Young, talented Irish lad, pianist, is apprenticed to an Italian piano maker based in London, with whom he travels by coach to St Petersburg. He settles there, demonstrating pianos, performing and gradually making his name, moves to Moscow and builds his career, finds love – and loses it, succumbs to alcohol addiction, gets cancer, returns to England for an operation, gives concerts there and in European cities, spends nine months in hospital in Naples, goes back to Russia via Vienna – eventually dies and is buried in Moscow.
It sounds like a film screenplay synopsis, but it is a thumbnail sketch of the life of John Field, 1782-1837.
That all-embracing pianist/composer/teacher/publisher/businessman Clementi taught him, took him to St Petersburg and used him as an apprentice/pupil in his piano showroom. But in time Clementi left, and Field made his own way as a composer, teacher and performer.
What a thumbnail sketch cannot convey, however, is Field’s larger-than-life character. I used to have an idea of him in my mind as a rather quiet personality; a false impression based on the one piece of his which I knew. Which was, of course, a Nocturne – this one –
Not so – Patrick Piggott’s admirable book, The Life and Music of John Field, 1782-1837, Creator of the Nocturne, available here, tells Field’s story with grace and charm. And it is fascinating tale, so diverting, and so full of places such as London, St Petersburg, Moscow and Paris, and of names such as Spohr, Hummel, Moscheles, Cramer, Chopin and Mendelssohn – that, to me, Field has now bounded off the page, becoming a colourful, three-dimensional figure, surrounded by friends, rivals, a wife, a mistress and two sons, rather than a black-and-white, flat, still, solitary image.
But I digress. I’m supposed to be writing about music, and, as ever, the people who compose it gradually come to life, and fight for centre stage. Back to the Nocturne in my next post …