ATHENS, Greece – Vangelis, the Greek electronic composer who wrote the unforgettable Academy Award-winning score for the film “Chariots of Fire” and wrote dozens of other films, documentaries and music for TV series, has died at the age of 79.
“Vangelis Papathanasiu is no longer with us,” Mitsotakis tweeted.
The opening feats of “Chariots of Fire” are a slow-moving group of young runners across a glamorous beach in Scotland, with a lazy, beat-backed melody emerging in a magisterial proclamation. It is one of the most immediately recognized musical themes in cinema – and its place in popular culture has been confirmed only by its promotional spoofs.
The 1981 British film Vangelis was made, but its initial encounter with success was with its first Greek pop band in the 1960s.
He evolved into a one-man semi-classical orchestra, using a huge array of electronic instruments to enchant his hugely popular uncomfortable sound waves. A personal, humorous person – with shoulder-length hair and a trimmed beard – he quoted ancient Greek philosophy and saw the artist as a carrier for a basic universal power. He was fascinated by space exploration and wrote music for space bodies, but said he never tried to be a star himself.
Yet, a micro-planet – 6354 Vangelis – orbiting somewhere between Mars and Jupiter – will carry its name forever.
Born March 29, 1943, near the city of Volos in central Greece, Vanzelis began playing the piano at the age of 4, although he had no formal training and claimed he had never learned to read notes.
“Orchestration, composition – they teach these things in music school, but there are some things you can never teach,” he said in a 1982 interview. “You can’t teach creation.”
In the 20’s, Vangelis and three friends formed the band Forminx in Athens, which did very well in Greece. After it broke down, he wrote scores for several Greek films and later became a founding member – together with later internationally renowned Greek musician Demis Russos – Aphrodite’s Child. Located in Paris, the progressive rock group has made several European hits and their final record “666”, released in 1972, is still highly acclaimed.
Aphrodite’s baby also breaks down and Vangelis pursues solo projects. In 1974, he moved to London, set up his own studio and collaborated with Yes Frontman John Anderson, with whom he recorded as John and Vangelis and made several big hits.
But his huge success came with a score of “Chariots of Fire” which told the true story of two British runners competing at the 1924 Summer Olympics in Paris. Vangelis’ score has won one of four Academy Awards, including Best Picture. The Signature Piece is one of the hardest-forgotten movie tunes in the world – and has served as the musical backdrop for endless slow-motion parodies.
VanGelis later wrote music scores for Ridley Scott’s “Blade Runner” (1982) and “1492: Paradise Conquest” (1992), as well as “The Missing” (1982) and “Antarctica” (1983).
He turned down many other offers for the film’s score, saying in an interview: “Half of the movies I watch don’t need songs. It looks like something went wrong. “
Vangelis was careful about how the record managed the company’s commercial success. With success, he said, “you stuck to yourself and were forced to repeat yourself and your previous success.”
His interest in science – including the physics of music and sound – and his exploration of space led to the creation of essays on major projects of NASA and the European Space Agency. When British theoretical physicist Stephen Hawking died in 2018, Vangelis composed a musical tribute to his interment that ESA aired in space.
Vangelis picks up her symphonic flute by playing alone on the edge of the synthesizer, as her legs move from one volume paddle to another volume paddle.
“I work as an athlete,” he once said.
He avoided the extravagance of life associated with many in the music industry, saying he had never taken drugs – “which was very uncomfortable at times.”
Vangelis said he never experimented with his music and usually does everything on first adoption.
“When I compose, I serve music at the same time, so everything is live, nothing is pre-programmed,” he said.
The composer lived in London, Paris and Athens, where he bought a house at the foot of the Acropolis that he had never puppeted, even when his street turned into one of the city’s favorite pedestrian walkways. The neoclassical building was almost demolished in 2007 when government officials decided that it had lost sight of the ancient castle from a new museum built next door, but was eventually redesigned.
Vangelis has received numerous awards in Greece, France, and the United States. Little was known about his personal life, but he was also an interested painter.
“Every day I draw pictures and every day I compose music,” he said – in that order.
The story is corrected by saying that Greek media reported that Vangelis died late Tuesday, not Wednesday.