Analysis Of Nocturne in A Major


Written in St. Petersburg in 1821, Nocturne in A Major is an excellent example of a genre that Fields created and effectively owned for most of his life. The Nocturne was a type of piece that was solely about performace. It wasn't structured in order to give the feeling of a literary work, with a beginning middle and end, it relied heavily on improvisation, and appealed more to a persons emotions than their mind. This, as was all of Romanticism, was a direct reaction to the school of thought that dominated previous to Romanticism- Enlightenment thinking. The enlightenment relied heavily on logic and mental processes, it sought to deny emotion as a factor. Fields' style of playing, by ignoring all previous forms, sought to connect directly with the listener's emotions. He avoided themes, and stuck to improvising melodies and accompaniments that he felt resonated with the emotions he sought to convey.

Musical Components

The Nocturne style is very different from almost every other form of music created before it, and as such, several MAJOR differences can be immediately recognized between this form and many others. It is a form of music, that, when it is written, is often improvised. Fields would play until he stumbled across something he liked, then wrote it down, and instead of then building a structure around it, would simply move on to the next idea. However, some of his formally published works DID display some structure. Number 8 in A Major, the work we've chosen to analyze, is one such piece.


As a result of the improvised nature of the piece, there is no real set tempo for the piece, and while overall it is a very calm piece, the tempo is kind of wild. It starts slow, but it ignores the build-up that is characteristic of so many classical pieces and jumps abruptly from slow to fast tempos. The sometimes random tempo is a reaction to the structure of the enlightenment, and is meant to convey an emotion. In this case we can infer that Fields wanted his audience to feel calmed by the piece, and then thrown off and excited by the more upbeat sections.


Really the same thing can be said for the dynamics as can be said for the tempo. Fields alternates between loud and soft parts in an effort to keep people off balance, and to simulate a kind of life for the piece. It goes back and forth, with calm, quiet pieces, and then with faster, louder pieces. Field even messes with those usual combinations, and at some points there is a combination of ridiculously fast playing at extremely low volumes. This leaves people straining to hear, expecting slower tempos, then pleasantly surprised and excited by the speed of the music they hear.


Again, because much of the body of the song is made up of improvised runs, there is no real set melody. There are pieces that the player always returns to, but these serve almost more of the purpose of a refrain, the part to return to after each excursion into the wilds of improvisation. Fields does confine himself to one key, but does not deny himself the full range of the piano's capabilities, playing from the lower ranges all the way to the highest. This range is not in and of itself a product of romantic music, but the way in which it is used is. Older styles had relied on the structure of scales and arpeggios to work their way up and down the keyboard, but Fields ignores these. Instead, he creates melodies solely on what is pleasing to the ear. This does at times involve a scale, but he often, in his improvisational ramblings, found more creative ways of writing a melody.

Single Instrument vs. Orchestra

Fields is also unlike many other artists in that he rarely relied on an orchestra to back him up. Because of this, he, as the sole performer, was responsible for all of the above characteristics, the tempo, dynamics, melody, etc.. This is both a gift and a hindrance. It makes improvisation, something which Fields had a talent for, far easier, but at the same time, it forces him to think about many different things, such as the tempo and dynamics, when writing the music for just one instrument. The piano takes on responsibility for every aspect of the piece, and while this was not always an issue in a highly structured piece of music; more free form styles, such as romanticism, were more difficult.