Franz Liszt called them “half-formed sighs floating through the air, softly lamenting and dissolved in delicious melancholy.” He added that their inventor, John Field, “would dream his music in moments when he entirely abandoned himself to his inspiration.”
The Nocturne. Music inspired by night, evoking night. Daughter of the serenade and pastorale. Great-granddaughter of Christianity’s Liturgy of the Hours — a character piece for piano cultivated by two of classical music’s more colorful characters: John Field and Fryderyk Chopin.
Common wisdom says John Field, the so-called ”father of the nocturne,” was the first and greatest influence on Chopin’s creations. Though author Alan Walker calls that influence overrated. Chopin had composed the first five of his nocturnes before he even met the Irish pianist and composer.
Field composed 17 nocturnes, Chopin, 21. Comparing them is irresistible and has been going on for the better part of two centuries. The sizing up began between the pianists themselves.
According to his friend Eduard Wolff, Chopin found Field’s playing, “feeble,” lacking dexterity and elegance. Field dismissed Chopin as “nothing but [a writer of] mazurkas.”
Comparisons by contemporaries ran hot and cold. Critics took sides: '”Where Field smiles, Chopin makes a grinning grimace; where Field sighs, Chopin groans; …Where Field puts some seasoning into the food, Chopin empties a handful of cayenne pepper...We implore Mr Chopin to return to nature.”