About this Recording
8.573262 - FIELD, J.: Piano Concerto No. 7 / Irish Concerto / Piano Sonata No. 4 (Frith, Northern Sinfonia, Royal Scottish National Orchestra, Haslam, Mogrelia)

John Field (1782–1837)
Piano Concerto No. 7 • Irish Concerto • Piano Sonata No. 4


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, while he himself travelled 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.

Clementi was able to use Field in Russia, as he had done in London, as a demonstrator in his piano salerooms, but there were necessary economies, the cause of Field’s subsequent 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 travelled 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.

Field’s Piano Concerto No. 7 in C minor was completed in 1832, when it was first performed in Paris, to be published in 1834 with a dedication to Mademoiselle d’Albini, and the indication that it might be played with a quartet, rather than the orchestra, or as a work for solo piano, options characteristic of the time. Field had written the first movement in 1822, after which he made various revisions, until the work took its final form, to be heard on Christmas Day 1832 by a Paris audience that included Liszt and Chopin. The work later won the praise of Schumann, suggesting possible influence on his own concerto. Field’s concerto is scored for a full orchestra, including timpani, which open the first movement, followed by the first subject. entrusted to clarinet and bassoon. The same subject returns to close the orchestral exposition, after which the piano enters, to remain largely the centre of attention in a movement that includes a slow section that enjoys an independent existence as Nocturne No. 12 in G major. The second of the two movements is a rondo, its principal theme suggesting echoes of the ballroom and of Russia. It is, by its very nature, episodic and brings various surprises and contrasts in its course.

The so-called Irish Concerto is in fact a reworking of the first movement of Field’s Piano Concerto No. 2 in A flat major, published in Leipzig in 1816. The work makes an interesting addition to repertoire in its revised form, which includes a central Nocturne, providing a measure of contrast.

Field’s first three piano sonatas were published in London in 1801 and dedicated to Clementi. His only other published sonata, in B major, was published in St Petersburg in 1813. The opening Moderato explores contrasting registers of the keyboard and makes use of hand-crossing in a broadly sonata-form movement. It is followed by a final rondo, a second Moderato.

Keith Anderson

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