The remarkable Irish composer John Field was an excellent piano player and teacher. He gave the world an entirely new musical form, the nocturne, and for this reason his friends called him “The father of the nocturne”. This Irishman devoted most of his life to Russia.
John Field was born in 1782 in Dublin. He was the eldest son of a violinist Robert Field, who played in Dublin theatres. After studying music under his father and his grandfather, the Dublin church organist John Field, at the age of nine he was already giving concerts.
In 1793 the Field family moved to London, where the boy spent seven years studying under Muzio Clementi, the illustrious Italian composer, pianist and publisher. In exchange for lessons in piano technique and the art of composition, Field had to work as salesman and demonstrator in Clementi’s piano shop.
In 1802 Clementi took Field with him on a long journey around Europe. They visited Paris, Vienna and Saint Petersburg. Clementi introduced Field to his first important Russian patron, general Markovsky, in whose house Field lived for most of 1803.
In 1804 Field gave his first concert in the concert hall of the Saint Petersburg Philharmonic Society. Immediately he was accepted among the highest circles of Russian society and began to give concerts in the houses of the Russian aristocracy. Rich and eminent pupils began coming to him. Field lived for the most part in the houses of his patrons, first in Saint Petersburg,later in Moscow. Afterwards he married one of his Muscovite pupils, Adelaide Percheron. In 1812 John returned to Saint Petersburg and remained there for almost ten years, giving public concerts every year.
In 1817 Field reached the summit of his fame as a composer, with the great Russian composer Mikhail Glinka among his pupils. Field had an excellent reputation and a stable income. However, over the course of time he took to drink and became an object of ridicule. Thus, many of those who had previously admired him now called him “Drunken John”. In 1819 Field had a son. The boy was called Adrien. Soon after the birth of the child, Adelaide left her husband and moved to Smolensk.
Throughout this time Field’s activity as a composer diminished dramatically and among his works published between 1823-1832 none was significant. In the spring of 1834 he travelled to Naples in a seriously poor state of health and was no longer able to give public concerts. He spent some months in hospital, undergoing a multitude of surgical operations. Eventually an aristocratic Russian family, the Rakhmanovs, rescued Field from this desperate condition, offering to bring him back to Moscow. Back in Moscow in September 1835, Field managed to write a few more compositions before his death.
Evgeny GordeichevJohn Field, Russians in Ireland, Джон Филд, Книга Русские в Ирландии