I was listening to Classic FM, a radio station which broadcasts classic music as you might have guessed, and I heard a great piano concerto. I’m not very knowledgeable about music…. Sir Thomas Beecham once said “The English don’t know much about music but they like the noise it makes!” Well, he was obviously talking about me! Anyway.. I didn’t quite catch the composer’s name so visited the website where I discovered he was John Field, an Irish composer born in Dublin in 1782.
I heard a couple more of his pieces played over the next few weeks… and then I bought a collection of his piano concertos. In his time Field was extremely famous, and yet now I don’t think may people have heard of him… especially those like me with only a fleeting knowledge of classical music.
John’s father was a violinist and he studied music from an early age first with his grandfather who was an organist. The family must have had connections, and not been a poor family, and above all John must have been extremely talented for at the age of nine he was also been tutored by an Italian composer Giordani. Giordani arranged for the little boy to debut at the Rotunda Assembly Rooms in Dublin.
When John was eleven, the family moved to London and he was apprenticed to another Italian composer, Clementi… at the cost of 100 guineas! That would have been a huge amount, thousands of pounds in today’s money! As well as playing in concerts he was also used to demonstrate pianos; however he began to win quite a reputation and even Joseph Hayden was impressed!
By the age of twenty, John was no longer Clementi’s student but he still worked for him and they travelled together to Europe and arrived in Russia; Clementi sounds a most horrible man and although he was rich, he gave John hardly any money for food or clothes, even though John was earning money through his playing. Clementi managed to get John the patronage of an aristocratic Russian, and gradually he began to achieve the success which his ability as a child had promised.
He had an extravagant life-style, it sounds as if he was almost a nineteenth century rock star, but instead of sex and drugs and rock and roll, it was sex and drink and spending money on cigars! He had two sons, by different women, Leon Ivanovich Leonev, and Adrien Field; Leon became a famous Russian tenor, and Adrien a pianist and composer, like his father, but with less success.
John eventually returned to London in 1831, suffering from a distressing cancer, which contributed to his death in 1837. He returned to Moscow where he died on January 23rd, aged just 54.