Vangelis started playing the piano at the age of 4, although he did not receive a formal education and claimed that he never learned to read music.
ATHENS, Greece – Vangelis, a Greek electronic composer who wrote an unforgettable score for “Chariots of Fire” and music for dozens of other films, documentaries and series, has died at the age of 79.
Greek Prime Minister Kyriakas Mitsatokis and other government officials expressed their condolences on Thursday. Greek media report that Vangelis – born Evangelis Odysseus Papatanasio – died at a French hospital late Tuesday.
“Vangelis Papatanasiou is no longer with us,” Mitsatakis tweeted, calling him a “pioneer of electronic sound” whose death was “sad news for the whole world.”
The introductory titles of “Chariots of Fire” sound in slow motion a bunch of young runners on a boring beach in Scotland, when a lazy, supported tune rises to a masterful recitation. It is one of the most instantly recognizable musical themes in cinema – and its reputation in popular culture has only been confirmed by the many forgeries it has received.
The 1981 British film was made by Vangelis, but his initial encounter with success was with his first Greek pop group in the 1960s.
It has evolved into a one-man quasi-classical orchestra, using a wide range of electronic equipment to evoke its hugely popular wavy sound waves. A private man with a sense of humor – strong, with shoulder-length hair and a trimmed beard – he quoted ancient Greek philosophy and saw the artist as a conductor of the main universal force. He was fascinated by space and wrote music for celestial bodies, but said he himself never sought fame.
However, the microplanet orbiting between Mars and Jupiter – 6354 Vangelis – will forever bear his name.
Born on March 29, 1943 near the city of Volos in central Greece, Vangelis began playing the piano at the age of 4, although he received no formal education and claimed to have never learned to read music.
“Orchestration and composition are taught in music schools, but there are things you will never learn,” he said in a 1982 interview. “You can’t teach creation.”
At the age of 20, Vangelis and three friends formed the band Forminx in Athens, which worked very well in Greece. After it disbanded, he wrote scores for several Greek films and later co-founded, along with another future world-famous Greek musician, Demis Rusas, Aphrodite’s child. The Paris-based progressive rock band has released several European hits, and their latest album “666”, released in 1972, is still highly acclaimed.
Aphrodite’s Child also broke up, and Vangelis embarked on solo projects. In 1974, he moved to London, built his own studio and collaborated with Yes frontman John Anderson, with whom he recorded the role of John and Vangelis and had several major hits.
But his big breakthrough came with the Chariots of Fire score, which told the true story of two British runners who competed in the 1924 Summer Olympics in Paris. Vangelis ’music won one of four Oscars won in the film, including Best Picture. The branded play is one of the most hard-to-forget movie tunes in the world, and has also served as a musical backdrop for endless slow-motion parodies.
Vangelis later wrote music for Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner (1982) and 1492: Conquering Paradise (1992), as well as for Missing Persons (1982) and Antarctica (1983), among others.
He declined many other offers on the score, saying in an interview, “Half of the films I watch don’t need music. It looks like something is full. “
Vangelis was wary of how record companies were coping with commercial success. With success, he said, “you find yourself delayed and forced to repeat yourself and your previous success.”
His interest in science – including the physics of music and sound – and space exploration led to the creation of compositions related to major projects of NASA and the European Space Agency. When British theoretical physicist Stephen Hawking died in 2018, Vangelis wrote a musical tribute to his funeral, which ESA broadcast into space.
Vangelis opened his symphonic trumpets by playing alone on a group of synthesizers, switching switches as his feet darted from one volume pedal to another.
“I work as an athlete,” he once said.
He avoided the lifestyle excesses associated with many in the music industry, saying he had never taken drugs – “which was sometimes very uncomfortable.”
Vangelis said he never experimented with his music and usually did everything from the first take.
“When I compose, I perform music at the same time, so everything is alive, nothing is programmed,” he said.
Decca, the label for his last three albums, called the composer a “genius”.
“Vangelis created music of extraordinary originality and power, and gave a soundtrack to many of our lives,” it said. “Decca has had the pleasure of collaborating with Vangelis and his team for his last three albums and we will be very much to miss him. His music will live forever. “
The composer lived in London, Paris and Athens, where he bought a house at the foot of the Acropolis, which he never built, even though his street became one of the most coveted walks in the city. The neoclassical building was nearly demolished in 2007 when government officials decided it had ruined the view of the ancient citadel from a new museum built next door, but was eventually revised.
Vangelis has received numerous awards in Greece, France and the United States. Little was known about his personal life, except that he was an avid painter.
“Every day I draw and every day I compose music,” he said.
John Lester in Paris contributed.