John Field (1782 – 1837)

“…I die content as I have lived: without significant enemy, without legitimate peer, and without true friend…”

On this day was born Irish Composer and Pianist John Field, best known for being the first composer to write Nocturnes (impromptu compositions for piano of a single movement, that maintain a single mood throughout), the first of which date from 1812.

Field`s works are further notable for their overwhelming influence on Frdric Chopin, who went on to write more than twenty Nocturnes himself.

Born in Dublin in 1782, the eldest son of Protestant Irish parents. His father, Robert Field, earned his living by playing the violin in Dublin theatres. John Field first studied the piano under his grandfather (also named John), who was a professional organist, and later under Tommaso Giordani.

John Field made his debut as something of a piano prodigy at the age of nine on March 24th of 1792, a performance that was very well-received by both the public as well as the local professional music community. At the encouragement of the elder Field`s patrons, as well as that of a few local impresarios, Robert Field moved his family to London to further his son`s education and career.

Upon arriving, young John was studying exclusively with renowned composer and pianist Muzio Clementi. His performances soon drew the attention of Joseph Haydn, under whom Field also studied intermittently.

Field`s apprenticeship drew to a close with the debut performance of his First Piano Concerto at the age of seventeen, dedicated to his master and published in 1801.

His professional career began with a whirlwind concert tour throughout Europe, including stops in Paris and Vienna where he performed privately for Ludwig Van Beethoven at his request. Beethoven wrote afterward of the young Field: “The poor lad has no idea of what fire he possesses. I fear he shall only discover it too late.”

At the conclusion of Field`s European tour, he received an employment offer from his former master Clementi. The old master had settled in to a rather lucrative piano manufacturing business in Moscow and guaranteed Field a lucrative opportunity as a concert performer demonstrating the pianos that Clementi built.

Dividing his time between Moscow and St. Petersburg, Field established himself as one of the preeminent pianist of Europe. Upon his marriage in 1810, Field settled down in St. Petersburg to compose and to teach.

In 1831, Field`s health took a drastic turn for the worse when he was diagnosed with an advanced case of Cancer. Field returned to London for treatment before traveling back to Russia through France (at the behest of Franz Liszt), Italy (where he had a rather devoted following), and Vienna (as a guest of Carl Czerny) before finally reaching Moscow in 1835.

With only sixteen months left to live, John Field composed at a feverish pace – completing his last Nocturnes and leaving several unfinished Sonata and Concerto works before dying in Moscow in 1837.


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