John Field (1782-1837)
Piano Concertos Nos. 5 and 6
John Field was born in Dublin in 1782, the son of a theatreviolinist. He was first taught there by his father and then from the age ofnine by the Neapolitan
Tommaso Giordani, a prolific composer whose teaching hadsome effect on Field's later attempts at composition. Field himself made hisdebut as a pianist in Dublin on 24th March 1792 at the Rotunda Assembly Roomsin a Lenten concert organized by Giordani. He was advertised with pardonable understatementas eight years old and played in later Spiritual Concerts in the season,including in one programme a concerto by his teacher.
In 1793 the Fields moved to Bath, hoping, perhaps, to usetheir connection with the famous castrato Venanzio Rauzzini, who had settledthere, but by the autumn of the same year they had moved again, this time to London.
Here Field's father played in the Haymarket Theatre orchestra and managed tofind a hundred guineas to buy his son an apprenticeship with Muzio Clementi. InLondon John Field appeared in 1794, at the age of twelve, as the talentedten-year-old pupil of Clementi. Haydn, in a diary entry of 1795, records hisimpression of "Field a young boy, which plays the pianoforte \Extremelywell" and in May that year Field played a concerto in a benefit concert that includeda Haydn "Overture". Clementi himself combined musical and commercialinterests and by the 1790s had established himself as the leading piano teacherin London, investing substantially in piano manufacture and music publishing.
Field's apprenticeship brought the advantages of a sound musical training,continued appearances in London concerts and the start of a necessarilyconcomitant career as a composer. In 1799 he played his Piano Concerto No. 1
in E flat major at a charity concert given on 2nd February. The concertowas repeated three months or so later in a benefit concert for the fourteen-year-oldGeorge Frederick Pinto. 1801 saw the end of Field's seven-year apprenticeship.
In 1802 Clementi set out for Paris, taking Field withhim. 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 had once performed thesame service for Beethoven. Clementi had intended to leave Field to fend forhimself there, himself travelling to Russia to further his commercialinterests. Field begged to be allowed to accompany him and Clementi agreed,with some reluctance, since this would mean a material addition to hisexpenses.
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, the cause of Field's later resentment. There were later stories ofnear starvation and of inadequate clothing for the Russian winter, but Fieldfound it possible to establish himself, after Clementi's departure in 1803, inMarch 1804 giving the first performance in Russia of his Concerto No. 1,which was well received. In 1805 he travelled to Mittau, where Louis XVIII wasin exile, to Riga and to Moscow, returning to St Petersburg in the summer of1806 and continuing, in the following years, to divide his time between the twoRussian cities. In 1810 he married a French pupil of his in Moscow andopportunely agreed on an exchange of cities with his rival Steibelt, who was in Moscow in time for the events of 1812, while Field pursued his interests in St Petersburg.
In Russia Field won a reputation for himself as a pianistof remarkable ability, known for his poetic use of the keyboard, the productionof a singing tone on the instrument and a technique that followed the style ofMozart's former pupil Hummel rather than the more ostentatious style of youngerplayers. As a teacher
Field was effective and generally expensive, but tendedto dissipate his income in the convivial society of friends. In 1819 his wifeand their son Adrien moved to Smolensk, where she taught the piano, while Fieldenjoyed a liaison with another Frenchwoman. Their son, Leon Charpentier, laterwon a 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, still able to give concerts in London and in Manchester.
He attended the funeral of Clementi in Westminster Abbeyand saw his mother again, and then traveled with Leon to France and Italy,giving concerts.
Owing in good part to his own excesses, his health deterioratedduring the journey and he spent nine months in hospital in Naples, before hisrescue by a
Russian noblewoman, Princess Rakhmanova, who took himwith her on her slow progress back to Russia, by way of Vienna. There he waswell enough to give three concerts and stay for some time with Czerny. In Russiaonce more, he moved to Moscow, where he had many friends. Leon now settled in St Petersburg to follow his own career and Field was joined by his legitimateson Adrien for the final period of his life. He died 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 fashion for technical virtuosity. As a composer he developed that verypoetic form of piano music, the nocturne, and added to the concerto repertoirein the popular style of the time. As a teacher he exercised wide influence, withpupils coming to Russia to study with him and other teachers claiming, likeClara Schumann's father, to follow Field's method. Nevertheless his chief influencein this respect must have been as a performer, inspiring by example, whileproviding the assistance of unusual and innovative fingering patterns. Hismusic enjoyed the greatest popularity and it was only towards the end of thenineteenth century that popular fashions began to change, leading to the presentrelative neglect.
Daniel Steibelt had provided a storm in the Rondo Pastoralof his Third Piano Concerto in 1799 and marked the scorched earth policythat defeated the armies of Napoleon in 1812 with a piano fantasy, L'incendiede Moscou. In 1817 Field added to the tradition of musically depicted fireand storm with the most demanding of his concertos, Piano Concerto No.5 in Cmajor, L'incendie par l'orage, presumably with topical reference either tothe events of 1812 or to some more recent fire caused by lightning. There is aninitially gentle start to the orchestral exposition of the first movement,before a passage of greater excitement, soon quelled for the moment. The piano helpsto end the orchestral exposition, before the demanding limpid ornamentation ofthe solo entry, with its version of both subjects. The development, with a solopassage in B flat major, finds its way to the C minor storm that gives theconcerto its name, subsiding into a recapitulation. The short slow movementserves as an introduction, broken briefly by a sudden interpolation from thesoloist, to the final rondo, with its contrasting episodes, leading to alilting 6/8 Allegretto, before the brilliant closing section.