As the pre-eminent forerunners to Chopin’s works in the same genres, the Nocturnes of John Field have few rivals for music well known by history but so seldom heard. They were largely inspired by the slow movements of Classical concertos, Mozart above all, as well as opera arias. From them, Field evolved his own firm concept of a form with rich harmonies and gentle dynamics to suggest the night and dreaming, though in fact he began by giving these pieces traditional names such as Pastorale, Serenade and "Romance. He wrote the 18 works not as a set, but over the course of 15 years, rarely completing more than one and never more than three in a single year. Liszt observed in them ‘The total absence of everything that looks to effect'.
Even when he settled upon Nocturne, Field bestowed upon some of them a qualifying subtitle: ‘Cradle Song’ (No.6), ‘Reverie’ (No.7), ‘Song Without Words’ (No.13), ’Nocturne Pastorale’ (No.17), and ‘Nocturne charactéristique Midi’ (No.18). This last Nocturne stands apart from its companions as a tribute to midday, cast as an Allegro, with a coda in which a chiming clock strikes twelve as quicker notes laugh and dance around the repeated note.
As a window on the salons of 19th century Europe, the Nocturnes are taxing neither to play nor to listen to, but they are polished with painstaking finesse, and they demand from the performer all the subtle pianistic guile of Chopin’s works: notably a command of rubato to shape the melodies, and the imaginative and technical capacities of a coloristic palette to bring variety without eccentricity to the sequence.
Tyler Hay can call upon such talents and skills as critics have recognised in his previous recordings for Piano Classics such as an album devoted to the music of John Ogdon (PCL10132) ‘Tyler Hay is a formidable pianist… I believe John Ogdon would be very pleased by these performances of his music’ (Fanfare). ‘The young pianist Tyler Hay has brilliantly mastered and assimilated these often elusive scores, even to the point where I heretically prefer his interpretations to Ogdon’s’ (Gramophone).
- The 18 Nocturnes by John Field (1782-1837) stand as timeless gems in the piano repertoire. An Irish composer and pianist, Field's works represent a bridge between the classical and romantic eras; he is often credited with pioneering the Nocturne, a genre later made famous by Chopin.
- Field's Nocturnes are characterized by their dreamy, introspective, and lyrical nature. They are musical paintings of the night, each piece a delicate, emotional journey through the moonlit landscapes of the heart. His innovative use of the sustaining pedal and gentle, singing melodies create a unique atmosphere.
- The Nocturnes are not virtuosic showcases but rather intimate expressions of emotion. They provide pianists with an opportunity to explore delicate phrasing and nuanced dynamics, demanding both technical precision and deep emotional connection. Notable examples include Nocturne No. 2 in C Minor, a haunting piece that inspired later composers like Chopin, and Nocturne No. 5 in B-flat Major, with its tender, cascading arpeggios.
- Played by the young English pianist Tyler Hay, whose recordings for Piano Classics with works by Liszt (PCL10138), John Ogdon (PCL10132), Kalkbrenner (PCL10190) made his name as one of the most remarkable pianists of his generation. “Tyler Hay impresses me immensely. He is a prize-winning product of the Purcell School, the Royal Northern College of music and the Royal College of Music. His technique is more than a match for everything on offer here, and he combines this with a subtle sense of rubato, a strong stylistic sense and real engagement with the music. I hope to hear more of him.” (Musicweb).