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Markevitch was born in Kiev, Ukraine, that time a part of the Russian Empire, to an old family of Ukrainian Cossack starshyna ennobled in the 18th century. One of his ancestors was a Jewish merchant who converted to Eastern Orthodox Christianity in the 17th century.
A son of pianist Boris Markevitch and Zoia Pokitonova, young Igor moved with his family to Paris in 1914 and Switzerland in 1916. Pianist Alfred Cortot, perhaps the greatest French pianist of his time, recognized his talent and advised him in 1926 to go to Paris for training in both composition and piano at the École Normale, where he studied under both Cortot and Nadia Boulanger.
He next gained important recognition in 1929 when choreographer-impresario Serge Diaghilev discovered him, commissioned a piano concerto from him and invited him to collaborate on a ballet with Boris Kochno. In a letter to the London Times, Diaghilev hailed Markevitch as the composer who would put an end to 'a scandalous period of music ... of cynical-sentimental simplicity'. The ballet project came to an end with Diaghilev's death on 19 August 1929, but Markevitch's compositions were accepted by the publisher Schott and he continued to produce at least one major work per year during the 1930s. He was rated among the leading contemporary composers of the time, even to the extent of being hailed as "the second Igor", after Igor Stravinsky.
Markevitch collaborated on the ballet score Rébus with Leonid Massine in 1931 and another, L'envol d'Icare, in 1932 with Serge Lifar. Neither was staged, but both scores were performed in concert. L'envol d'Icare, based on the legend of the fall of Icarus, which Markevitch himself recorded in 1938 conducting the Belgian National Orchestra, was especially radical, introducing quarter-tones in both woodwinds and strings. (In 1943 he recomposed the work under the title Icare, eliminating the quarter tones and simplifying the rhythms and orchestration.) Béla Bartók once described Markevitch as "...the most striking personality in contemporary music..." and claimed him as an influence on his own creative work. An independent version of L'envol d'Icare for two pianos and percussion which Bartók heard is believed to have influenced the latter's own Sonata for 2 Pianos and Percussion.
Markevitch continued composing as war approached, but in October 1941, not long after completing his last original work, the Variations, Fugue and Envoi on a Theme of Handel for piano, he fell seriously ill. After recovering, he decided to give up composition and focus exclusively on conducting. His last compositional projects were the revision of L'envol d'Icare and arrangements of other composers' music, of which the version of J. S. Bach's Musikalisches Opfer (Musical Offering) is especially notable.
He had débuted as a conductor at age 18 with the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra. After presiding at the Dutch premiere of Rébus, he studied conducting with Pierre Monteux and Hermann Scherchen. As a conductor, he was well respected for his interpretations of the French, Russian and Austro-German repertory, and of twentieth-century music in general. He settled in Italy, and during the Second World War was active in the partisan movement. He married and settled in Switzerland in 1947, but pursued his conducting career worldwide. He became permanent conductor of the Orchestre Lamoureux in Paris in the 1950s, conducted the Spanish RTVE Orchestra in 1965 and was also permanent conductor of the Monte Carlo orchestra.
In 1970, after ignoring his own compositions for nearly 30 years, Markevitch began to conduct his own music frequently, triggering its slow revival. His last concert was in Kiev, his birthplace, and he died suddenly from a heart attack in the Antibes on March 7, 1983, after a concert tour in Japan.
A great-great-grandfather Nykola Markevitch was a famous historian, ethnographer, composer and poet. A great-uncle, Andriy Markevitch was an activist, ethnographer, lawyer, philanthropist and musician. His maternal grandfather was well-known painter Ivan Pokhitonov (1850-1923), and a brother Dimitry Markevitch was a noted musicologist and cellist.
Markevitch's first wife was Kyra Nijinska (1913/1914-1998), daughter of the great ballet dancer Vaslav Nijinsky. She bore him a son, Vaslav (b. 1936), before they divorced. His second wife was Donna Topazia Caetani, the only child of Don Michelangelo Caetani dei Duchi di Sermoneta and his wife, the former Cora Antinori, who ran the boutique of the Paris decorating firm Jansen. Their son, Oleg Caetani, was chief conductor and artistic director of the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra in Australia. Topazia also bore him two daughters, Allegra (b. 1950) and Nathalie (b. 1951), and another son, Timour (1960-1962).
Toward the end of his life, Spanish pianist Carlota Garriga became his companion.
- Noces, suite for piano (1925)
- Sinfonietta in F major (1928-9)
- Piano Concerto (1929)
- Cantate for soprano, male chorus & orchestra (1929–30) (text by Jean Cocteau)
- Concerto Grosso (1930)
- Partita for piano and small orchestra (1930–31)
- Serenade for violin, clarinet and bassoon (1931)
- Rébus, ballet (1931)
- Cinéma-Ouverture (1931)
- Galop for 8 or 9 players (1932)
- L'envol d'Icare, ballet (1932); recomposed as Icare (1943)
- Hymnes for orchestra (1932–33) (revised version 1980 with ad lib contralto and extra movement orchestrated from No. 3 of Trois poèmes of 1935)
- Petite suite d’apres Schumann for small orchestra (1933)
- Psaume for soprano and small orchestra (1933)
- Le paradis perdu, oratorio (1934–35) (text by Markevitch after John Milton)
- Trois poèmes for high voice and piano (1935) (texts by Cocteau, Plato, Goethe); No.3 orchestrated 1936 as Hymne à la mort, incorporated 1980 into Hymnes for orchestra
- Cantique d’amour for orchestra (1936)
- Le nouvel âge, sinfonia concertante for orchestra with 2 pianos (1937)
- La Taille de l’homme, 'concert inachevée' for soprano and 12 instruments (1938–39, unfinished, but Part I complete and performable)
- Stefan le poète, 'impressions d’enfance' pour piano (1939–40)
- Lorenzo il magnifico, sinfonia concertante for soprano and orchestra (1940) (texts by Lorenzo de Medici)
- Variations, Fugue et Envoi on a Theme of Handel for piano (1941)
- Le Bleu Danube, valse de concert on themes by Johann Strauss (1944)
- 6 Songs of Mussorgsky arranged for voice and orchestra (1945)
- The Musical Offering, BWV 1079 by Johann Sebastian Bach arranged for triple orchestra (1949–50)
- Historical, analytical and practical studies of Beethoven symphonies (Die Sinfonien von Ludwig van Beethoven: historische, analytische und praktische Studien; published by Edition Peters, Leipzig, 1982) - popular literature for conductors, although disputed.
- The New York Times
- Tempo 133/4 (September 1980) Igor Markevitch double issue.
- Birth centenary exhibition "Igor Markevitch compositeur et chef d'orchestre 1912/2012"Château de Chillon, Switzerland. Catalogue
- 'Igor Markevitch: A Chronology', Tempo 133/4, p. 10.
- 'Icare' by Clive Bennett in Tempo No. 133/134 (September 1980), p. 45.
- "Igor Markevitch Biography". Naxos Records. Retrieved 2007-09-07.
- Bennett, 1980, p. 4.
- Lyndon-Gee, C. Liner notes for Marco Polo CD 8.223666 Complete Orchestral Music Vol 2, 1996; taken from research by David Drew, Tempo 133-134, September 1980.
- Nadine Meisner (1998-10-22). "Obituary: Kyra Nijinsky - Arts & Entertainment". The Independent. Retrieved 2013-05-07.
- "Kyra Nijinsky". Mijnstambomen.nl. 1936-04-24. Retrieved 2013-05-07.
- Igor Markevitch at Allmusic
- Igor Markevitch discography at Discogs
- Igor Markevitch biography at Boosey & Hawkes
- Igor Markevitch biography at Classical Composers Database
- František Sláma (musician) Archive. More on the history of the Czech Philharmonic between the 1940s and the 1980s: Conductors
|Principal Conductors, Orchestre Lamoureux