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8.554221 - FIELD, J.: Piano Concertos Nos. 5 and 6 (Frith, Northern Sinfonia, Haslam)

John Field (1782-1837)

John Field (1782-1837)

Piano Concertos Nos. 5 and 6


John Field was born in Dublin in 1782, the son of a theatre violinist. He was first taught there by his father and then from the age of nine by the Neapolitan

Tommaso Giordani, a prolific composer whose 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 programme a concerto by his teacher.


In 1793 the Fields moved to Bath, hoping, perhaps, to use their connection with the famous castrato 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 in the Haymarket Theatre orchestra and managed to find a hundred guineas to buy his son 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 in 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 had once performed the same service for Beethoven. Clementi had intended to leave Field to fend for himself there, himself travelling to Russia to further his commercial interests. Field begged to be allowed to accompany him and Clementi agreed, with some reluctance, since this would mean a material addition to his expenses.


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, the cause of Field's later resentment. There were later stories of near starvation and of inadequate clothing for the Russian winter, but Field found it possible to establish himself, after Clementi's departure in 1803, 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 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 pianist of remarkable ability, known for his poetic use of the keyboard, the production of a singing tone on the instrument and a technique that followed the style of Mozart's former pupil Hummel rather than the more ostentatious style of younger players. As a teacher

Field was effective and generally expensive, but tended to dissipate his income in the convivial society of friends. In 1819 his wife and their son Adrien moved to Smolensk, where she taught the piano, while Field enjoyed a liaison with another Frenchwoman. Their son, Leon Charpentier, later won 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 Abbey and 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 deteriorated during the journey and he spent nine months in hospital in Naples, before his rescue by a

Russian noblewoman, Princess Rakhmanova, who took him with her on her slow progress back to Russia, by way of Vienna. There 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.


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 fashion for technical virtuosity. As a composer he developed that very poetic form of piano music, the nocturne, and added to the concerto repertoire in the popular style of the time. As a teacher he exercised wide influence, with pupils coming to Russia to study with him and other teachers claiming, like Clara Schumann's father, to follow Field's method. Nevertheless his chief influence in this respect must have been as a performer, inspiring by example, while providing the assistance 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 relative neglect.


Daniel Steibelt had provided a storm in the Rondo Pastoral of his Third Piano Concerto in 1799 and marked the scorched earth policy that defeated the armies of Napoleon in 1812 with a piano fantasy, L'incendie de Moscou. In 1817 Field added to the tradition of musically depicted fire and storm with the most demanding of his concertos, Piano Concerto No.5 in C major, L'incendie par l'orage, presumably with topical reference either to the events of 1812 or to some more recent fire caused by lightning. There is an initially gentle start to the orchestral exposition of the first movement, before a passage of greater excitement, soon quelled for the moment. The piano helps to end the orchestral exposition, before the demanding limpid ornamentation of the solo entry, with its version of both subjects. The development, with a solo passage in B flat major, finds its way to the C minor storm that gives the concerto its name, subsiding into a recapitulation. The short slow movement serves as an introduction, broken briefly by a sudden interpolation from the soloist, to the final rondo, with its contrasting episodes, leading to a lilting 6/8 Allegretto, before the brilliant closing section.


Field gave the first performance of his Piano Concerto No.6 in C major in 1819 and it was published in Moscow and Leipzig in 1823, to be revised in 1830. It follows the expected form, with an orchestral exposition leading to the entry of the soloist and a dramatic prelude to the second subject, proceeding with a relative freedom of structure in its development, as episode follows episode. The slow movement is a transposed version of his Sixth Nocturne of 1817, lightly orchestrated, and is followed by a final Rondo with the expected opportunities for virtuosity in its contrasting episodes.


Keith Anderson






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