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8.550762 - FIELD: Piano Music, Vol. 2

John Field (1782-1837)

John Field (1782-1837)

Piano Music Volume 2


John Field was born in Dublin in 1782, the son of a theatre violinist. He was taught the piano first by his father and then from the age of nine by the Neapolitan composer and impresario Tommaso Giordani, who had settled in Dublin in 1783. Field himself made his debut as a pianist in Dublin on 24th March 1792 at the Rotunda Assembly Rooms in a Lenten concert organized by Giordani, advertised, with pardonable understatement, as eight years old. He 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 use their connection with the famous castrato and composer Venanzio Rauzzini who had 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 Haymarket Theatre orchestra and found the substantial sum of a hundred guineas to buy his son John an apprenticeship with Muzio Clementi. In London John Field appeared in 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 Field played a concerto in a benefit concert that included a Haydn "Overture". Clementi himself combined musical and commercial interests and by the 1790s had established himself as the leading piano teacher in 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 necessarily concomitant career as a composer.


1801 saw the end of Field's seven-year apprenticeship and the following year Clementi set out for Paris, taking Field with him. From there they travelled on to Vienna, Clementi intent on his business ventures but obviously having Field's interests at heart. There lessons in counterpoint were arranged with Albrechtsberger, Beethoven's former teacher. Clementi had intended to leave Field to fend for himself in Vienna while he travelled to Russia to promote sales of his pianos and his interests in publishing. Field begged to be allowed to accompany him and Clementi agreed, with some reluctance, since this would mean a material addition to the expenses he might now incur.


In Russia Clementi was able to use Field, as he had done in London, as a demonstrator in his piano sale-rooms, but there were necessary economies which led to Field's later resentment, although the journey had been undertaken at his own request. There were later stories of near starvation and of inadequate clothing for the Russian winter. Field found it possible, however, to establish himself, after Clementi's departure in 1803, enjoying the hospitality of General Marklovsky in the summer and in March 1804 giving the first performance in Russia of his own Piano Concerto No. I, 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, to divide his time between the two Russian cities. In 1810 he married a French pupil of his in Moscow and opportunely agreed on an exchange of cities with his rival Steibelt, who moved to Moscow in time for the events of 1812, while Field pursued his interests in St Petersburg.


Field enjoyed great success as a performer, in a style that had more in common with that of Hummel than with the virtuosity of younger players like Liszt. As a teacher he was effective and generally expensive, with a later income of some ten thousand roubles a year from that activity, doubled by his concert appearances. His personal life, however, was much less satisfactory. He enjoyed the convivial 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 the piano, while Field enjoyed a liaison with another Frenchwoman, with whom he had another son. The latter, Leon Charpentier, took his mother's surname, later winning a name for himself as a singer, under the name 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 at concerts in London and in Manchester. He attended the funeral of Clementi in Westminster Abbey and saw his mother again before her death, and then travelled to France and Italy, giving concerts. Owing in good part to his own excesses, his health deteriorated during the journey and he spent nine months in 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 way of Vienna, where he 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 now settled in St Petersburg to follow his own career and Field was joined by his legitimate son Adrien for the final period of his life. He died on 23rd January 1837.


The legendary delicacy of Field's playing is reflected in his poetic and innovative Nocturnes with their demand for an expressive singing tone, Nocturne No.10 in E minor was written in Russia about the years 1821 or 1822 and is characteristic in its gentle melancholy, its delicacy a distinct contrast with Field the man, whose manners and habits of life were later likened by impressionable younger musicians in Paris to those of Falstaff. Nocturne No.11 in E flat major, published in 1833, builds up gently to a dynamic climax, within the limits of the general mood of the piece. The following Nocturne No.12 in G major, marked Lento, has more elaborate accompanying figuration and served as a slow movement to Piano Concerto No.7. It is succeeded by Nocturne No.13 in D minor, published in 1834. This has the additional direction molinconico, although there is a change of feeling as the work moves into the tonic major key. Nocturne No.14 in C major was the first of a group of three such works published in 1836 and dedicated to Princess Galitzina, a relation by marriage of Princess Rakbmanova, to whom Field owed his safe return to Russia. It has a more dramatic musical content than the preceding works and is relatively extended in length.


Field's three Piano Sonatas were published in London in 1801 as Opus 1, with a dedication to Clementi, seemingly marking the beginning of a possible career as a composer. The sonatas are each in two movements, lacking a central Adagio. They reflect contemporary influences, notably those of Clementi and of Dussek, who was in London in the 1790s. The third of the set, the Sonata in C minor, starts with a sonata-form movement that is of particular interest in its revelation of an idiom of piano-writing contemporary with that of early Beethoven and Clementi. The second movement, a Rondo, has something of the feeling of an English popular air in its principal theme, a contrast to the various episodes introduced.


Nocturne No.15 in C major, the second of the set for Princess Galitzina, brings a return to the gently singing quality that characterizes the Nocturnes. There is a central section in A major, before the return of the opening material. The following Nocturne No.16 in F major was designed for piano quintet, with optional string parts, while the Nocturne No.17 in E major had its origin as part of a Divertissement with string quartet, written in Moscow about the year 1810. The famous Twelve O’Clock Rondo, originally with optional string parts and part of a similar Divertissement from the same period, was revised and abridged by Field during his last visit to England and played at the King’s Theatre in London in May 1832 by his pupil Miss Jonas, to be included by Field in his subsequent recital at La Scala in Milan in August. Although listed as Nocturne No. 18 in E major, the work, Midi, is, as its original title declares, a rondo, with moments of dramatic contrast.


Keith Anderson



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