  • Boland, Majella. “John Field in Context: A Reappraisal of the Nocturne and Piano Concerti.” PhD diss., University College Dublin, 2013.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    An appraisal of literature on Field and his concerti. Context for Field’s formative years. Topical analysis of Field’s First and Seventh Concerti. List of Field’s concerts in London. Field’s connection to the nocturne is exposed. Comprehensive survey of Field scholarship.

    Find this resource:

  • Branson, David. John Field and Chopin. London: Barrie and Jenkins, 1972.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Assessment of Field’s influence on Chopin. The first part is biographical, and in the second part, emphasis is placed on similarities between both composers’ nocturnes, concerti, and “other works.” A chapter on Hummel features by way of acknowledging that he also exerted influence on Chopin. One of the most cited works in Field scholarship.

    Find this resource:

  • Dessauer, Heinrich. John Field, sein Leben und sein Werke. Langensalza, Germany: Beyer and Mann, 1912.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    First PhD dissertation published on Field. Available in scholarly libraries in German only, as well as online. Its approach is primarily biographical. Few musical examples. Sources mostly not referenced. Problematic because it has been quoted with authority. Interesting from the perspective that it represents work on Field in musicology’s infancy. Available online.

    Find this resource:

  • Handy Southall, Geneva. “John Field’s Piano Concertos: an Analytical and Historical Study.” PhD diss., University of Iowa, Iowa City, 1966.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    First study to focus on Field’s concerti. Analysis is primarily descriptive. First biographical detail of Field in English, heavily influenced by Heinrich Dessauer and Louise Fusil; see also Memoirs. Representative of most analyses of Field’s concerti in particular with comparisons erroneously drawn between Mozart and Beethoven. Provides general structure of the concerti. Available in most scholarly libraries through University Microfilms, Inc., Ann Arbor, Michigan.

    Find this resource:

  • Hopkinson, Cecil. A Bibliographical Thematic Catalogue of the Works of John Field 1782–1837. London: Harding & Curtis, 1961.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Only 350 copies printed, with some available in major scholarly libraries. Very detailed account of the works available and not available to the bibliographer as well as their various editions. One of the most authoritative and comprehensive sources on Field providing significant insight to his compositional practice and to music trade.

    Find this resource:

  • Horton, Julian. “John Field and the Alternative History of Concerto First-Movement Form.” Music and Letters 92.1 (2011): 43–82.

    DOI: 10.1093/ml/gcq104Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Detailed article concerning analyses of the 19th-century piano concerto. Empirical approach, demonstrates the popularity of the concerti by Field and his contemporaries. That analytical frameworks orbit the Mozartian and Beethovenian models is palpable. Problematic issues in analysis that arise from this practice are highlighted. Serves to expose long-held obstacles surrounding Field’s concerti. Available online by subscription.

    Find this resource:

  • Nikolayev, Aleksandr Aleksandrovich. John Field. Translated by Harold M. Cardello. New York: Musical Scope, 1973.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    English translation of Джон Фильд, first published in 1960. A perspective of Field from Russia. Nikolayev gained access to Russian material that has not been published and that is not available in English. In addition to Cecil Hopkinson’s bibliography, he discloses information about four works unknown to Hopkinson.

    Find this resource:

  • Piggott, Patrick. The Life and Music of John Field 1782–1837: Creator of the Nocturne. London: Faber & Faber, 1973.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Biographical detail primarily supported by anecdotes. Field’s nocturnes are extolled while the piano concerti are considered imperfect. Many sources are not appropriately referenced. Available in most scholarly libraries. Somewhat unreliable, despite being the most recent monograph on Field. One of the most cited works in Field research. Useful general overview.

    Find this resource:

Reference Works

Despite similarities between entries on Field in leading music dictionaries from the 19th century to date, there are evident differences. These entries make clear changes in approach to the composer and to musicology from 1899 to 2001. Edward Dannreuther’s five dictionary entries on Field from 1899 to 1954 vary little and are primarily biographical; the most recent is cited here. In addition, Temperley 1980 considers Field the performer and Field the composer, while Field, John develops this further by addressing Field’s legacy. As a leading critic in France, François Joseph Fétis’s dictionary entry on Field (Fétis 1972 [first published 1874]), is noteworthy, if only because of Fétis’s prominent role in 19th-century musical life, while Sainsbury 2009 (first published 1824) has primarily been ignored. These dictionary entries are important because they represent the general consensus of Field at a given time, as well as developments in Field research.

  • Dannreuther, Edward. “Field, John.” In Gove’s Dictionary of Music and Musicians. Edited by Eric Blom, 85–87. London: Macmillan, 1954.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Primarily biographical. Field is considered the instigator of the nocturne. Field the performer is extolled. A short paragraph in which general reference to Field’s works feature.

    Find this resource:

  • Fétis, François Joseph. “Field, John.” In Biographie Universelle des Musiciens. Vol. 3. By François Joseph Fétis, 244–246. Paris: Culture et Civilisation, 1972.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Entry in French first published in 1874 in which the primary anecdotes surrounding Field historiography are provided. Short paragraph on Field’s music that is referred to as charming, tender, and seductive, opening up lines of inquiry on issues of gender in Field research.

    Find this resource:

  • Langley, Robin. “Field, John.” Grove Music Online.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Divided into four sections: life, piano playing and teaching, works, and legacy. Field’s students are listed. Influence on Field is outlined. Impact of Field’s music on subsequent generations is broached. List of Field’s works and their editions, as well as a bibliography, are included. This entry remains the most recent on Field.

    Find this resource:

  • Sainsbury, John. A Dictionary of Musicians, from the Earliest Ages to the Present Time. Vol. 1. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2009.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    First published in 1824, a contemporary description and perception of Field. He is first and foremost associated with the concerto as opposed to the nocturne. Important source that contradicts posthumous entries on Field.

    Find this resource:

  • Temperley, Nicholas. “Field, John.” In The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians. Vol. 6. Edited by Stanley Sadie, 534–539. London: Macmillan, 1980.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Divided into three sections—life, piano playing, and works—a broader perspective of Field than those provided in the earlier Grove dictionaries is offered. Contextualization of Field where possible. A list of his works and a short bibliography close this entry.

    Find this resource:

Analyses of Concerti

That form in Field’s concerti does not emulate the Mozartian archetype is frequently misconstrued as a critique rather than a difference. Lindeman 1999 acknowledges this difference through an appraisal of the piano concerto in the late 18th and first half of the 19th century, working toward Schumann and Liszt through Field and his contemporaries. Macdonald 2005 contributes further to this area by considering the concerto from the perspective of Schumann, including those by Field, while Horton 2011 (see also General Overviews) calls for a theoretical framework that is relevant to the concerto at the turn of the 19th century.

  • Horton, Julian. “John Field and the Alternative History of Concerto First-Movement Form.” Music and Letters 92.1 (2011): 43–82.

    DOI: 10.1093/ml/gcq104Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Detailed article in which frameworks for measuring piano concerto first-movement form are assessed. The absence of suitable frameworks for piano concerti from various eras and centers of music is highlighted. Issues that arise from this are underlined and are simultaneously aligned with canon formation. Significant empirical data demonstrates the neglect that the early 19th-century piano concerto has suffered and the extent to which the concerto genre has yet to be truly explored. Available online by subscription.

    Find this resource:

  • Lindeman, Stephan. Structural Novelty and Tradition in the Early Romantic Piano Concerto. New York: Pendragon, 1999.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Evolution of the early romantic piano concerto is appraised. Field, as well as his contemporaries, are categorized as transitional composers. Departing from the Classical archetype, it demonstrates the importance of the piano concerto at the turn of the 19th century and by consequence the importance of the 19th-century piano concerto.

    Find this resource:

  • Macdonald, Claudia. Robert Schumann and the Piano Concerto. New York: Routledge, 2005.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    A critical study of the 19th-century piano concerto through the perspective of Schumann, one of the most influential critics of the genre in the 1830s. An assessment of the concerti that Schumann studied and reviewed are of paramount importance. A valuable source for any study on the concerto genre.

    Find this resource:

Editions of Works

There are several editions of Field’s nocturnes, sonatas, and short works, but Field 1997, Field 1985, and Field 1986 provide the most thorough. Of the seven piano concerti, three have yet to be published in full score. Field 1973 is an edited version of the first three, while Field 1992 contains the fourth.

Compositional Practice

In scholarship, Field is extolled as a performer, but as a composer he is considered to have had many weaknesses. Consequently, investigation of Field’s compositional practice is rarely prioritized. Tyson 1966 demonstrates why this should not be the case as the author strives to achieve clarity by identifying works by Field, while Langley 1995 explains why Field’s revisions are crucial. Ellsworth 1991 highlights the innovativeness of composers in London in the first half of the 19th century, and in an edition of Clementi’s letters Clementi 2010 enables the researcher to grapple with music trade in the 19th century and its impact on compositional practice.

  • Clementi, Muzio. The Correspondence of Muzio Clementi. Edited by David Rowland. Bologna, Italy: Ut Orpehus Edizioni, 2010.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Very few extant letters by Field, some of which are reproduced in this volume. Written to Clementi’s publishing company. In addition, it provides significant insight to the music trade in the early 19th century.

    Find this resource:

  • Ellsworth, Therese. “The Piano Concerto in London Concert Life between 1801 and 1850.” PhD diss., University of Cincinnati, 1991.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    An investigation of concert life in London in the first half of the 19th century, with particular emphasis on the concerto. Composers that have since come to be labeled minor, including Field, are here contextualized, and their innovation and importance are highlighted. Remains an important source on the concerto.

    Find this resource:

  • Langley, Robin. “The Hidden Manuscripts.” The British Library Journal 21.2 (1995): 232–239.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Field revised material continuously, which Langley considers important. Langley’s article stands in contrast to scholars who heretofore interpreted this practice as Field’s recognition of weakness in his compositions. Instead, Langley perceives this as a means to assess the development of Field’s style and of 19th-century musical practice.

    Find this resource:

  • Tyson, Alan. “John Field’s Earliest Compositions.” Music and Letters 47.3 (1966): 239–248.

    DOI: 10.1093/ml/47.3.239Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Anonymous works are identified as Field’s, while speculations on the composer’s publications in popular literature is contested. Wholly based on empirical evidence, such work in 1966 is rare in Field research and remains valuable. Answers questions that Hopkinson 1961 (cited under General Overviews) was not in a position to.

    Find this resource:

Field, Chopin, and the Nocturne

The ubiquity of the Field–Chopin relationship in Field, Chopin, and nocturne research is palpable. This relationship is primarily based on the assumption that Field invented the piano nocturne genre and by consequence influenced Chopin. Brown and Hamilton (Nocturne) acknowledge, and in part maintain, this relationship in their New Grove nocturne entry. Yet there are scholars who demonstrate that this relationship is exaggerated and not wholly accurate. Temperley 1975, Rowland 1992, and Kallberg 2000 all contest Field as the inventor and consider his contemporaries to be equally influential on Chopin. Its impact on the nocturne genre is easy to discern; Field is primarily the point of departure for any research concerning the nocturne. Boland 2013 (cited under General Overviews) demonstrates reasons for this persistence, drawing on Czerny 1848 and Field 1859 for evidence, and identifies the point at which Field acquired this status. Furthermore, Boland 2011 explains that Field was not always known for his nocturnes.

  • Boland, Majella. “From Concerto to Nocturne: Trends in John Field Historiography.” In The Musicology Review. Vol. 7. Edited by Liam Cagney and Shane McMahon, 25–43. Dublin, Ireland: UCD School of Music, 2011.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    The transformation of Field as a composer known for his concerti to a composer appointed as the instigator of the piano nocturne genre is addressed. References to Field in the 19th-century press are included. Ambiguity surrounding Field’s national identity is highlighted.

    Find this resource:

  • Brown, Maurice J. E., and Kenneth L. Hamilton. “Nocturne.” Grove Music Online.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    This entry makes frequent references to Field despite noting that he was merely one of the first to use the title nocturne as opposed to being the inventor of the nocturne genre. Provides a general introduction to the nocturne. Remains the most recent nocturne entry in Grove.

    Find this resource:

  • Czerny, Carl. Treatise on the Composition of all kinds of Music both Instrumental and Vocal from the most simple theme to the Grand Sonata and Symphony and from the shortest song to the opera, the mass, and the oratorio: together with a treatise on instrumentation. The whole enriched with numerous practical examples selected from the works of the most classical composers of every age. Translated by John Bishop. London: Robert Cocks and Co., 1848.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    A contemporary report on the development of various styles and genres. A section on the piano nocturne is addressed in relation to which Field is described as having “particularly distinguished himself.” He is not considered the inventor. Provides insight into 19th-century compositional practice. Available in select scholarly libraries. Microfilm available online.

    Find this resource:

  • Field, John. 18 Nocturnes. Edited by Franz Liszt. Leipzig: Schuberth, 1859.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    A cornerstone in Field historiography. The publication of the complete edition of eighteen nocturnes, Liszt’s introductory essay received wide readership in 1859. Field had become largely associated with the nocturne, making him an exemplary candidate to showcase Liszt’s hidden agenda pertaining to compositional practice. Liszt labeled Field the inventor. Available online.

    Find this resource:

  • Kallberg, Jeffrey. “Voice and the Nocturne.” In Pianist, Scholar, Connoisseur: Essays in Honor of Jacob Lateiner. Edited by Bruce Brubaker and Jane Gottlieb, 1–46. New York: Pendragon, 2000.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Consideration of the nocturne genre beyond Field as its ostensible instigator. An appraisal of the vocal nocturne sets the scene for its piano counterpart. Field’s nocturnes are acknowledged but are not considered seminal. The persistence of Field as the creator of the nocturne is attributed to “the English-speaking world.”

    Find this resource:

  • Rowland, David. “The Nocturne: Development of a New Style.” In The Cambridge Companion to Chopin. Edited by Jim Samson, 32–49. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1992.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Factors that have contributed to Field occupying the position as inventor of the nocturne are addressed. This includes changes of titles of works, primarily by publishers, dictated by sales. Field as the instigator of the nocturne is questioned, with influence on Chopin being equally applicable to Dussek and Hummel.

    Find this resource:

  • Temperley, Nicholas. “John Field and the First Nocturne.” Music and Letters 56.3–4 (1975): 335–340.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    An assessment of Field’s First Nocturne in which Temperley states that Field discovered more of a personal expression in the nocturne as opposed to discovering a new genre.

    Find this resource:

Memoirs

Field scholarship tends to look toward anecdotal material as a substitute for context. In this manner, the apparent truisms that permeate Field research are perpetuated. This can largely be attributed to the fact that in these memoirs the author either knew or met Field. Consequently, a certain amount of authority is attached to them and they are rarely, if ever, questioned. Fusil 1841 has had the most significant impact, while Moscheles 1873 advocates Field as lazy. D’ortigue 1883 demonstrates that first encounters are not always accurate while promoting a direct link between a man’s character and his works.

back to top

Article

Up

Down