Although I have long
admired Markevitch the conductor and
was aware of his considerable, if underrated
achievement as a composer, I had never
heard any of his music before.
These pieces were written
between the ages of 17 and 20. The most
remarkable thing about them is their
maturity, their technical assurance
and the highly personal stance that
emerges from these youthful, though
in no way prentice works. Both the Piano
Concerto and Cantate
often betray the composer’s admiration
for Hindemith, and – more than once
– nod towards Bartók and Prokofiev.
They nevertheless display a good deal
of highly personal musical thinking.
The slow sections, however, are the
most personal in feeling and expression.
The slow movement of the Piano Concerto
is a really beautiful piece of music,
while the outer movements are more overtly
indebted to Hindemith’s Motorik,
without ever slavishly imitating it.
All in all, the Piano Concerto is a
splendid piece of music that does not
pale in comparison with, say, Prokofiev’s
First and Third Concertos. It is a remarkable
achievement in its own right, and it
often reminds me of another, long-forgotten
though highly accomplished piano concerto
by another musical prodigy: Constant
Lambert’s Piano Concerto
of 1924 (now available on ASV WHL 2122).
After the successful
premiere of the Piano Concerto, Diaghilev
discussed with Markevitch a new commission
for a ballet L’Habit du Roi.
The composer set to work immediately,
but the project came to nothing due
to Diaghilev’s death. Markevitch, however,
was willing to rescue some of the music
already composed for the ballet, and
asked Cocteau to write a text for a
cantata. Cocteau had to tailor his poem
to the existing music, but the end result
is quite impressive. As Christopher
Lyndon-Gee remarks in his detailed and
well-documented notes, parts of the
poem (fairly clearly so in the second
movement) seem to deal with the Icarus
myth which Markevitch could perhaps
understand as having a particular connection
with his own personal situation. (He
later wrote L’Envol d’Icare
reworked in 1942 as Icare
A substantial work
in four movements, Cantate
is set for soprano, men’s chorus and
orchestra. The first movement Allegro
risoluto opens as a brilliant, energetic
Toccata à la Hindemith.
The chorus enters forcefully. In the
central section, the soprano sings in
animated florid phrases leading to a
restatement of the opening material.
As already mentioned earlier in this
review, the slow movements are generally
more searching, more personal. That
of the cantata is again no exception.
The soprano has the lion’s share in
what is almost an accompanied aria in
which the chorus has a rather secondary,
though in no way negligible role. The
third movement, another Allegro risoluto,
functions as a Scherzo of some sort
and is – stylistically speaking – quite
similar to the first movement. (This
may have been the "crazy fugue"
mentioned to Diaghilev à propos
the projected ballet.) The cantata is
capped by a short, hieratic Chorale.
for Serge Lifar, L’Envol d’Icare
(available on Marco Polo 8.223666) met
with considerable critical acclaim.
It was one of Markevitch’s most radical
scores in which he used quarter-tones.
Performances at the 1937 Venice Biennale
and later in Brussels were far from
satisfactory. Players then did not fully
master some of the technical innovations
in the music. This probably led the
composer to rework his piece. At first,
he planned to revise the earlier score
(this was in 1942-1943), but soon dropped
the idea. He rather re-scored the whole
thing for standard orchestra and traditional
playing techniques. In a letter of 1944,
Markevitch suggested that it would be
a good idea to play L’Envol d’Icare
and Icare in the same
concert. This, however, has never been
done, but is now possible since both
pieces are currently available on disc.
I have not heard L’Envol d’Icare,
so that I am not in a position to comment
on the respective merits of each version.
Suffice to say that the 1943 version
is a quite beautiful score, entirely
This is the sixth volume
in Marco Polo’s Markevitch series. This
series, as a whole, is a brave and enterprising
venture that deserves the warmest recommendation.
In spite of his voluntarily short composing
career, Markevitch was a most distinguished
composer who could have played an important
part in the history of the 20th
Century music. His music was admired
by his contemporaries such as Sauguet,
Milhaud and Bartók, later reluctantly
joined by Stravinsky who had obviously
clearly perceived that "Igor the
Second" might have become a serious
competitor. Christopher Lyndon-Gee put
a great store of attention and commitment
into these superb readings of unfamiliar,
unjustly neglected works; and he received
wonderful support from orchestra and
soloists. I know now that I will have
to looking out for the previous volumes
of this series.
see also review
by Rob Barnett