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July 26 composer birthdays: Franz Xaver Mozart & John Field

July 26 composer birthdays: Franz Xaver Mozart & John Field featured image

Franz Xaver Wolfgang Mozart was born a few months before his famous father’s death. He was called Wolfgang by his family and grew up in quite the musical household. Despite the negative depiction of Antonio Salieri in the film Amadeus, he couldn’t have been all bad; he was Wolfgang’s music teacher along with Johann Nepomuk Hummel (who wrote a lot of sonatas and sonatinas, as any piano student can attest). Wolfgang became a composer, pianist, conductor, and teacher of the late classical era, with hints of early Romanticism.

Wolfgang wasn’t the party animal his father was, and he turned out to be a self-deprecating introvert. I don’t know how he managed to pursue a career in music, given the extraordinary shadow his father would have cast. He did worry about constant comparisons and sure enough, his father was referenced on his tombstone: “May the name of his father be his epitaph, as his venerations for him was the essence of his life.”

The musical output of Wolfgang was relatively small, but a quite a few published works remain, and many have been recorded. If you listen to the two piano concerti posted below, the first reveals an expanded range on the keyboard that rules it out as being mistaken for his father’s. The second has an early 19th century sound, featuring virtuosity in the piano part that looks forward to the romantic era.

Here is Wolfgang’s Piano Concerto No. 1 in C major, Op. 14 as performed by Henri Sigridsson, conducted by Gunhard Mattes and the Symphony Orchestra INSO Lemberg.

If you’d like to compare the difference in concerti, here is the Piano Concerto No. 2 in E-flat major, Op. 25, performed by Olga Zdorenko and the Collegium Musicum Chamber Orchestra, conducted by Ivan Ostapovych.

Franz Xaver Wolfgang Mozart was born July 26, 1791in Vienna, Austria, and died July 29, 1844, in what is now Karlovy Vary, Czech Republic.

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John Field was a pianist, composer, and teacher from Ireland. He studied with Muzio Clementi (the sonatina king, if you peruse any Royal Conservatory of Music piano rep book), and he went on to be a major influence on the likes of Chopin, Brahms, Schumann, and Liszt.

John Field is generally credited for creating the “nocturne”, or “night piece”. The nocturne flourished in the romantic era, written mainly for piano. The melody is very melodious, usually played in the right hand, while the left played a flowery accompaniment consisting of fleeting notes cascading up and down the keys. While Chopin mastered this art form like no other, putting the nocturne on the map, it was John Field who was the pioneer. Later on, other composers took their crack at the nocturne, including Faure, Scriabin, Satie, and Poulenc.

There was a LOT of classical music in my house growing up, either practising, piano lessons going on downstairs, or on the radio. I’m really glad I learned about Field, because once in a while I’d hear one of Field’s pieces on the radio, and I remember musing to my mom, “The Matriarch”, how it sounded an awful lot like Chopin, but neither of us could quite place it. The piece also sounded less harmonically complex than Chopin, but it didn’t sound like a “junior” piece, either. I was relieved when the announcer came on to say it was indeed a nocturne, but by John Field. Back in the dark ages, we didn’t have internet to do a google search, but The Matriarch had tons of music reference books in her studio, so I looked it up (my parents were always telling me to “look it up!”). I discovered John Field was the guy Chopin could thank for the nocturne form.

Pianist Elizabeth Joy Roe recorded “John Field: Complete Nocturnes”. Let it run – what do you think? I think it makes for great background music (I don’t mean that in a bad way), whereas with Chopin, I tend to stop what I’m doing to pay attention (even if Chopin is not my favourite).

John Field was born July 26, 1782 in Dublin, Ireland, and died January 23, 1837 in Moscow, Russia.

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