“You are the most striking personality in contemporary music, and I am happy to thank you for the influence you have had on me.” So wrote Bela Bartók to Igor Markevitch, one of the most unique people in the history of music. Here we have a composer who at the age of sixteen (1929) played his own Piano Concerto at Covent Garden in London. The following year the great impresario Diaghilev premièred his ballet L'Habit du Roi, and by the time he was twenty he was regarded as one of the great composers of the 20th century. Yet today he is only remembered as an elegant and gifted conductor, especially of Russian and French repertoire.
Markevitch was born in Kiev in 1912, but in 1914 the family fled Russia and settled in Paris. His musical gifts were recognised at an early age, and when just nine years old became a prodigy pianist, studying with the great Alfred Cortot. At 14, he became a composition student of the famous French musician Nadia Boulenger.
His first major orchestral composition was the Sinfonietta in F, a four-movement work for conventional orchestra, beginning a series of successes. In 1933 the Concertgebouw Orchestra invited him to conduct Rebus, beginning a turn in Markevitch’s career. He took some lessons from the leading French conductor, Pierre Monteux, and the great mentor of conductors Hermann Scherchen offered further guidance.
As his reputation as a conductor grew, he devoted less time to composition. He also turned to teaching young conductors of outstanding merit and, as an Italian citizen, he died quite suddenly in Antibes on March 7, 1983.