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8.553771 - FIELD, J.: Piano Concertos Nos. 2 and 4 (Frith, Northern Sinfonia, Haslam)

John Field (1782 - 1837)

John Field (1782 - 1837)

Piano Concertos Nos. 2 & 4


John Field was born in Dublin in 1782, the son of a theatre violinist. He was first taught 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. Giordani was a prolific composer and it seems that his early teaching had some effect on Field's later attempts at composition. 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. He was advertised with pardonable understatement 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 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 1794 John Field appeared in London, 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. In 1799 he played his Piano Concerto No.1 in E flat major at a charity concert given on 2nd February. The concerto was repeated three months or so later 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 business ventures, but obviously having Field's interests at heart. In Vienna lessons in counterpoint were arranged with Albrechtsberger, who ten years before had performed the same service for Beethoven. Clementi had intended to leave Field to fend for himself in Vienna. His own intention was to travel 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 it was at his own wish that he had been allowed to accompany Clementi to Russia. 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 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, 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.


In his years in Russia Field won a reputation for himself as a pianist of remarkable ability, known for a poetic use of the keyboard, the production of a singing tone on the instrument and a technique that generally stemmed from 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 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, who, as Leon Charpentier, took his mother's surname, later winning 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, 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, accompanied by Leon, 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 Czemy.1n 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.


As a pianist, Field enjoyed a wide reputation. His playing was marked by a particular delicacy of nuance, in marked contrast to the newly popular style of virtuosity, for which he had no time. As a composer his particular fame lies in his development of that very poetic form of piano music, the nocturne. His concertos, of which he completed seven, are the counterpart of those by violinist-composers such as Spohr or even of Rode and Kreutzer, classical in form and clarity and generally relying on relatively straightforward melodic material, apart from that particular form of embellished operatic melodic contour that is generally associated now with Chopin. As a teacher Field exercised wide influence, with pupils coming to Russia to study with him and other teachers, such as Friedrich Wieck, Clara Schumann's father, claiming that he had trained her in the method of Field. Nevertheless his chief influence in this respect must have been as a performer, inspiring by example, while providing every assistance to others by the meticulous provision of unusual and innovative fingering patterns. His music enjoyed the greatest popularity and it was only towards the end of the nineteenth century that popular fashions began to change, leading to the present general neglect of much of his work.


Field's Piano Concerto No.2 in A flat major was first published in Leipzig in 1816. It starts with a classical orchestral exposition, after which the soloist enters with some panache with his own treatment of the principal theme, elegantly developed before proceeding to the secondary theme. There is a brief unaccompanied passage, before a shift of key into B major and a mood that suggests a Field Nocturne, however briefly, moving through the key of F sharp major to contrast of major and minor modes, notably in an extended passage in F minor. The movement ends in further delicate display from the soloist. The E flat major slow movement, accompanied by the strings alone, allows the muted first violins to shadow the more ornate solo line in a singing melody. The soloist introduces the principal theme of the last movement rondo, a pert melody that returns to frame intervening episodes in which the primary purpose of pianistic display is never forgotten.


The Piano Concerto No.4 in E flat major was first published in St Petersburg in 1814. After the orchestral exposition the soloist enters with imposing chords and proceeds to material that is much less classical in its patterns, the right-hand melody, often elaborated, generally accompanied by the left, in writing in which the orchestra, as so often, can be dispensed with. The G minor slow movement, described as a Siciliano, is lightly accompanied by plucked strings, a model for later composers, and is of disarming simplicity. There follows a rondo, opened with a similarly unpretentious theme of pastoral innocence. Here, however, and in the intervening episodes, the piano still has ample opportunity to disport itself.




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