John Field – Nocturne No. 5 in B Flat Major (John O’Connor, piano)

John Field (1782-1837)

John Field was an Irish pianist and composer. He wrote many compositions, but it is for his nocturnes that he is best known today. When people think of nocturnes (or night pieces) they often think of the nocturnes for piano written by Frederic Chopin. Many composers wrote nocturnes including: Erik Satie, Claude Debussy, Sergei Rachmaninoff, Robert Schumann, and John Field. Field has been referred to as the “Father of the Nocturne.”

Not much is known about John Field. He was one of the top piano virtuosos of his day, and visited and played for Ludwig van Beethoven who praised his playing highly. Franz Liszt was another who thought very highly of John Field and published an edition of Field’s nocturnes. These pieces may not reach the great emotional heights of Chopin’s Nocturnes, but they are little gems in their own right. Listen to the beautiful melody of John Field’s Nocturne No. 5 in B Flat Major and the little embellishments that Field adds to it. Field’s compositions had an influence on many composers including: Johannes Brahms, Frederic Chopin, Robert Schumann, and Franz Liszt. Chopin’s early nocturnes sound like they could have been composed by Field.

John O’ Connor, pianist

John O’ Connor is one of Ireland’s top pianists. In 1973, John won the International Beethoven Piano Competition in Vienna and has since toured around the world giving recitals and playing with major orchestras as soloist. His recordings of the complete Beethoven Sonatas led one reviewer to say that he should “by now be recognized as the world’s premiere Beethoven interpreter.” His album of John Field’s nocturnes is a personal favourite of mine and I would highly recommend it if you enjoy listening to piano music and hearing music by a lesser-known composer.

George Gershwin: Someone To Watch Over Me (Marieke Koopman, Vocal; Ton Koopman, Harpsichord)

George Gershwin (1898-1937)

George Gershwin was an American pianist, composer, and painter. His most popular compositions include: Rhapsody and Blue, An American in Paris, Swanee, the opera Porgy and Bess, and the tune Summertime. Gershwin also composed many film scores. Several of his compositions became jazz standards. He died in 1937 of a malignant brain tumour.

Here is an unusual video clip of Gershwin’s “Someone To Watch Over Me” sung with harpsichord accompaniment. Marieke Koopman (who is a jazz singer) sings the tune, while her father (the famous organist, harpsichordist, and conductor Ton Koopman) accompanies her on the harpsichord. Ton Koopman has devoted his career to the study and performance of baroque music on historical instruments. He isn’t a jazz musician and a harpsichord doesn’t “support” a singer like a piano does. On a piano the note decays slower and less abrupt than on a harpsichord. On the harpsichord a string is plucked and the note dies right after it is played. The harpsichord also can not do subtle dynamics like a piano can. It sounds very different from what you would expect, but it was done for fun as an experiment. I hope that you enjoy watching it.