Tuesday, 23 March 2021

The plaques that link two
19th century composers
with Lichfield and Dublin

Golden Lane, near Saint Patrick’s Cathedral, Dublin … the composer John Field was born here and later was a pupil of Muzio Clementi (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Patrick Comerford

When I reposted a photograph and a memory from the Hedgehog Vintage Inn in Lichfield two weeks ago (12 March 2021) on the Facebook group ‘You’re probably from Lichfield if …’, it prompted an interesting discussion about Mozart’s friend, the composer Muzio Clementi, who once lived at the house when it was known as Lyncroft House.

Lyncroft House was built in 1797. Muzio Clementi (1752-1832) rented the house from the Earl of Lichfield’s Estate from Lady Day (25 March) 1828 and continued to live there until late Autumn 1831.

Clementi’s son, John Muzio Clementi, later lived in Ireland, and in 1858 built Iveragh Lodge in Waterville, Co Kerry, recently on the market. John Muzio Clementi was a son of Clementi and his third wife Emma (née Gisborne).

Muzio Clementi, who was born Muzio Filippo Vincenzo Francesco Saverio Clementi in Rome, was a composer, pianist, teacher, conductor, music publisher, editor and piano maker. He was brought to England at the age of 14 and was later known as ‘the father of the pianoforte,’ the ‘father of modern piano technique,’ and the ‘father of Romantic pianistic virtuosity.’

The comments on my photographs in Lichfield reminded me that apart from the Kerry connections of his son John, one of Muzio Clementi’s greatest pupils was the Irish composer John Field (1782-1837), best-known as the inventor of the nocturne. Field is also named by Tolstoy in War and Peace, when Countess Rostova calls on the Rostov household musician to play her favourite nocturne.

John Field was born in Golden Lane, Dublin, on 26 July 1782, into a musical family. His father, Robert Field, earned his living by playing the violin in Dublin theatres, and his grandfather, also John Field, was a professional organist.

A plaque on Golden Lane, near Saint Patrick’s Cathedral, commemorates John Field. The Fields were members of the Church of Ireland, and John Field was baptised in Dublin on 30 September 1782. He first studied the piano under his grandfather and later under Tommaso Giordani, by then the organist of the Pro-Cathedral, Dublin. He made his debut in Dublin at the age of nine at a performance that was well-received on 24 March 1792, and he was part of one of Giordani’s Rotunda concerts on 4 April 1792.

The Field family had moved to London by late 1793, and there the young pianist became an apprentice with Muzio Clementi. This may have been arranged by Robert Field through Giordani, who knew Clementi.

As Clementi’s apprentice and pupil, Field gave public performances in London and was soon celebrated. His performance of a Dussek piano concerto around 1795 was praised by Haydn.

Field continued to study with Clementi, and at the same time worked at making and selling his instruments. He also took up violin playing, which he studied under JP Solomon. His first compositions were published by Clementi in 1795. His first historically important work, the Piano Concerto No. 1, H 27, had its premiere in London on 7 February 1799, when he was still only 16.

Field’s first official opus was a set of three piano sonatas published by and dedicated to Clementi in 1801. Field and Clementi left London in 1802 and went to Paris on business. They soon travelled to Vienna, where Field took a brief course in counterpoint under Johann Georg Albrechtsberger and met Beethoven. Field played in October for Beethoven, who praised him highly.

Field and Clementi arrived in Saint Petersburg in early winter 1802. Field was inclined to stay, impressed by the artistic life of the city. Clementi left in June 1803, but not before securing Field a teaching post in Narva and appointing the young man as his deputy, so that Field would receive similarly high fees.

After Clementi left, Field had a busy concert season, eventually performing at the newly-founded Saint Petersburg Philharmonic Society. He also worked there as a sales representative for the Clementi Pianos.

Field began a concert tour of the Baltic cities in 1805, staying in Saint Petersburg during the summer. The following year he gave his first concert in Moscow. Clementi arranged the publication of some of Field’s old works in Russia in late 1806, and sold Field a piano in exchange for music.

Field returned to Moscow in April 1807 and in 1810 he married a former pupil, Adelaide Percheron, a French pianist. Meanwhile, he began publishing newly composed music in 1808-1809, starting with piano variations on Russian folksongs: Air russe varié for piano 4 hands, H 10, and Kamarinskaya for piano, H 22. He returned to Saint Petersburg in 1811, and spent the next decade of his life there, publishing new pieces and producing corrected editions of old ones.

Field fathered an illegitimate son, Leon Charpentier (later Leon Leonov), who was born in 1815 and later became a famous tenor. But Field remained with his wife, and their son Adrien, born in 1819, later became a pianist.

Field declined the position of court pianist when it was offered to him in 1819. But by then his lifestyle and social behaviour had become extravagant

The Hedgehog Vintage Inn in Lichfield … as Lyncroft House, it was the home of the composer Muzio Clementi (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Field and his wife gave a series of concerts in Moscow in 1821, but Adelaide left soon after with their son left Adrien. Field’s concert appearances were fewer and fewer from 1823 on, and by the late 1820s he was suffering from rectal cancer. He left for London, and it would be interesting to know whether he visited Lichfield, where Clementi was living at Lyncroft House since March 1828.

Clementi left Lichfield in Autumn 1831. Meanwhile, Field, who had an operation in London in September 1831, gave concerts in London and in Manchester. He stayed in England for some time, meeting people such as Mendelssohn and Moscheles.

Clementi died on 10 March 1832, and Field was a pallbearer at his funeral in Westminster Abbey on 29 March 1832, along with two other former pupils, Johann Baptist Cramer and Ignaz Moscheles.

Field gave a concert in Paris on Christmas Day 1832, moved on to various European cities, and spent nine months in a Naples hospital in 1834-1835. He then gave three recitals in Vienna before returning to Moscow with his son Adrien. He gave his last concert in March 1836 and died in Moscow on 23 January 1837. He was buried in the Vvedenskoye Cemetery.

Field influenced many major composers, including Frédéric Chopin, Johannes Brahms, Robert Schumann, and Franz Liszt. Chopin would make the piano nocturne famous, and Listz published an edition of the nocturnes based on rare Russian sources that incorporated late revisions by Field.

Field’s students include Prussian pianist and composer Charles Mayer, the Franco-Russian composer Alexandre Dubuque, and the Polish pianist and composer Antoine de Kontski.

As for Clementi’s son John Clementi, he built his house in Waterville, Co Kerry, in 1858. I have been unable to trace his life story after he sold Iveragh Lodge, or whether he ever returned to Lichfield. His brother, the Revd Vincent Clementi (1814-1899), was ordained in the Diocese of Canterbury and later lived in Canada. A nephew, Sir Cecil Clementi Smith (1840-1916), was Governor of Sri Lanka (Ceylon), and later generations of the Clementi family included diplomats, bankers, sculptors and Anglican priests.

Today, Lyncroft House, Muzio Clementi’s former home in Lichfield, is the Hedgehog Vintage Inn. Lichfield Civic Society unveiled commemorative plaque at his Lichfield home in July 2018.

As for the Field family in Dublin, I have sometimes wondered whether there is a family connection with Adelaide Margaret Field (1878-1953), daughter of John E Field, solicitor’s clerk, of 39 Longwood Avenue, South Circular Road, Dublin, and his wife Elizabeth Mary (née Doyle), of 53 Lower Clanbrassil Street. She married Charles William Comerford (1877-1953) in Holy Trinity Church (Church of Ireland), Rathmines, on 9 June 1910, and they lived at No 60 Kenilworth Square before moving to England.

The plaque commemorating Muzio Clementi at the Hedgehog Vintage Inn in Lichfield (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

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