John Field (1782-1837)
Piano Music Volume 1
John Field was born in Dublin in 1782, the son of a theatreviolinist. He was taught the piano first by his father and then from the age ofnine by the Neapolitan composer and impresario Tommaso Giordani, who had settledin Dublin in 1783. Field himself made his debut as a pianist in Dublin on 24thMarch 1792 at the Rotunda Assembly Rooms in a Lenten concert organized by Giordani,advertised, with pardonable understatement, as eight years old. He played inlater Spiritual Concerts in the season, including in one programme a concertoby 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, thistime 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 London John Field appearedin 1794, at the age of twelve, as the talented ten-year-old pupil of Clementi. Haydn,in a diary entry of 1795, records his impression of "Field a young boy,which plays 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.
1801 saw the end of Field's seven-year apprenticeship andthe following year Clementi set out for Paris, taking Field with him. Fromthere they travelled on to Vienna, Clementi intent on his business ventures butobviously having Field's interests at heart. There lessons in counterpoint werearranged with Albrechtsberger, Beethoven's former teacher. Clementi hadintended to leave Field to fend for himself in Vienna while he travelled to Russiato promote sales of his pianos and his interests in publishing. Field begged tobe allowed to accompany him and Clementi agreed, with some reluctance, sincethis would 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, although the journey had been undertakenat his own request. There were later stories of near starvation and ofinadequate clothing for the Russian winter. Field found it possible, however,to establish himself, after Clementi's departure in 1803, enjoying thehospitality of General Marklovsky in the summer and in March 1804 giving the firstperformance in Russia of his own Piano Concerto No. I, which was wellreceived. In 1805 he travelled to Mittau, where Louis XVIII was in exile, to Rigaand to Moscow, returning to St Petersburg in the summer of 1806 and continuing,in the following years, to divide his time between the two Russian cities. In1810 he married a French pupil of his in Moscow and opportunely agreed on anexchange of cities with his rival Steibelt, who moved to Moscow in time for theevents of 1812, while Field pursued his interests in St Petersburg.
Field enjoyed great success as a performer, in a stylethat had more in common with that of Hummel than with the virtuosity of youngerplayers like Liszt. As a teacher he was effective and generally expensive, witha later income of some ten thousand roubles a year from that activity, doubledby his concert appearances. His personal life, however, was much lesssatisfactory. He enjoyed the convivial society of friends, drank far too muchand was careless with his money. His wife and their son Adrien moved in 1819 to Smolensk where she taught the piano, while Field enjoyed a liaison with anotherFrenchwoman, with whom he had another son. The latter, Leon Charpentier, tookhis mother's surname, later winning a name for himself as a singer, under thename of 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 travelled to Franceand Italy, giving concerts. Owing in good part to his own excesses, his healthdeteriorated during the journey and he spent nine months in hospital in Naplesbefore his rescue by a Russian noblewoman, Princess Rakhmanova. She arranged totake him with her on her slow progress back to Russia, by way of Vienna, wherehe was well enough to give three concerts and stay for some time with Czerny.
In Russia once more he moved to Moscow, where he had many friends. Leon nowsettled in St Petersburg to follow his own career and Field was joined by hislegitimate son Adrien for the final period of his life. He died on 23rd January1837.
The delicacy of Field's playing is reflected in his sixteenpoetic and innovative Nocturnes with their demand for an expressive singingtone, reflected in the music of Chopin and by his wide influence as a teacher. Thefirst three Nocturnes were written in Russia in 1812. The NocturneNo.1 in E flat major is akin to a song and later served that purpose in asetting of a poem by Petrarch. Nocturne No.2 in C minor is based on an earlierRomance, while the Nocturne No.3 in A flat major is more elaborate intexture. There is an obvious
operatic element in the melody of Nocturne No.4 inA major, published in St Petersburg in 1817, while Nocturne No.5 in Bflat major, also existing as a song and as a Serenade, offers greatersimplicity. Nocturne No.6 in F major has another function as thetransposed and orchestrated slow movement of Piano Concerto No .6, while NocturneNo.7 in C major of about 1821, sometimes known as the Reverie-Nocturne,with the direction Traumerisch, has its melodic interest in the lefthand. Nocturne No.8 in A major, dated to 1816 and often known as NocturnePastorale from its second published identity, was derived from the firstmovement of Field's 1811 Divertissement No.2 for piano quartet. The workseems to reflect a Celtic origin in its rhythms. The more or less arbitrarynature of the title 'Nocturne' is seen in what is known as Nocturne No.9 inE flat major, originally published in 1816 as a Romance.
Field's three Piano Sonatas were published in London in1801 as Opus 1 with a dedication to Clementi, seemingly marking thebeginning of a possible career as a composer. The sonatas are each in twomovements, lacking a central Adagio. They reflect contemporary influences,notably that of Clementi and of Dussek, who was in London in the 1790s. The sonata-formfirst movement of the Sonata in E flat major is followed by a livelyRondo, its principal theme accompanied by wide leaps in the left hand. The Sonatain A major starts with a flourish but subsides into a gentler principaltheme, followed