Sergei Bortkiewicz (1877-1952) was a pianist and composer born in Kharkov, today’s Ukraine, into a Polish noble family. His father Edward Bortkiewicz was a landowner and his mother Zofia, née Uszyńska, was a pianist. In 1898, he began studying music theory and piano at the St. Petersburg Conservatory with Laidov and Karl van Arek. In 1900 he continued his musical studies in Lepzig under the guidance of Salomon Judassohn and Alfred Reisenauer – students of Franz Liszt.
In 1902 Sergei returned to Russia and two years later he married Elżbieta Heraklitówna. They lived in Berlin from 1904 to 1914 and during this time Bortkiewicz started composing professionally. He was also busy lecturing at the Klindworth-Szarwenka conservatoire and touring as a pianist, mainly with his own works. His most famous piece of the period was the First Piano Concerto which premiered in 1913 and was performed by Sergei’s friend, pianist Hugo van Dalen.
After the outbreak of World War I, he was forced to return to Russia but as a result of the 1917 revolution he and his wife were forced to emigrate. They finally settled in Vienna in 1922 where they remained permanently. Sergei was a teacher at the conservatory and a music society honouring his work was established.
Many of his works were destroyed during World War II, especially the unpublished ones. Nevertheless, the achievements that have survived to the present day testify to his great compositional talent. His style bears traits inherited from the older Romantics – Chopin, Liszt, Rachmaninoff, Tchaikovsky and young Scriabin which are sometimes mixed with motives characteristic of slavic folklore.