John Field, pianist, composer, and teacher, is born in Dublin into a musical family on July 26, 1782. He is the eldest son of Irish parents who are members of the Church of Ireland. His father, Robert Field, earns his living by playing the violin in Dublin theatres.
Field first studies the piano under his grandfather, who is a professional organist, and later under Tommaso Giordani. He makes his debut at the age of nine, a performance that is well-received, on March 24, 1792 in Dublin. By late 1793, the Fields have settled in London, where the young pianist starts studying with Muzio Clementi.
Field continues giving public performances and soon becomes famous in London, attracting favourable comments from the press and the local musicians. Around 1795 his performance of a Jan Ladislav Dussek piano concerto is praised by Joseph Haydn. Field continues his studies with Clementi, also helping the Italian with the making and selling of instruments. He also takes up the violin, which he studies under Johann Peter Solomon. His first published compositions are issued by Clementi in 1795. The first historically important work, the Piano Concerto No. 1, H 27, is premiered by the composer in London on February 7, 1799, when he is 16 years old. Field’s first official opus is a set of three piano sonatas published by Clementi in 1801.
In summer 1802 Field and Clementi leave London and go to Paris on business. They soon travel to Vienna, where Field takes a brief course in counterpoint under Johann Georg Albrechtsberger, and in early winter arrive in Saint Petersburg. Field is inclined to stay, impressed by the artistic life of the city. Clementi leaves in June 1803, but not before securing Field a teaching post in Narva. After Clementi’s departure, Field has a busy concert season, eventually performing at the newly founded Saint Petersburg Philharmonia. In 1805 Field embarks on a concert tour of the Baltic states, staying in Saint Petersburg during the summer. The following year he gives his first concert in Moscow. He returns to Moscow in April 1807 and apparently does not revisit Saint Petersburg until 1811. In 1810 he marries Adelaide Percheron, a French pianist and former pupil.
In 1811 Field returns to Saint Petersburg where he spends the next decade of his life, more productive than ever before, publishing numerous new pieces and producing corrected editions of old ones. He is successful in establishing a fruitful collaboration with both H.J. Dalmas, the most prominent Russian publisher of the time, and Breitkopf & Härtel, one of the most important music publishing houses of Europe. By 1819 Field is sufficiently wealthy to be able to refuse the position of court pianist that is offered to him. His lifestyle and social behaviour are becoming more and more extravagant.
In 1818 Field revisits Moscow on business, prompted by his collaboration with the publisher Wenzel. He and his wife give a series of concerts in the city in 1821, the last of which marks their last appearance in public together. Adelaide leaves Field soon afterward and attempts a solo career, which is not particularly successful. Field stays in Moscow and continues performing and publishing his music. In 1822 he meets Johann Nepomuk Hummel and the two collaborate on a performance of Hummel’s Sonata for Piano 4-Hands, Op. 92.
Partly as a result of his extravagant lifestyle, Field’s health begins to deteriorate by the mid-1820s. From about 1823 his concert appearances started decreasing. By the late 1820s he is suffering from colorectal cancer. Field leaves for London to seek medical attention. He arrives in September 1831 and, after an operation, gives concerts there and in Manchester. He stays in England for some time, meeting distinguished figures such as Felix Mendelssohn and Ignaz Moscheles. After a series of concerts in various European cities, Field spends nine months in a Naples hospital. His Russian patrons rescue him. He briefly stays with Carl Czerny in Vienna, where he gives three recitals, and then returns to Moscow. He gives his last concert in March 1836 and dies in Moscow almost a year later, on January 23, 1837, from pneumonia. He is buried in the Vvedenskoye Cemetery.