Lyric Feature: John Field’s life reads like a picaresque novel. There’s a touch of the Barry Lyndons about his continental peregrinations and ability to use his charm and talent to get on. 

Listen to Last Thoughts: The Life and Music of John Field below...

Ireland’s greatest composer and pianist was born in Golden Lane, Dublin, in 1782, at the historical centre of the city, triangulated between St. Patrick’s Cathedral, Dublin Castle and Christchurch. His youth saw the transformation of the decaying medieval city, which used the Liffey as a toilet, to the grand Georgian metropolis that elegantly held the river in its tender embrace.

Listen: 18 Nocturnes by John Field

It was within this era of the flowering of the Protestant Ascendancy that the Fields prospered. A family of professional musicians, with a grandfather the organist at St. Werburgh’s church and a father a violinist with the Theatre Royal, they quickly identified that John was a prodigy, and after a feted debut, aged 10, at the Rotunda, moved to London to apprentice him to ‘the father of the piano’, Muzio Clementi. 

30 concerts later, a teenage Field established himself as the finest pianist in the largest city in the world. Clementi saw this development as an opportunity to make big money selling his pianos across Europe. If you heard Field make the piano sing, you would be compelled to buy one.  

Watch a preview of Last Thoughts - The Life and Music of John Field:

Like Napoleon at the time, Field traversed Europe capturing all before him, but unlike the Corsican, Field actually conquered Russia. This was at the height of the Russian Empire, one of the biggest in history, when Catherine the Great designated St. Petersburg, Russia’s gateway to Europe, the imperial capital, and an Irishman established himself as the city’s most celebrated performer.

Over the next 30 years, he would make a name for himself in Russia, or rather several names, including prestigious titles like ‘The Father of the Nocturne’, ’The Father of Russian Pianism’, but also rock star nomenclature like ‘Drunken John’. But he was always writing his seminal nocturnes and concerti, and he was writing from Russia with love, for when he was struck down by cancer, aged 54, he met his end surrounded by aristocratic devotees. He was laid to rest in Vvedenskoye cemetery, in 1837, honored by a fitting memorial paid for by bereft Muscovite grandees.

Watch a preview of Last Thoughts - The Life and Music of John Field:

Last Thoughts, Marc-Ivan O’Gorman’s docudrama on the life an music of John Field traces the highs and lows of the life of yet another great Irish artist in exile, and features insightful contributions by experts in 19th century music, such as, Una Hunt, Deborah Kelleher and David Mooney, and dramatic performances from an international cast of actors, including Alan Smith, Anthony Skordi and Richard Shelton.

The Lyric Feature: Last Thoughts - The Life and Music of John Field airs on RTE Lyric FM Sunday 4th of November at 6pm.