Thursday, 17 March 2016


John Field

..and a happy day to everyone else!

In honor of St. Patrick, patron saint of the Emerald Isle, unravelingmusicalmyths will feature as today’s musician of the month, the composer, pianist and Dublin "badboy"[1] John Field, pioneer of a little compositional style we call the nocturne.

Field, born c. 1782 in Dublin, Ireland, had prodigal talents flowing through his veins since toddlerhood, and had the great fortune to have been brought up in a household consisting of musicians of standing (and of longevity – the young Field would first learn to play the piano not by his father, but rather, by his grandfather).

By the age of twenty one, John Field had already credited to his resumé a career as a touring child prodigy, had experienced tutelage under musical peers of impressive pedigree: almost immediately upon moving from Dublin to London at the age of eleven, the young pianist allegedly received lessons from a pupil of Joseph Haydn (the reigning king of classical era), studied alongside Tomasso Giordani and would ingeniously set up an apprenticeship under the composer Muzio Clementi – whose devious intent was to gain a high fiscal return at the expense of the young prodigy by declaring Field his ‘pupil’ (which he was) and ‘demanding’ he play his compositions on pianos he was trying to sell. (Clementi allegedly pocketed all of the monies, unbeknownst to Field - who may not have even been made aware he was being used as a 'show monkey.' It is presently thought highly unlikely that Field himself knowingly participated as a salesman alongside Clementi).

The joke was on Clementi:

Whether the intent on behalf of maestro Clementi was indeed one that was devised under feelings of detest, jealousy or greed – it would soon become apparent that - in the long run - it really wouldn’t matter.

Remember him? Muzio Clementi
Field (now a young man), and his delicate touch on the piano and frequent ‘appearances’ led to a public sensation among laymen and classical music aficionados alike – who, clamoring for a spot in the audience whilst the performer sat before the instrument, be it with the intent to sell the pianos or as a featured talent on stage) - announced to the heavens praise for the young Irishman and dispersed such sentiments into the streets, triumphantly proclaiming the new sound, "born" in "Russia." Soon much of Europe would learn of Field's surprisingly original, deeply affecting talents.

Such praise as heaped upon the composer in the east would see the "Pianist" (as Field preferred to be called) touring and winning over audiences and musicians in the west - with performances in Austria, France and Germany, before finally returning from whence he came - back again to Russia. It would be on Russian soil where Field would set up shop, so enthralled was he at the first viewing of the exquisite architecture of St. Petersburg.

It was from Russia that our Irish cousin from Dublin would earn the moniker of “inventor” of the Nocturne. This association is partially correct – while the famed nocturnes of composers of legend like Chopin (who revered Field’s predecessive genius) and Liszt would admittedly consider themselves heavily influenced by Field (a list of admirers would grow, from Brahms to Schumann just to name a few), there did exist in Italy a similar type of music known colloquially as the "notturno."

Whilst the Italians did possess a style of composition called “notturno,” they differed from Field's innovations in that the Italian Notturni were multi-movement, ensemble pieces featuring various instruments of the orchestra, and conveyed a broad array of moods (the title “notturno” simply 'directs' the conductor to perform such pieces at ‘evening’ hours), whereas Field’s indoctrination into classical music history books was the creation of a single movement piece, usually for solo piano, that, far from the present era’s tendency to showcase/celebrate virtuosic and highly embellished styles of playing and composition, were composed with the ‘mood’ of the night in mind. Soft and gentle on both pedal and key, tranquil and almost lyrical in soothing melodic themes, the sheer expressivity to come out of such delicate nuance as featured in this new style of music breathed life into the crisp Russian air, and cheerful, excited musings on the new ‘inventor’ John Field would travel upon that current, as it whisked it’s way across Europe, raining down with thunderous effect over the seeds it's musical curator had already sown across the continent: bringing into bloom a miraculously beautiful new era in classical music, one that has spread out across the ages.

I tip my hat to my fellow Irish men and women this St. Patrick's Day. Whilst I don't drink (I don't care for the smell), feel free to 'throw one back' for our Dublin born dynamo, John Field!*

Enjoy below John Field's Nocturne No. X in E Minor:

[1]Field was a notorious "ladies man" who held a string of affairs, a rather shady compliment to his life as an advocate of drink. Field was frequently hammered in public.
* please drink responsibly, and you already know the motto: don't drink and drive.

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