John Field (1782 - 1837)
Piano Concertos Nos. 1 & 3
John Field was born in Dublin in 1782, the son of a theatreviolinist. He was first taught by his father and then from the age of nine bythe Neapolitan composer and impresario Tommaso Giordani, who had settled in Dublinin 1783. Giordani was a prolific composer and it seems that his early teachinghad some effect on Field's later attempts at composition. Field himself madehis debut as a pianist in Dublin on 24th March 1792 at the Rotunda AssemblyRooms in a Lenten concert organized by Giordani. He was advertised with pardonableunderstatement as eight years old and played in later Spiritual Concerts
in the season, including in one progran1Jne a concerto by his teacher.
In 1793 the Fields moved to Bath, hoping, perhaps, to usetheir connection with the famous castrato and composer Venanzio Rauzzini, whohad settled there, but by the autumn of the same year they had moved again,this time to London. Here Field's father played as a violinist in the HaymarketTheatre orchestra and found the substantial sum of a hundred guineas to buy hisson John an apprenticeship with Muzio Clementi. In 1794 John Field appeared in London,at the age of twelve, as the talented ten-year-old pupil of Clementi. Haydn, ina diary entry of 1795, records his impression of "Field a young boy, whichplays the pianoforte Extremely well" and on 25th May that year Fieldplayed a concerto in a benefit concert that included a Haydn "Overture".
Clementi himself combined musical and commercial interests and by the 1790s hadestablished himself as the leading piano teacher in London, investingsubstantially in piano manufacture and music publishing. Field's apprenticeshipbrought the advantages of a sound musical training, continued appearances in Londonconcerts and the start of a necessarily concomitant career as a composer. In1799 he played his Piano Concerto No.1 in E flat major at a charityconcert given on 2nd February. The concerto was repeated three months or solater in a benefit concert for the fourteen-year-old George Frederick Pinto.
1801 saw the end of Field's seven-year apprenticeship.
In 1802 Clementi set out for Paris, taking Field with him.
From there they travelled on to Vienna, Clementi intent on his businessventures, but obviously having Field's interests at heart. In Vienna lessons incounterpoint were arranged with Albrechtsberger, who ten years before hadperformed the same service for Beethoven. Clementi had intended to leave Fieldto fend for himself in Vienna. His own intention was to travel to Russia topromote sales of his pianos and his interests in publishing. Field begged to beallowed to accompany him and Clementi agreed, with some reluctance, since thiswould mean a material addition to the expenses he might now incur.
In Russia Clementi was able to use Field, as he had donein London, as a demonstrator in his piano sale-rooms, but there were necessaryeconomies, which led to Field's later resentment on the part of Field, in spiteof the fact that it was at his own wish that he had been allowed to accompanyClementi to Russia. There were later stories of near starvation and of inadequateclothing for the Russian winter. Field found it possible, however, to establishhimself, after Clementi's departure in 1803, spending the summer in the houseof General Marklovsky and in March 1804 giving the first performance in Russiaof his Concerto No.1, which was well received. In 1805 he travelled to Mittau,where Louis XVIII was in exile, to Riga and to Moscow, returning to St Petersburg in the summer of 1806 and continuing, in the following years, todivide his time between the two Russian cities. In 1810 he married a Frenchpupil of his in Moscow and opportunely agreed with the older virtuoso pianist Steibelt,a clear rival, that they should now exchange cities, with Field again in St Petersburg and Steibelt in Moscow, in time, as it happened, for the disastrousevents of 1812, of which Steibelt provided a graphic musical depiction.
In his years in Russia Field won a reputation for himselfas a pianist of remarkable ability, known for a poetic use of the keyboard, theproduction of a singing tone on the instrument and a technique that generally stemmedfrom the school of playing exemplified by his rival and later friend, Hummel,rather than sharing anything with the more ostentatious style of younger players.
As a teacher Field was effective and generally expensive, with a later incomeof some ten thousand roubles a year from that activity, doubled by his concert appearances,His personal life, however, was much less satisfactory, He enjoyed theconvivial society of friends, drank far too much and was careless with his money,His wife and their son Adrien moved in 1819 to Smolensk, where she taught thepiano, while Field enjoyed a liaison with another Frenchwoman, with whom he hadanother son, who, as Leon Charpentier, took his mother's surname, later winninga name for himself as a singer, under the name Leonov.
By 1831 ill health forced Field to seek medical help in London,where he travelled with Leon, recovering enough to be able to appear atconcerts in London and in Manchester. He attended the funeral of Clementi in WestminsterAbbey and saw his mother again, before her death, and then, accompanied by Leon,travelled to France and Italy, giving concerts. Owing in good part to his ownexcesses, his health deteriorated during the journey and he spent nine monthsin hospital in Naples, before his rescue by a Russian noblewoman, Princess Rakhmanova.
She arranged to take him with her on her slow progress back to Russia, by wayof Vienna, where he was well enough to give three concerts and stay for sometime with Czemy.1n Russia once more, he moved to Moscow, where he had manyfriends. Leon now settled in St Petersburg to follow his own career and Fieldwas joined by his legitimate son Adrien for the final period of his life. Hedied on 23rd January 1837.
As a pianist, Field enjoyed a wide reputation. His playingwas marked by a particular delicacy of nuance, in marked contrast to the newlypopular style of virtuosity, for which he had no time. As a composer his particularfame lies in his development of that very poetic form of piano music, thenocturne. His concertos, of which he completed seven, are the counterpart of thoseby violinist-composers such as Spohr or even of Rode and Kreutzer, classical inform and clarity and generally relying on relatively straightforward melodic material,apart from that particular form of embellished operatic melodic contour that isgenerally associated now with Chopin. The Fifth Concerto, L'incendie par l'orage
(Fire through Storm) owes something to Daniel Steibelt's Third Concerto, L'orage
(The Storm), but the slow movements, where he included them, provided aopportunity for display of his particular ability as a performer, notably innocturnes, as is the case with four of the concertos, or, where no slowmovement was written, in the substitution of a solo nocturne for the missingmovement. As a teacher Field exercised wide influence, with pupils coming to Russiato study with him and other teachers, such as Friedrich Wieck, Clara Schumann'sfather, claiming that he had trained her in the method of Field. Neverthelesshis chief influence in this respect must have been as a p