seamus dubhghaill

Promoting Irish Culture and History from Little Rock, Arkansas, USA


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Birth of John Field, Pianist & Composer

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.

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Birth of Charles Wood, Composer & Teacher

Charles Wood, composer and teacher, is born in Vicars’ Hill in the Cathedral precincts of Armagh, County Armagh on June 15, 1866. His pupils include Ralph Vaughan Williams at Cambridge and Herbert Howells at the Royal College of Music. For most of his adult life he lives in England, but preserves a lively interest in Ireland.

Wood is the fifth child and third son of Charles Wood, Sr. and Jemima Wood. He is a treble chorister in the choir of the nearby St. Patrick’s Cathedral. His father sings tenor as a stipendiary “Gentleman” or “Lay Vicar Choral” in the Cathedral choir and is also the Diocesan Registrar of the church. He is a cousin of Irish composer Ina Boyle.

Wood receives his early education at the Cathedral Choir School and also studies organ with two Organists and Masters of the Boys of Armagh Cathedral, Robert Turle and his successor Dr. Thomas Marks. In 1883 he becomes one of fifty inaugural class members of the Royal College of Music, studying composition with Charles Villiers Stanford and Charles Hubert Hastings Parry primarily, and horn and piano secondarily. Following four years of training, he continues his studies at Selwyn College, Cambridge through 1889, where he begins teaching harmony and counterpoint.

In 1889 he attains a teaching position at Gonville and Caius College, Cambridge, first as organ scholar and then as fellow in 1894, becoming the first Director of Music and Organist. He is instrumental in the reflowering of music at the college, though more as a teacher and organiser of musical events than as composer. After Stanford dies in 1924, Wood assumes his mentor’s vacant role as Professor of Music in the University of Cambridge.

Like his better-known colleague Stanford, Wood is chiefly remembered for his Anglican church music. As well as his Communion Service in the Phrygian mode, his settings of the Magnificat and Nunc dimittis are still popular with cathedral and parish church choirs, particularly the services in F, D, and G, and the two settings in E flat. During Passiontide his St. Mark Passion is sometimes performed, and demonstrates Wood’s interest in modal composition, in contrast to the late romantic harmonic style he more usually employs.

Wood’s anthems with organ, Expectans expectavi, and O Thou, the Central Orb are both frequently performed and recorded, as are his unaccompanied anthems Tis the day of Resurrection, Glory and Honour and, most popular of all, Hail, gladdening light and its lesser-known equivalent for men’s voices, Great Lord of Lords. All of Wood’s a cappella music demonstrates fastidious craftsmanship and a supreme mastery of the genre, and he is no less resourceful in his accompanied choral works which sometimes include unison sections and have stirring organ accompaniments, conveying a satisfying warmth and richness of emotional expression appropriate to his carefully chosen texts.

Wood collaborates with priest and poet George Ratcliffe Woodward in the revival and popularisation of renaissance tunes to new English religious texts, notably co-editing three books of carols. He also writes eight string quartets, and is co-founder of the Irish Folk Song Society in 1904.

He marries Charlotte Georgina Wills-Sandford, daughter of W. R. Wills-Sandford, of Castlerea, County Roscommon on March 17, 1898. Their son is killed in World War I.

Charles Wood dies on July 12, 1926 and is buried at the Ascension Parish Burial Ground in Cambridge alongside his wife.