John Field

Portrait of John Field

John Field was an Irish pianist, composer, and teacher widely thought to be the inventor of the nocturne. He was born on 26th July 1782 in Dublin, Ireland and died on 26th July 1837 in Moscow, Russia aged 54.

Major Works

Although he wrote other works such as 7 Piano Concerti he is chiefly remembered for inventing the Nocturne of which he wrote eighteen altogether and was thus an influence on Frederic Chopin.

Biography Timeline

John Field was born on 26th July 1782 in Dublin, Ireland. His father, Robert Field, played the violin in Dublin theatres for a living. John’s grandfather (also called John) was an organist and taught him how to play the piano. He later studied under the Italian composer Tommaso Giordani. 

1792: He makes his debut on 24th March in Dublin aged only nine.

1793: Some scholar’s think that the Field family moves to Bath in Somerset for a short while but this is disputed. Later in the year it is clear that they have settled in London. He studies with the Italian composer Muzio Clementi whom he helps as a demonstrator to sell pianos. He continues giving public performances and becomes well known in the city with both the press and audiences.

1795: Joseph Haydn praises his performance of a piano concerto by Jan Ladislav Dussek. He studies the violin with J. P. Solomon. His first published compositions are issued by Clementi.

1799: He premieres the Piano Concerto No. 1 on 7th February in London aged 16.

1801: His first official opus work is a set of three piano sonatas dedicated to Clementi. 

1802: He visits Paris, Germany and Austria with Clementi during the summer. In Vienna he takes a short course in counterpoint with Johann Georg Albrechtsberger and then plays for Ludwig van Beethoven in October. They journey on to overwinter in St Petersburg, Russia.

1803: Clementi leaves Russia in June leaving his pupil to work as a teacher in Narva, modern Estonia. He gives concerts during the year and performs at the new Saint Petersburg Philharmonic Society.

1805: He tours the Baltic states and stays in Saint Petersburg during the summer. 

1806: He gives his first concert in Moscow and Clementi arranges for the publication of some of Field’s older works in Russia.

1807: He goes to live permanently in Moscow in April. He develops his own style particulary in the sensitive use of the piano pedal.

1808: He begins publishing newly composed music beginning with piano variations on Russian folksongs for four hands entitled “Air Russe Varié” and “Kamarinskaya” for piano.

1810: He marries Adelaide Percheron, a French pianist, who was one of his former pupils. 

1811: He returns to St Petersburg where he will spend the next ten years. He publishes many works with the Russian publisher H. J. Dalmas and the European Breitkopf and Hartel. He gives lessons to the young composer Mikhail Glinka.

1812: He composes the first of his eighteen nocturnes which are influential to later Romantic composers such as Frederic Chopin and Franz Liszt who both admire the form. He composes the Sonata in B major.

1814: His first three nocturnes are published.

1815: He fathers an illegitimate son called Leon Charpentier but remains with his wife.

1817: He publishes Nocturnes 4 and 5.

1818: He visits Moscow on business with the publisher Wenzel.

1819: He and his wife have a son called Adrien. He refuses the position of Court Pianist as he is now wealthy in his own right and becoming known for his extravagant lifestyle.

1821: He gives a series of concerts in Moscow with his wife which are their last performances together. His Adelaide then leaves to start a solo career, which however is not successful.

1822: He meets Johann Nepomuk Hummel and he helps perform the latter’s Sonata for 4-Hands, His health is now beginning to deteriorate.

1823: His concert appearances start decreasing from now on and later in the decade it becomes clear that he is suffering from rectal cancer. 

1831: He goes to London to seek medical attention and arrives in September. After an operation he gives concerts in London and Manchester. He meets Felix Mendelssohn during his stay.

1832: He performs his E flat piano concerto at a Philharmonic Society concert in London. In March his former teacher Clementi dies and he acts as a pallbearer at his funeral in Evesham, Worcestershire. He performs his 7th Piano Concerto in Paris on Christmas Day.

1834: After travelling around European cities giving concerts he is admitted to hospital in Naples, Italy where he spends nine months. His Russian patrons finally rescue him and he stays with Carl Czerny in Vienna and gives recitals there before returning to Moscow with his son Adrien.

1836: He gives his last concert in March.

John Field died on 23rd January 1837 of pneumonia in Moscow, Russia. He was buried in Vvedenskoye Catholic and Protestant Cemetery in the city. 

Further Information

Complete list of works by Field.