Saturday, August 16, 2014

Field - Piano Concerto No. 2 In A-flat Major

John Field was an Irish composer that was known and respected by many early 19th century composers and performers. His music influenced Chopin, Liszt, and Schumann of his own generation and later composers such as Brahms.  He is most well known as the composer that got the credit for originating the nocturne, a form of music brought to perfection by Chopin.

He was a child prodigy and played his debut recital at the age of nine. His family moved to London where he began studies with the Italian pianist, composer and piano manufacturer Muzio Clementi. He was heard in concert by Haydn who praised his playing. He was also taught violin by J.P.Solomon, the violinist and impresario that had lured Haydn to London. 

He continued his studies with Clementi and became a representative for Clementi's piano firm. They both visited Europe and Russia, with Field staying in St. Petersburg. He remained in Russia living in St. Petersburg and Moscow  from 1802 until 1829 as a teacher, representative for Clementi's firm, composer and performer.  His health began to fail in the middle 1820's as he developed cancer of the rectum. He appeared less and less in public and traveled to London in 1831 to seek medical treatment. He was operated on and tried to resume his concertizing but with only moderate success. He went on tour in Europe and ended up back in Moscow where he died in 1837 aged 55 years. 

Fields wrote 7 piano concertos with the 2nd in A-flat being the most popular. It has never gone out of print and earned praise from Schumann and Chopin used it in his teaching. It was a staple of the piano concerto repertoire for many years but went out of favor after the turn of the 20th century. It was written about 1811, and is in three movements:

I. Allegro moderato - Some musicologists see enough similarities in this first movement to think that it served as a model for Chopin's Piano Concerto No. 2. The orchestra begins straight away with the first theme of the exposition. The theme is explored with an extended section for the orchestra until the strings introduce the second theme.  This leads to a repeat of the first theme, after which the piano makes its entrance in lyrical passage work that suits the theme, and as in its initial presentation the first theme is explored, but this time by the piano. The soloist takes up the second subject which leads to the development section. Field extends the development section considerably as both themes as well as snippets of new material go through modulations and piano configurations along with string tremolos, rarely heard outside of the opera house in 1811. The recapitulation begins with the orchestra repeating the first theme but in a highly truncated form of only a few bars before the soloist takes up the theme.  After the second theme goes through its modulations to the home key, trills close out the soloist part with no cadenza. The orchestra brings the movement to a close with a few bars.

II. Poco adagio -  A nocturne in everything but name, no doubt another great influence on Chopin. The movement is not only a contrast to the first movement by its material, but by its very short length. The nocturne gently throbs for a few minutes and gently ends.

III. Rondo: Moderato innocente - Fugato - Moderato -  The rhythmic theme of the rondo is played between episodes of other material, and is expanded and varied upon each repeat. Field uses devices found in music of his homeland such as the Scotch Snap, a sixteenth note followed by a dotted eighth. There are also grace notes heard in the winds that suggest the grace notes of a bagpipe. A section in counterpoint, a rarity for Field, appears close to the end. The theme makes its last appearance amid a highly decorated piano part. The strings play a drone as the piano weaves filigree passage work. The orchestra finishes the movement and the concerto.

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