Igor Markevitch was born in Kiev July 27, 1912. His father, Boris Markevitch, was a pianist and studied with the famous Eugene d'Albert. The Name of Igor's mother was Zola Pokitnova. In 1914 the Markevitch family fled to Paris. But there they did not stay for a long time. Two years later they setteled in La-Tour-de-Peilz (Vevey), Switzerland.
Most of the time Igor Markevitch spoke French, and the titles of his works are normally in French. Until 1923, when his father died, Igor studied piano with him. At the age of 13 Igor Markevitch played his piano suite "Noces" to Alfred Cortot. Cortot was very much impressed and invited Markevitch to study with him. In addition to this, Markevitch studied at the "École Normale de Musique" in Paris from 1926 to 1928. Here Nadia Boulanger teached him harmony and counterpoint. In 1929 he completed his diplomas at the "École Normale".
When listening to "Noces" Alfred Cortot was very much impressed - this time it's Dyagilev, who is faszinated by this work. After listening to "Noces" and the "Sinfonietta", he commissions two new works from Markevitch: a "Piano Concerto" and "L'Habit du Roi" [The Emperor's New Clothes], a ballet with scenario by Boris Kochno and designes by Picasso. But on August 19, 1929 Dyagilev died and the ballet music is abandoned - just some of its music is incorporated into "Cantata" with a new text written by Jean Cocteau.
In the following years Markevitch's compositions are getting more and more famous. The "Piano Concerto", "Cantata", "Concerto Grosso" and "Rébus" get very successful premières in Europe and the US. They get performances by conductors like Désormière, Rosbaud, Monteux and Koussevitzky. One of the most successful performances must have been the première of "L'Envol d'Icare" [The Flight of Icarus] on June 26, 1933 with Désormière as conductor. This work plays an important role in the life of Igor Markevitch. Darius Milhaud said about it: "this work... will probably mark a date in the evolution of music".
Now Markevitch is at the peak of success. He is called the "Second Igor" by many people who compare him to Igor Stravinsky [Stravinsky himself doesn't like this comparison and Markevitch is now 'persona non grata' with Stravinsky]. But despite of Markevitch's growing fame as a composer now he starts to develop in another direction. From 1934 Markevitch studies occasionally conducting with Hermann Scherchen in Switzerland. On December 20 1935 he replaces Scherchen in conducting the première of Markevitch's oratorio "Le Paradis perdu" [Paradise Lost] at Queen's Hall in London.
In April 1936 Markevitch and Kyra, the daughtor of Vaslav Nijinsky, get married. They live together in Corsier, Switzerland. The marriage lasts nine years, but they live estranged after four years. Their son Vaclav was named after his grandfather Vaslav Nijinsky.
In the following years Markevitch composes a lot and his works are well received by the critics and the public, especially the performance of "L'Envol d'Icare" at the Biennale in Venice in 1937 and the première of "Le Nouvel Âge" in Warsaw in 1938. Nevertheless these are hard times for Markevitch. The Second World War is approaching, the conditions in Europe get worse. He supplements his income by giving lectures, piano recitals and radio broadcasts in Switzerland and abroad. In 1940 he visits Florence together with his wife Kyra. Here he composes "Lorenzo Il Magnifico", a "vocal symphony". Markevitch stays in Italy, where Kyra now teaches dance, after he has failed to comply with Swiss residency laws. He is now technically stateless. The couple lives in Settignano and Markevitch falls seriously ill after a hard winter in 1941/42. This is the major crisis in his life. Later he will say that he felt "dead between two lives". After his illness he never composed again - his last composition is from 1941. At this time Markevitch is just 29 years old.
What happened? Well, it's hard if not impossible to give a satisfying answer to this question. For sure Markevitch is deeply affected by the horrors of the Second World War [by that time the war already spreaded to Italy]. His psychological crisis probably influences his physical health, too and results in his serious illness. But this is just speculation. Even if we look at Markevitch's autobiography "Être et avoir été" from 1980 we can't find an answer. It's only sure that he almost denied the existence of his own music until nearly seventy years old. When questioned about his "first life" as a composer he replied in 1958:
"I would say to you, very frankly, that I am objective enough to claim that there is music which needs to be heard before mine, and for which the need is more urgent. Apart from that, if my works are good enough, they can wait; and if they cannot wait, it is pointless to play them."
Despite Markevitch's own critical comments on his music, I think that it is really worth to get rediscovered. Markevitch himself changed his attitude towards his music in 1978 when he conducted "L'Envol d'Icare" and "Le Paradis perdu" in Brussels. The time between the crisis and 1978 was a time of great success for Markevitch, but it was the success of the conductor, not the composer. So it's not that important for us in this context.
In 1943 Markevitch joins the Partisans in their fight against Fascism, becoming a member of the Committee of Liberation of the Italian Resistance and in 1947 he is naturalised as an Italian citizen. After getting a divorce from Kyra he marries Topazia Caetani. Markevitch is travelling a lot at this time. His international conducting career takes him to music directorships in Stockholm, Paris, Montreal, Madrid, Monte Carlo, Havana and Rome.
More than 30 years later, in 1978, Markevitch conducts "L'Envol d'Icare" and "Le Paradis perdu" in Brussels. Both concerts are successful and "Boosey & Hawkes" in London offer him a publication contract. But this doesn't result in recordings of Markevitch's works. Until today there are just a few CDs available [I only know about the Marco Polo series and the Largo CD]. In addition to these CDs there are only a few works which are preserved from 1930's radio broadcasts, and a recording on 78s of "L'Envol d'Icare" from 1938.
Markevitch's autobiography "Être et avoir été" [Beeing and having been] is published by Gallimard in 1980. The same year he undertakes revision of some of his works from the 1930s. Three years later Markevitch travels to Kiev, his city of birth - in this year, 1983, he suddenly falls ill and dies in Antibes on 7th March.