Yannis Markopoulos was born in Crete in 1939, and he manifested his interest in music early in life -- by age eight, he was playing the mandolin, and at 13 he began studying the violin and the clarinet. Although he had some interest in politics and economics, and at one point seemed intent on pursuing a career encompassing those fields, music eventually won out, and he attended the Athens Conservatory, where he took up theory, harmony, and fugue. His career as a composer began in the early '60s as he began writing scores for movies, with Poia Einai I Margarita. The third movie he scored, Young Aphrodites (1963), ended up getting distribution in the United States on the art-house circuit. Following the establishment of the military dictatorship in Greece in 1967, Markopoulos moved to London, where he continued his music studies for three years. He returned to Greece in 1970 and began establishing himself as a popular composer. He became especially well known for his use of musical traditions drawn from his native Crete, and also for melding popular music with such traditional instruments as the lyre.
Markopoulos released a series of albums, including Rizitika and Ithagenia, that bridged the gap between modern and traditional influences, as well as settings for the poetry of George Seferis, and popular recordings with Vicky Moscholiou and Lakis Halkias. One of his most successful conceptual works was "The Free Besieged," which required an arena setting for its presentation of a text based on the work of Dionysios Solomos, the Greek national poet. During the 1980s, Markopoulos began writing music that was more heavily steeped in operatic and formal classical elements, even as he embraced the traditional music of various regions of Greece more closely. Four decades into his career, he still ranks among the nation's most respected composers.