|About this Recording
8.223666 - MARKEVITCH: Orchestral Music, Vol. 2 - Cantique d'Amour / L'Envol d'Icare / Concerto Grosso
Igor Markevitch (1912 -1983)
Complete Orchestral Music Vol. 2
Cantique d' Amour (World premiere recording)
Concerto Grosso (World premiere recording)
Apart from one work preserved on 78 r.p.m. discs, and a handful of radio broadcasts, the present series of recordings is the first ever made of the arrestingly original orchestral music of a composer hailed in the 1930s as one of the singular voices of his time, yet subsequently ignored - not least by himself. Thus, these discs may offer the beginnings of an opportunity to decipher the mystery that is Igor Markevitch.
Unless we include the precedent of Rossini, who retired from opera at 38, but continued to write salon music and sacred works, Markevitch's renunciation at 29 of his identity as a composer is a unique case in the history of music. To quote David Drew: "It is a silence like no other in the music of this century or before." The eclipse during his lifetime of his reputation as a composer appears on the surface, more than any other single factor, due to the dimensions of his success as a conductor. What has yet to be fully explained, however, is why his life divides so dramatically and uncompromisingly into two halves - clearly a conscious decision on his part, and one whose true reasons this intensely private man seems to have sought to keep hidden. Markevitch's last original composition was written in 1941 at the age of 29, and he never again returned to I the creative endeavours that had brought him such renown and adulation I when barely in his twenties.
The trauma of the Second World War marks a sharp dividing line during which the composer appears to have undergone a mental, as well as physical crisis -for in 1942 Markevitch suffered a serious illness while living in Tuscany, and in a letter of the same year, written during his recuperation, declared that he sensed himself "dead between two lives". But this alone cannot fully explain the reasons for his abandoning composition; and his autobiography Etre et avoir ete, published in 1980, obfuscates and misleads, even as it makes a show of revealing the writer's inner life.
Markevitch is in no sense a "conductor-composer", as were Furtwängler, Klemperer, Weingartner and many others between the wars. On the contrary, he emerged first as a phenomenally gifted adolescent composer, exalted by his contemporaries on the basis of an astoundingly assured series of early scores, who turned to conducting almost reluctantly when required by his own work. Yet, after changing course to a career exclusively as conductor at thirty, he all but denied the existence of his own music until nearly seventy years old. When questioned in 1958 about his early life as composer, he diffidently replied:
I would say to you, very [rankly, 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.
The facts of his 'first life' are remarkable. Born in Kiev on 27th July, 1912, his family moved to Paris in 1914, before settling in Switzerland. As early as the age of thirteen, he played his piano suite Noces to Alfred Cortot, who recommended the work to his publishers and invited the boy to study with him.
In January 1929, before his seventeenth birthday, he enraptured Dyagilev with his Sinfonietta in F, leading in a matter of months to the young composer completing and playing his new Piano Concerto at Covent Garden (in concert form between L'apres-midi d'un faune and Renard, at what the influential social columns of London’s Sketch referred to as a "rehearsal party" for a select group of intelligentsia including, apparently, Virginia Woolf). Soon after, he began work on a major ballet-score, L 'Habit du Roi (The Emperor's New Clothes), to be choreographed by Lifar with decor by Picasso. In short, he was at seventeen launched by Dyagilev on a path that brought world-wide fame as a composer by the time he was twenty.
"I was his last discovery" were Markevitch's words in a revealing 1972 interview with John Gruen; and indeed, the manner in which Dyagilev, "the greatest agent-provocateur that ever existed" took him up must at least in part have been a journey into nostalgia for the impresario. Markevitch could hardly have entered more fully into the world of the Ballets-Russes, as he went on to marry Nijinsky's daughter Kyra, though this marriage soon degenerated. So much so that during their war-time life in Italy, Bernard Berenson rather amusingly related that Igor and Kyra used to visit him alternately, since "when they were together their artistic temperaments tended to explode" .They were estranged four years into this nine-year marriage, and Markevitch soon married again, though not before he and Kyra had had a son, Vaslav (nicknamed "Funtyki" by Berenson), named in honour of his grandfather.
The music of this extraordinary young man betrays no hint of immaturity: both in style and technique it is complete, utterly assured and deeply original. His Cantata of 1930, written on a text of Cocteau (and including music rescued from the sketches for L 'Habjt du Roj), brought forth the comment from Henri Sauget "... it bears witness to a very fine mastery, and to a marvellous balance of intelligence and esprit." This eighteen-year-old, indeed, was hailed throughout Europe as perhaps the brightest hope in the musical firmament of that time. Only three years later Darius Milhaud wrote of the premiere of L 'Envol d'Icare: "this work... will probably mark a date in the evolution of music".
Was this adulation more than the young composer could bear? Had Dyagilev put pressure on him, conscious or unconscious, to be the new Stravinsky, exactly thirty years on? His autobiography reveals a sense that the overnight glory which assailed him as Dyagilev's protege caused such a break with the normal rhythms of adolescence that he felt a stranger had been born within, an alien persona that guided him beyond any of his desires.
It is undoubtedly more than coincidental that at nineteen Markevitch should have turned to the Icarus myth for his first truly individual work, L 'Envol d'Icare, a score which he continued to re-work in various forms for more than a decade. Icarus, who flew too close to the sun and fell to earth, embodies a vivid image of the fate of the young composer, swept along by the frenetic Paris of the 1930s. Indeed, the most striking passage of Icare is the lengthy, hypnotic, ecstatic-obsessive "Death" that concludes the work, occupying nearly one-third of its duration.
The series of large-scale works that followed over the following brief eight years are a succession of masterpieces in constantly changing languages. Ribus and Le Nouvel Age both embody a Prokofiev-like grittiness married to that motoric moto perpetuo quality that so typifies the music of Albert Roussel, but in a more pointed harmonic framework, and continuing the exploration of multiple simultaneous polyrhythms that are Markevitch's trademark. The all- too-brief Cantique d' Amour is a ravishing Ravelian essay in evocative colour, yet curiously emotionally detached. Psaume and the cantata-symphony Lorenzo n Magnifico are massive and bold. The early works Sinfonietta, Concerto Grosso and Partita are memorable for far more than merely their youthful assurance of execution; their harmonic language explores beyond the conventional, and their polytonal and rhythmic ideas are searchingly original.
L'Envol d'Icare remains the singular work among these masterpieces, whether for its ascetic, pointillistic scoring; its visionary use of quarter-tone tuning, harmonically so precisely calculated; its brilliant exploitation of complex rhythmic simultaneities; or the sheer unique sound-world that it evokes from the orchestra. Above all, for the poise and emotional charge of its hypnotic "Death".
The achievement of Igor Markevitch bridges important gaps in our understanding of the period between the wars. His language is aggressively individual. Not neo-classical, it has classical restraint and a poise that is almost, frigidly disciplined. In an aesthetic distant from the transmuted romanticism that propels the music of Berg and Schoenberg, he initiated an exploration of dissonance (through polytonality) that the perspective of the nineties can readily identify as a fertile harmonic path. Dissatisfied with what he seems to have perceived as the indulgent prettiness of impressionism, he sought a purity and detachment of style which were rare in this interbellum period of excess.
Igor Markevitch has so recently begun to emerge from the shadows in his "first incarnation" as a composer that an outline of the major events of this early phase of his life will be illuminating, not least, because it shows him in constant, intimate contact with innumerable other, and hitherto better-known major figures of the century .
1912 Born in Kiev, 27th July, to the pianist Boris Markevitch (a student of Eugene d' Albert) and to Zola Pokitonova.
1914 The Markevitch family flees Russia for Paris.
Markevitch grows up speaking primarily French, and will eventually write his autobiography Etre et avoir ete in French in 1980.
1916 The family settles in La-Tour-de-Peilz (Vevey), Switzerland.
1921-23 Igor studies piano with his father until the latter's death in 1923.
1925 The thirteen-year-old Igor plays his piano suite Noces (Nuptials) to Alfred Cortot (himself a composer). Cortot arranges for its publication, and invites Markevitch to study with him.
1926-28 Studies piano with Cortot, and harmony and counterpoint with Nadia Boulanger at the Ecole Normale de Musique in Paris.
1929 Markevitch completes his diplomas at the Ecole Normale, commencing his Sinfonietta for Orchestra as part of his qualifying work. Now sixteen, he plays the Sinfonietta and Noces to Dyagilev, who soon after commissions two new works from him: a Piano Concerto, which receives a concert premiere sandwiched between ballets at the Covent Garden season of the Ballets Russes in July (with Markevitch himself as soloist); and L 'Habit du Roi (The Emperor's New Clothes), a ballet with scenario by Boris Kochno and designs by Picasso.
Only briefly before Dyagilev's death on 19th August, Markevitch accompanies him to Baden-Baden for the world premiere of Hindemith and Brecht's Lehrstück; and to Munich for performances of Tristan und Isolde and Die Zauberflöte conducted by Richard Strauss. With Dyagilev dead, L 'Habit du Roi is abandoned, but some of its music is incorporated into Cantata with a new text specially written by Jean Cocteau.
1930 Roger Desormiere (who conducted Markevitch in his Piano Concerto the previous year) presents the enormously successful premiere of Cantata in Paris on 4th June.
In August, the publishing house of Schott (Mainz) accepts the Sinfonietta, the Piano Concerto and Cantata for publication.
8th December: World premiere in Paris of Concerto Grosso, reviewed as follows by no less than Darius Milhaud in L'Europe of 13th December:
Markevitch' s Concerto Grosso was one of those great rendings of the musical skies, a door suddenly opening on the future which allows an as yet unknown climate to enter. Igor Markevitch has a formidable technique and a truly unique invention.
1931 Composes the Serenade (January -March), perhaps his most "Stravinskian" work.
On 24th April, Hans Rosbaud conducts the German premieres of Concerto Grosso and Piano Concerto with the orchestra of Frankfurt Radio (the latter work with the composer as soloist). The world premiere of Re'bus in Paris on 15th December is hailed as a major triumph for the composer. Writing in the New York Times for 10th January, 1932, Henri Prunieres declares:
I am in no particular hurry to proclaim the genius of even the most gifted musicians. But in the case of Markevitch, after the new work he has just given us, doubt is no longer permissible... His music is not young. He is a little like Menuhin, who, when he was ten, played like a master and not like a child prodigy.
Hailed by many as the "Second Igor", Markevitch is now persona non grata with Stravinsky.
1933 After being asked to conduct the Dutch premiere of Rebus with the Concertgebouw Orchestra in February, Markevitch takes conducting lessons from Pierre Monteux (who directs the remainder of this concert). At this stage, he sees conducting as a task purely in relation to his own music.
The American premiere of Rebus follows in April, given by Serge Koussevitzky and the Boston Symphony.
On 26th June, Desormiere conducts the tumultuous premiere in Paris of L 'Envol d'Icare (The Flight of Icarus), declared by Milhaud to be "a date in the evolution of music".
Le Corbusier and Cocteau, as well as many musicians of importance are among the audience.
1934 Psaume is greeted by a riot at its Italian premiere in Florence.
1934-36 Markevitch undertakes occasional conducting study with Hermann Scherchen in Switzerland; Scherchen becomes one of the principal advocates of his music.
1935 Substituting for Scherchen, Markevitch conducts the world premiere of his oratorio Le Paradis perdu (Paradise Lost) at Queen's Hall, London on 20th December.
1936 Marries Kyra, daughter of Vaslav Nijinsky, in April. They decide to live in Corsier, Switzerland.
1937 Conducts L'Envol d'Icare at the Venice Biennale in September, remarking to fellow-composer Alex de Graeff: "I rejoice to hear it again, but I am nervous to conduct it for the first time... it is so terribly difficult." Stravinsky is in the audience, and retreats from his earlier hostility to Markevitch, expressing admiration for the score.
1938 Contriving a commission fee as a New Year's Day gift, Piatigorsky requests a cello concerto.
The world premiere in Warsaw on January 21st of Le Nouvel Age marks a new triumph for the composer. On his way back from Poland, Markevitch visits Nijinsky for the first time in the sanatorium at Kreuzlingen; Kyra describes this meeting, and its effect on her father as "a marvel".
Performed at the Palais des Beaux-Arts in Brussels in April, Le Nouvel Age is acclaimed by an audience of two thousand. In response to this performance, Leon Kochnitsky writes in the May issue of La Revue Musicale:
It is often said that a gulf exists between contemporary composers and the masses who are avid for music. For Markevitch this gulf does not exist; in that lies true genius.
In June, Markevitch begins a collaboration with Stravinsky's one-time librettist C.F. Ramuz on La Taille de I'Homme, a 'concert' for soprano and ensemble designed to last an entire evening. Owing to worsening conditions in Europe, and the end of his publishing contract in Germany, he supplements his income by giving lectures, piano recitals and radio broadcasts in Switzerland and abroad.
1939 Between the outbreak in September of World War II, and Christmas, completes fifty minutes (the first, and only "half' ever finished ) of La Taille de I'Homme.
1940 Visits Florence with Kyra, where he composes the 'vocal symphony' Lorenzo II Magnifico on texts by Lorenzo himself. Markevitch has failed to comply with Swiss residency laws, and is thus technically stateless upon Mussolini's declaration of war. He therefore remains in Italy, where Kyra teaches dance.
1941-47 The Markevitches live in a cottage provided by the art historian Bernard Berenson on his Villa I Tatti estate at Settignano. Dallapiccola is among his circle of friends. In October 1941, he completes Variations, Fugue and Envoi on a Theme of Händel, for piano, destined to be his last original composition.
1942 He falls seriously ill towards the end of a "hard, hard winter" (as he describes it to Alex de Graeff in a letter of 7th April, 1942). The composer senses himself to be "dead between two lives" during his recuperation in Fiesole; indeed, during the coming year he embarks on serious activity as conductor, giving a number of concerts in Florence.
1943 In October, Germany invades Italy. Markevitch renounces his conducting commitments to join the Partisans, becoming a member of the Committee of Liberation of the Italian Resistance. He recomposes L 'Envol d'Icare as Icare, abandoning the quarter-tones of the original work and re-orchestrating in a less "astringent" manner.
1944 A further serious illness.
1946 During are turn visit to Switzerland, writes Made in Italy, a political study which meets with considerable success on its publication in Italy, France and Britain.
1947-77 Is naturalised as an Italian citizen in 1947. Following the dissolution of his first marriage, he marries Topazia Caetani. His international conducting career over this thirty-year period will take Markevitch to music directorships in Stockholm, Paris, Montreal, Madrid, Monte Carlo, Havana and Rome. He also holds conducting courses in Salzburg, Mexico, Moscow, Madrid, Monte Carlo and Weimar.
1978 Markevitch has effectively suppressed his music for 35 years when he receives an invitation from Herve Thys to conduct Icare and Le Paradis perdu for the Royal Philharmonic Society in Brussels. The concert is a success, and leads to over one hundred performances in fifteen countries during the following three years.
In connection with the Brussels performances (which Markevitch conducts himself), David Drew, then Director of New Music at Boosey and Hawkes, music publishers, London, makes contact with Markevitch. Progressively over the next few years, Drew persuades Markevitch to unearth his entire oeuvre, for which Boosey and Hawkes offer a new and comprehensive publication contract. Nevertheless, the present series of recordings, started eighteen years later, in December 1995, are the first recordings of all but a handful of works which are preserved from 1930'5 radio broadcasts, and a technically poor recording on 785 of L 'Envol d'Icare dating from 1938.
1980 Publication by Gallimard of the composer's autobiography, Etre et avoir ete (Being and having been). To some extent a roman a clef, the book reveals much even as it hides or obfuscates more.
In this year, Markevitch undertakes revision of some of his 1930s compositions, in preparation for a series of performances in Brussels.
1983 Only a short time after his first, triumphant visit to Kiev, his city of birth, Markevitch suddenly falls ill, dying in Antibes on 7th March.
[Chronology updated and revised from research by David Drew, Bernard Jacobson and David Pickett, originally published in Tempo vol. 133/134, London, September 1980.]
@ 1996 Christopher Lyndon-Gee
Cantique d' Amour (Hymn to Love)
(Corsier, October - 4th December, 1936)
When, after an interval of nearly forty years, Markevitch heard Cantique d' Amour again towards the end of his life, he gently rebuked it for having too much "magic" and for sounding "too good". This short composition, orchestrated with a luxuriant vocabulary worthy of Ravel, feather-bedded with harmony redolent of Scriabin, is unique in his output. Its rich language was , soon rejected for the astringent, almost violently energetic classicism of Le Nouvel Age as he prepared to enter his own New Age, an age of performing the music of others, untrammelled by the burden of his own creativity .
Cantique d' Amour was commissioned, like Partita and Hymnes, by the Princesse de Polignac and first performed in Rome in May 1937 by the Augusteo Orchestra under Mario Rossi. Subsequently, it was not heard again until1980. It is a simple arch with coda, beginning and ending in a meandering forest of bird-song within an evocation of wind and filtered light. The apex of the arch, a violently energetic storm of passion full of rushing scales in the strings and soaring melodies in the trumpets, soon subsides into the languour of the opening. It is the coda that looks forward to Le Nouvel Age; chords in harmonics in the violas and cellos, doubled by celesta and glockenspiel, locked on the same unresolved dominant seventh that will conclude the later work. This is an ending that subsumes the lushness of the music that preceded it into a conclusion that is both exquisitely poised and infinitely "cold".
Cold is a word that often comes to mind in listening to the music of this man; the same man who in 1972 would tell the famous dance critic John Gruen "No, , I don't want to talk about my life, or my music - I don't want the world to know!". The same man who quelled the passion of his "love-song" within a work which remains essentially detached.
The quarter-tone tuning of five instruments of the orchestra of L 'Envol d'Icare yields harmonies like those in no other work, whose effect was heard in advance by the composer with an imaginative acuity that make this an unforgettable sound-world. The Flight of Icarus was undoubtedly the single work in which Igor Markevitch saw himself most vividly reflected. The period of 1932-33, when he planned the work with Serge Lifar, sketched initial musical ideas, and assembled the fair copy of the score became for Markevitch an odyssey of profound self-examination, above all centering on the motifs of the fall and death of Icarus. Some quotations from the composer’s autobiography, Etre et avoir ete, published in 1980, illuminate his state of mind:
...the subject of lcarus caused me with a jolt [to ask] Why? My existence has never ceased to draw from me responses to this question, each destiny being a reliving of some myth in which the human spirit finds meaning or identification.
...the myth of Icarus seemed rich in spiritual elements well capable of being assimilated within the architecture to which they gave birth.
Perhaps most personally revealing of all, particularly in the light of Markevitch's mystifying abandonment of composition after 1941, are these remarks:
...I was led to discern in the myth of Icarus one of the most modern and dramatic meanings of which I know, the arrival consumed by fire [author's italics]. ...Pressed onwards by ambition, the subject is devoured during his path; he attains his goa lonly in the realisation that his wings will no longer carry him.
Further, though, it was an incident most uncharacteristic of the composer, when he was prevailed upon (probably by Cocteau) to share an opium pipe, that led to heightened perceptions about time, the unity of physical and spiritual perceptions, and the nature of sound itself.
[In this state] the characteristic of sounds was that of never disappearing entirely. Like these bells or crystals that seemed to resonate for an eternity, chords were prolonged, mingling with each other, and forming pure and abstract melodic lines. ... [I became] aware of the rhythm of death, of the movement within its seemingly immobile appearance.
Whether through courage, shame, or simply the ignorance of a twenty-year- old, he sought no medical help, but merely spent an extended summer holiday at Cap Ferrat getting over the ill effects of the drug, bolstered by the company of his friends the Szigetis and the Piatigorskys. This was also the time when the sketches of The Flight of Icarus were written. He persisted in searching deeply for a music that would recapture the purity and resonance of his recent experience, placing into question for him the most fundamental concepts of music itself. Anticipating, if anyone, that most dissimilar composer John Cage, he remarks on the extraordinary richness of the sympathetic vibrations heard within the piano, finding that:
...each sound being an entire world with an infinity of different harmonics, hearing each single note can be compared to [witnessing] a comet which illuminates the sky along its own trajectory.
The originality and compel1ing unity of the resulting score were immediately recognised by Markevitch's contemporaries, who spoke of its “magic” sonorities; Cocteau, comparing lcarus to Le Sacre du Printemps, called it a work which might have “fallen from the moon”, and quoted Nietzsche's phrase about “the ideas which change the face of the world make their entrance on doves' feet.” These doves' feet, of course, refer neatly to the section of the music where Icarus studies the flight of doves -something which Markevitch himself did “with passion” while composing the score. In an article in La Revue Musicale of July 1932, which curiously pre-dates the appearance of The Flight of Icarus but was enthusiastical1y endorsed by Markevitch as evidence of its progress, Pierre Souvtchinsky comments that Markevitch's manner of creating proceeds directly from the auditory inspiration of the “heard object”, without any preliminary interference of psychological or formal elements.
Markevitch reacted that he believed he had indeed discovered ...truly new effects. ..and a truly new sensibility. - by which he doubtless meant an innovative language that threw off the ubiquitous influences of Stravinsky.
Thus the most singular features of the startlingly original Flight of Icarus, above all, its use of quarter-tone scordature in one flute, two solo violins and two solo cel1os within the orchestra, and the pervasive presence of complex polyrhythms. It is not hard to imagine that the microtonal retunings resulted in some way from the 'orienta1' experience of the opium pipe, though Markevitch is at pains to describe that “certain chords could not be perceived in an exact manner”, and that the sole function of the re-tuned instruments was to “correct that which tricked the ear". The polyrhythms are the most singularly personal stylistic trait of the work, both for the manner in which Markevitch draws multiple cross accents within 'simple' metrical structures - such as the 6/4 against 3/2 against 4/4 = 12/8 in the 'Flight' passage- and for the stil1 more novel use of irrational values of four against nine, creating random cross rhythms in the music for 'Icarus traps two doves’.
Why then was this extraordinary score never performed as a ballet? There is no evidence that there was any serious falling-out with Serge Lifar, more a parting of the aesthetic ways. Lifar had reacted with enthusiasm when the composer played him the score towards the end of 1932, and had initiated a collaboration with Brancusi on the designs. Lifar's ideas "evolved ceaselessly" in the succeeding months, and, although holding exclusive rights to the work, early in 1933 he readily accepted a proposal for a concert performance of the orchestral score under Roger Desormiere at Salle Gaveau, which took place 26th June that year .
Then, the impetus seems to have dried up. Markevitch alludes to Lifar's wish to "liberate choreography as far as possible from the constraints of music" . Lifar must have found the concert performance of the orchestral Icarus unnerving or intimidating; he may perhaps have retained vivid recollections of the choreographic disaster that was Nijinsky's world premiere of Le Sacre du Prjntemps twenty years earlier. He doubtless feared similar ignominy, and commenced a search for alternative ways of mounting his subject, creating a complete choreography without music. Once this was finished, he approached first Honegger, then the Belgian conductor-composer Zyfer to supply a score for percussion alone, following his dictated rhythms. None of these attempts succeeded, but finally, in 1943, the great Cuban ballerina Alicia Alonso reproduced in Havana Lifar's choreography that she had learnt while with the Ballets Russes to a fine new score ICARO, for seven percussionists and piano, written in fifteen days by her compatriot Harold Gramatges.
Lifar, whether sensing his own inadequacy to cope with Markevitch's music, or genuinely convinced that either the dance or the music was "condemned" by the impossibility of their synthesis, explained in July 1935, in his Manifesto of a Choreographer that the music was admirable, the idea of its union with dance seductive, but I had a c/ear sense that it would be impossible for me to bring my rhythm into accord with that of Markevitch.
Lifar's attitude became the centre of a lively (and unresolved) debate in the pages of the Revue Musicale and elsewhere about the nature of the relationship between music and dance. Many (as testified by John Gruen in The Private World of Ballet) simply felt that "the symbol" Lifar had a grossly inf1ated view of himself as Nijinsky's successor, to which role he was woefully inadequate.
Markevitch did not let go of L 'Envol. In 1933 he commenced aversion for two pianos and three percussion (completed by Christopher Lyndon-Gee for publication by Boosey & Hawkes, and recorded for Largo in 1993). Bartok paid homage to this trail-blazing score when composing his own Sonata for Two Pianos and Percussion six years later. In the midst of the war, in 1943, Markevitch re-orchestrated the work entirely, abbreviating its title to the simple Icare. This version, however, represents a loss of faith in his startling ideas of 1932, as it abandons the visionary quarter-tones, simplifies many of the rhythmic counterpoints, and ruins the suspended drama of the Chute d'Icare with the addition of a plangent, but rather obvious melody in the ce1los.
The sections of The Flight of lcarus are as fo1lows:
Prelude / Prelude
A short slow introduction, featuring the quarter-tone re-tuned instruments: the resulting complex harmonies (the 'ICARUS' chord from the fourth measure onwards) are calculated with remarkable acuteness of effect. The composer introduces the important r6le that is to be played by untuned membrane percussion instruments - indeed, sounds which are indistinct as to pitch form the principal thematic material of the work.
Adolescent Games (Awakening Knowledge)
Introduced by ringing four-note chords in the tuned percussion, this is rhythmically highly-charged, based around a motoric ostinato. Despite the obvious a1lusion of the title, the intersections of numerous countermelodies give this a most un-Stravinskian sound.
lcare attrappe deux colombes; il etudje leur Vol /
lcarus traps two doves; he studies their flight
Begins and ends with music, largely for xylophone and timpani, of a tentative character, featuring unpredictable accelerandi and ritardandi that clearly portray avian behaviour. The lengthy central 'a11egro' section features a highly complex interplay, of four quaver beats against six against nine, with additional frequent semiquavers, and superimposed triplets. The rhythmic counterpoint of these irrational rhythms is given focus by a refrain melody in the piccolo. Not forgetting that Scriabin included birdsong in his Second Symphony (but Markevitch was essentially un-Russian, having left Kiev when he was three), the vivid depiction of bird-calls intriguingly anticipates Messiaen.
Jean Cocteau's description vividly evokes the music itself:
...these foot-scratchings, these bird-stampings, these wing-strokes, this pigeon-house of impatient slaps. ...
Icare se fait fixer des ailes aux epaules et s’essaye a voler l
lcarus has wings affixed to his shoulders, and attempts flight
A brief recapitulation of the Prelude, pivoting on the quarter-tone tuned 'ICARUS' chord, and leading with an air of mystery into the 'Flight'.
L'Envol d'Icare l The Flight of Icarus
In 6/4 throughout, marked allegramente, this is an incandescent invention of enormous driving force. The music is in three main sections; the first alternates relatively straightforward 6/4 and 3/2 metres, with strong accents given by the xylophone to a simple motif constantly rising in register.
Great energy is unleashed in the second section (con impeto, ma a rigore deI tempo), by rhythmic devices of considerable contrapuntal complexity; the ear can with reasonable ease focus separately on four main stands: a melody of four beats to the bar played by the trumpets against a treading bass of six beats; and running counterpoints of twelve and eighteen beats each measure. Further subdivisions feature in the timpani and untuned percussion.
The third section is a sheer outburst of joy: clear, bright, triadic music in first- inversion B major, the trumpet melody now modulated by the addition of the scordatura violins. Timpani and growling bass-register chords signal Icarus' fate.
Ou /' on apprend la chute d'Icare / News of Icarus' fall
Eight measures only, but a shattering moment of suspended tension: Markevitch calls for the extraordinary (for the time) effect of air blown loosely through trumpet mouth-pieces together with scordatura chords in flutes and violins. (In the 1943 revision of this passage, its ethereal, suspendu quality is badly compromised by the addition of a wholly alien, "plaintive" cello melody.)
La mort d'Icare/ Icarus' death
A slow 'moto perpetuo' with an air of suppressed energy , fun of obsessively repeated melodic cells in constantly varying semiquaver metres, all the more affecting because of its restraint. Through the ending is purified by chords from which the scordatura instruments are now absent, it is perhaps denied finality by a tonally ambiguous timpani stroke reminiscent of Also sprach Zarathustra.
The composer scornfully dismissed those who believed they heard "an evocation of Java" in the modal melodies and detached repetitiveness of this magical conclusion. Rather, it was for him a personal response to the transcendence of the Adagio of Beethoven's C minor Piano Sonata, Opus 111:
"Icarus's arrival at [self-1knowledge can be considered as a paraphrase of the Adagio of this last sonata, which, ever since my adolescence had represented for me one of the most perfect creations in sound."... "...for those who understand this page, the Death of Icarus becomes transparent."
In Etre et avoir ete, Markevitch, comparing his subject to Faust, speaks of Icarus observing his own death:
The fall takes place only when the absurd is no longer considered as such. In Icarus the wings are in some sense found again, like the cast-off skin of a serpent. They are the signs of renewal.
And he quotes the reaction of his wife, Kyra, to the music of L 'Envol, following its triumphant world premiere on 26th June, 1933:
You have taken the elements of transient existence and made them into the components of an eternal music.
(La- Tour-de-Peilz, August - October 1930)
Markevitch’s musical style was never overtly influenced by the neoclassicism of Les Six or of Stravinsky. In this youthful work there are however occassional glimpses of the Hindemith whose Concerto for Orchestra, Opus 38 (which Nadia Boulanger had analysed in her composition class) made such an impression that the then sixteen-year-old composer
"slept with the score, and many times each night [I] would put on the light to re-read it and remind myself of what his music was saying."
But these are shadings more than 'influence' , for the word in this case means no more than saying that a young artist was growing up within a certain environment, absorbed everything that was happening within it, and reflected pluralistic aspects of his surroundings as might a camera interpret the temperature of light through a variety of filters. Indeed, the Concerto Grosso is more of a challenge to the styles of his contemporaries than an extension of their own endeavours; its innovations and daring rhythmic play are tantamount to a glove or handkerchief cast down by a supremely confident new entrant to the lists.
Milhaud's La Creation du Monde of the previous year, for instance, introduces the saxophone to the instrumental lexicon of European art music, yet gives it nowhere near as much prominence as does Concerto Grosso. Whereas Milhaud 'buries' his alto saxophone within the strings in slow-moving 'cantabile' melody, Markevitch uses the dominating soprano instrument in agile, whirligig display.
The initial concertino episode of the work’s first movement, for example, is set for the grouping of saxophone, bassoon, trombone and solo violin. It is the saxophone that first introduces the rhythmically clashing triplet-across-the-bar that is to become such a hallmark of Markevitch's style.
In later concertino sections, contrasting orchestral groups are presented in turn, with the triplet rhythmic counterpoint next heard in the horns against an 8/8 unison bass-line in bass clarinet and cellos. Later again, the saxophone is heard once more, doubling tutti violins against basses, tuba, trombone and trumpet.
The Andante of Concerto Grosso grows directly out of a short meno mosso section of the first movement; the one moment in the work that distantly recalls the music for Es sungen drei Engel in Hindemith's Mathis der Maler. The triadic nature of this theme is designed to upset any sense of tonality created by the sforzando close of the Allegro con brio on G. At the same time, its strong F major implications are constantly upset by an attraction to tritone relationships, which feature most prominently in a striking solo for piccolo towards the end.
The Finale is thematically a direct extension of the first movement, beginning with a boldly original scurrying fugato for pizzicato strings. The entry of the brass powerfully develops the 'wedge' motif, culled from Bach's famous E minor organ fugue, of which Markevitch will make such dramatic use in Rebus in the following year. The structure of this movement is masterly, culminating in a set of variations by way of a lengthy coda. Immediately reminiscent of the opening of the Andante, the variations commence unassumingly with the solo flute, illustrating just how closely the principal melodic motifs of the entire piece are tied together. Moreover, this magnificent passage, gathering momentum by inexorable small degrees, is also a premonition of Rebus; in the following year, the identical compositional idea will reappear as a separate movement in the latter work, subtly re-orchestrated and with an entirely new conclusion. Even in its first manifestation, however, the characterisation and "driving force" of this music are uniquely Markevitch's own.
The first performance of the work was given at the Salle de la Conservatoire, Paris on 8th December, 1930, by the Orchestre symphonique de Paris under its -- dedicatee, Roger Desormiere.
@ 1996 Christopher Lyndon-Gee
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