Evangelos Odysseas Papathanassiou (Greek: Ευάγγελος Οδυσσέας Παπαθανασίου ; born 29 March 1943), known professionally as Vangelis (Greek: Βαγγέλης ; English pronunciation: //), is a Greek composer of electronic, progressive, ambient, jazz, and orchestral music. He is best known for his Academy Award-winning score for the film Chariots of Fire, composing scores for the films Blade Runner, Missing, Antarctica, 1492: Conquest of Paradise, and Alexander, and the use of his music in the PBS documentary Cosmos: A Personal Voyage by Carl Sagan.
After having taken piano lessons, Vangelis began his professional musical career working with several popular bands of the 1960s such as the Forminx and Aphrodite's Child, with the latter's album 666 going on to be recognized as a psychedelic classic. Throughout the 1970s, Vangelis composed music scores for several animal documentaries, including L'Apocalypse des Animaux, La Fête sauvage and Opéra sauvage; the success of these scores brought him into the film scoring mainstream. In the early 1980s, Vangelis formed a musical partnership with Jon Anderson, the lead singer of progressive rock band Yes, and the duo went on to release several albums together as Jon & Vangelis.
In 1981, he composed the score for the Oscar-winning film Chariots of Fire, for which he won an Academy Award for Best Original Score. The soundtrack's single, the film's "Titles" theme, also reached the top of the American Billboard Hot 100 chart and was used as the background music at the London 2012 Olympics winners' medal presentation ceremonies.
Having had a career in music spanning over 50 years and having composed and performed more than 50 albums, Vangelis is considered to be one of the most important figures in the history of electronic music.
Vangelis was born 29 March 1943, in Agria, near Volos, Greece. Largely a self-taught musician, he reportedly began composing at the age of three. His earliest memory is "playing piano, some percussion and whatever else that was available that made a noise. Right from the start, I was only interested in playing my own music". He refused to take traditional piano lessons, and throughout his career did not have substantial knowledge of reading or writing musical notation. When he was six, Vangelis's parents enrolled him at a specialist music school in Athens. He recalls "I was lucky not to go because music schools close doors rather than open them". He studied painting, an art he still practices, at the Athens School of Fine Arts. Vangelis said in an interview with Life, when asked about his lack of ability to read music:
When the teachers asked me to play something, I would pretend that I was reading it and play from memory. I didn't fool them, but I didn't care.
When Vangelis was twelve years he became interested in the jazz music, and with the social movement to rock and roll. At fifteen years old he started to form early school bands, not to cover other musicians, but to have fun, resulting in the early 1960s being one of the founders of pop rock group The Forminx (or the Formynx), which became popular in Greece. Based in Athens, the five-piece band played a mixture of cover versions and their own material, the latter written mostly by Vangelis (with lyrics by DJ and record producer Nico Mastorakis) but still sung in English. The Forminx released nine hit singles and a Christmas EP before disbanding in 1966 at the peak of their success. A film being made about them at the time, which was initially directed by Theo Angelopoulos, was never fully completed, and the songs, composed for the movie, were never released. Vangelis spent the next two years mostly studio-bound, writing and producing for other Greek artists.
Around the time of the student riots in 1968, Vangelis founded progressive rock band Aphrodite's Child together with Demis Roussos, Loukas Sideras, and Anargyros "Silver" Koulouris. After an unsuccessful attempt to enter the UK, they found a home in Paris where they recorded their first single, a hit across much of Europe called Rain and Tears. Other singles followed, including two albums, which, in total, sold over 20 million copies. The record sales led the record company to request a third album, and Vangelis went on to conceive the double-album 666, based on Revelation, the last book in the Bible. It is often listed as one of the best progressive rock albums. One of the many remarkable features of this album is Irene Papas's guest participation (vocal on "Infinity"). Tensions between members during the recording of 666 eventually caused the split of the band in 1971, but the album was still released in 1972. Despite the split, Vangelis has since produced several albums and singles for Demis Roussos, who, in turn, contributed vocals to the Blade Runner soundtrack. He often recalls on music industry:
I moved into the record industry. I was under the impression that in order to be alive and to be able to create what I had in mind I had to become successful. I realised that success and pure creativity are not very compatible... Instead of being able to move forward freely and do what you really wish, you find yourself stuck and obliged to repeat yourself and your previous success.
While still in Aphrodite's Child, Vangelis had already been involved in other projects. In the 1960s he scored music for three Greek films My Brother, the Traffic Policeman (1963) directed by Filippos Fylaktos, 5,000 Lies (1966) by Giorgos Konstantinou, To Prosopo tis Medousas (1967) by Nikos Koundouros. In 1970 composed the score for Sex-Power directed by Henry Chapier, as well again for Salut, Jerusalem (1972) and Amore (1974).
In 1971, some jam sessions with a group of musicians in London had resulted in two albums' worth of material, unofficially released without Vangelis' permission in 1978, titled Hypothesis and The Dragon. Vangelis succeeded in taking legal action to have them withdrawn. A more successful project was his scoring of wildlife documentary films in the early 1970s made by French filmmaker Frédéric Rossif. The first soundtrack L'Apocalypse des animaux was released in 1973. In 1972, the student riots of 1968 provided the inspiration for an album titled Fais que ton rêve soit plus long que la nuit (Make Your Dream Last Longer Than the Night), comprising musical passages mixed with news snippets and protest songs; some lyrics were based on graffiti daubed on walls during the riots. He also did music for the 1973 Henry Chapier film Amore.
In 1973 Vangelis' solo career began in earnest. His second solo album was Earth. It was a percussive-orientated album with Byzantine undertones. It featured a group of musicians including ex-Aphrodite's Child guitarist Silver Koulouris and also vocalist and songwriter Robert Fitoussi (better known as F.R. David of "Words" fame). This line-up, later briefly going out under the name "Odyssey", released a single in 1974 titled "Who", but that was Vangelis' last involvement with them. Later in 1974, Vangelis was widely tipped to join another prog-rock band, Yes, following the departure of Rick Wakeman. After a couple of weeks of rehearsals Vangelis wavered on the option of joining Yes, and the band had to detour and hire Swiss keyboard player Patrick Moraz instead, who later joined the Moody Blues. Vangelis did, however, become friends with Yes' lead vocalist Jon Anderson, and later worked with him on several occasions, including as the duo Jon & Vangelis.
After moving to London in 1975, Vangelis signed with RCA Records, set up his own studio, Nemo Studios, and began recording a string of electronic albums, such as Heaven and Hell (1975), Albedo 0.39 (1976), Spiral (1977), Beaubourg (1978), and China (1979). The Heaven and Hell was premiered at The Royal Albert Hall. Each of the albums had special thematic inspiration; Heaven and Hell the homonymous mythological places, Albedo 0.39 the universe, Spiral the Tao philosophy, Beaubourg the visit to the Centre Georges Pompidou, while China the Chinese cultural and musical traditions.
In 1977 was re-released (originally released in 1975) the film score of Do You Hear the Dogs Barking? directed by François Reichenbach. Vangelis also contributed as a producer and keyboard player to the album Phos, by the Greek rock band Socrates Drank the Conium (later known simply as Socrates).
In 1976 was released the second soundtrack for Rossif animal documentary, La Fête sauvage, which combined African rhythms with Western music. In 1979 was released the third score album for Rossif, Opéra sauvage. Almost as well known as L'Apocalypse des animaux, the resulting soundtrack would bring him to the attention of some of the world's top filmmakers. The music itself would be re-used in other films (most notably the track "L'Enfant" in The Year of Living Dangerously (1982) by Peter Weir; the melody of same (in marching band format) can also be heard at the beginning of the 1924 Summer Olympics opening ceremonies scene in the film Chariots of Fire and television commercials (the track "Hymne", used in Barilla pasta commercials in Italy and Ernest & Julio Gallo wine ads in the US). They again collaborated for Sauvage et Beau (1984), De Nuremburg à Nuremburg (1989).
In 1979 was released album Odes, which included Greek folk songs performed by Vangelis and actress Irene Papas. It was instant success in Greece. It was followed by second collaboration album Rapsodies in 1986.
In the 1980s were released five solo albums; the experimental and satirical See You Later (1980) included "Memories of Green" which featured in the upcoming 1982 film Blade Runner; Soil Festivities was thematically inspired by the interaction between nature and its microscopic living creatures; Invisible Connections (1985) by the world of elementary particles invisible to the naked eye; Mask (1985) by the theme of the mask, an obsolete artefact which was used in ancient times for concealment or amusement; and Direct (1988), the first album to be recorded in the post-Nemo Studios era.
In the 1990s were also released five solo albums; The City (1990) was recorded during his stay in Rome in 1989, and reflected a day of bustling city life, from dawn until dusk; Voices (1995) featured sensual songs filled with nocturnal orchestrations; Oceanic (1996) thematically explored the mystery of underwater worlds and sea sailing; two classical albums about El Greco - Foros Timis Ston Greco (1995), which had limited release, and El Greco (1998), which was an expansion of the former.
In 1981, Vangelis wrote the score for the film Chariots of Fire, set at the 1924 Summer Olympics. The choice of music was unorthodox as most period films featured traditional orchestral scores, whereas Vangelis' music was modern and synthesizer-heavy. The movie won the Academy Award for Best Picture and Vangelis won the Academy Award for Best Original Music Score. The opening theme of the film was released as a single in 1982, topping the American Billboard chart for one week after climbing steadily for five months. It was used at the 1984 Winter Olympics. Vangelis commented that the "main inspiration was the story itself. The rest I did instinctively, without thinking about anything else, other than to express my feelings with the technological means available to me at the time".
In 1982, Vangelis collaborated with director Ridley Scott, to write the score for the science fiction film Blade Runner. Critics have written that capturing the isolation and melancholy of Harrison Ford's character, Rick Deckard, the Vangelis score is as much a part of the dystopian environment as the decaying buildings and ever-present rain. The music score was nominated for a BAFTA and Golden Globe award.
A disagreement led to Vangelis withholding permission for his performance of the music from Blade Runner to be released, and the studio instead hired a group of musicians dubbed "The New American Orchestra" to record the official LP released at the time. It took 12 years before the disagreement was resolved and Vangelis's own work was released in the United States, in 1994. The soundtrack was still incomplete, as the film contained some non-Vangelis tracks as well. Over the years a number of bootleg recordings of the Blade Runner soundtrack from unknown sources have been released, mostly targeted to collectors as "private releases", that contain most of the music cues (including the Ladd Company logo theme). An official three-disc box set was released in late 2007 to commemorate the film's 25th anniversary: it contained the original 1994 album, a second disc containing some more of the missing music cues and a third disc of new Vangelis material inspired by Blade Runner. The 2007 release still lacks some incidental music, most notably the background music from the Taffey Lewis bar scene featuring vocals by Demis Roussos. A 35th anniversary LP of the original soundtrack was released on Record Store Day 2017.
In 1992, Paramount Pictures released the film 1492: Conquest of Paradise, also directed by Ridley Scott, as a 500th anniversary commemoration of Christopher Columbus' voyage to the New World. Vangelis's score was nominated as "Best Original Score – Motion Picture" at the 1993 Golden Globe awards, but was not nominated for an Academy Award. However, due to its success Vangelis won Echo Award as "International Artist Of The Year", and RTL Golden Lion Award for the "Best Title Theme for a TV Film or a Series" in 1996.
Carl Sagan's TV series Cosmos: A Personal Voyage (1980), uses several pieces composed by Vangelis during the 1970s, including the series' opening theme, Heaven and Hell's 3rd movement. In 1986, Vangelis was actively involved in the composition of new music for the special edition. Vangelis recalls he was sent by Sagan some sounds collected by satellites, which were exactly what he heard as a child.
During 1980, six years after Vangelis decided against joining Yes, he and Jon Anderson, the lead singer of Yes, released their first album together, Short Stories, under the band name of Jon & Vangelis. They would eventually go on to release three more afterwards; The Friends of Mr Cairo, Private Collection and Page of Life released in 1981, 1983, and 1991 respectively.
In 1981 wrote the score for Pablo Picasso Painter, the documentary by Frédéric Rossif. It was the third score by Vangelis as previous were scored for documentaries about Georges Mathieu and Georges Braque. In 1982 composed the film score of Missing directed by Costa-Gavras, and which was awarded Palme d'Or as well Vangelis was nominated in BAFTA Award for Best Film Music category. Other notable Vangelis film soundtracks were Antarctica for the film Nankyoku Monogatari in 1983, one of the highest-grossing movies in Japan’s film history, and The Bounty in 1984.
Vangelis also collaborated in 1981 and 1986 with Italian singer Milva, achieving success especially in Germany with the albums Ich hab' keine Angst and Geheimnisse (I have no fear and Secrets). The Italian language Nana Mouskouri album also featured her singing Vangelis composition "Ti Amerò". Collaboration numbers with lyricist Mikalis Bourboulis sung by Maria Farantouri included the tracks "Odi A", "San Elektra", and "Tora Xero".
In the early 1980s he also began composing for ballet and theatre stage plays. In 1983 Vangelis wrote the music for Michael Cacoyannis' staging of the Greek tragedy Elektra which was performed with Irene Papas at the open-air amphitheater at Epidavros in Greece. The same year Vangelis composed his first score for a ballet by Wayne Eagling. It was originally performed by Lesley Colier and Wayne Eagling himself at an Amnesty International gala in Drury Lane, but in 1984 the Royal Ballet School presented it again at the Sadler's Wells theatre. In 1985 and 1986, Vangelis wrote music for two more ballets: "Frankenstein – Modern Prometheus" and "The Beauty and the Beast". In 1992, Vangelis wrote the music for the Euripides play, Medea, that featured Irene Papas. In 2001 composed for the third play which starred Papas, and for The Tempest by Hungarian director György Schwajdas.
Vangelis wrote the film score for the 1992 film Bitter Moon directed by Roman Polanski, and The Plague by film director Luis Puenzo. In the 90s, Vangelis scored a number of undersea documentaries for French ecologist and filmmaker, Jacques Cousteau, one of which was shown at the Earth Summit. The music score of the film Cavafy (1996) directed by Yannis Smaragdis, was awarded at the Flanders International Film Festival Ghent and Valencia International Film Festival
The Sport Aid (1986) TV broadcast was set to music specially composed by Vangelis. He conceived and staged the ceremony of the 1997 World Championships in Athletics which were held in Greece. He also composed the music as well designed and directed the artistic Olympic flag relay portion, "Handover to Athens", of the closing ceremonies of the 2000 Summer Olympics in Sydney. While no official recording of Vangelis' composition for the 2000 Sydney Games exists, the music can be heard accompanying the presentation of the emblem of the 2004 Athens Games. In 2002, Vangelis created the official Anthem for the 2002 FIFA World Cup. His work from Chariots of Fire was heard during the 2012 Summer Olympics opening ceremony.
In 2001, Vangelis performed live and released choral symphony Mythodea, a predominantly orchestral rather than electronic piece that was originally written in 1993, and used by NASA as the theme for the Mars Odyssey mission. In 2004, Vangelis released the score for Oliver Stone's Alexander, continuing his involvement with projects related to Greece.
Vangelis released 2 albums in 2007; the first was a 3-CD set for the 25th anniversary of Blade Runner, titled Blade Runner Trilogy and second was the soundtrack for the Greek movie, El Greco directed by Yannis Smaragdis, titled El Greco Original Motion Picture Soundtrack.
On 11 December 2011, Vangelis was invited by Katara's Cultural Village in the state of Qatar to conceive, design, direct, and compose music for the opening of its world-class outdoor amphitheater. The event was witnessed by a number of world leaders and dignitaries participating in the 4th Forum of the United Nations Alliance of Civilizations held in the city of Doha. British actor Jeremy Irons performed in the role of ceremony master, and the event featured a light show by German artist Gert Hof. It was filmed for a future video release by Oscar-winning British filmmaker Hugh Hudson.
In 2012, Vangelis re-tooled and added new pieces to his iconic Chariots of Fire soundtrack, for use in the same-titled stage adaptation. He composed the soundtrack of the environmental documentary film Trashed (2012) directed by Candida Brady, in which starred Jeremy Irons, as well scored the music for the film Twilight of Shadows (2014) directed by Mohammed Lakhdar-Hamina. In 2013 was released documentary film Vangelis And The Journey to Ithaka.
For the 12 November 2014 landing of the Philae lander on Comet 67P (part of the European Space Agency's Rosetta mission), Vangelis composed three short pieces titled "Arrival", "Rosetta's Waltz", and "Philae's Journey". The pieces were released online as videos accompanied by images and animations from the Rosetta mission. He was quoted by ESA as saying, "Mythology, science and space exploration are subjects that have fascinated me since my early childhood. And they were always connected somehow with the music I write". In September 2016, the works were released as part of the new studio album Rosetta.
For an artist of his stature, very little is known about Vangelis' personal life and he rarely gives official interviews to journalists. However, in a 2005 interview with The Daily Telegraph, Vangelis talked openly about various parts of his life. He stated in the interview that he was "never interested" in the "decadent lifestyle" of his band days, choosing not to use alcohol or other drugs. At the time of the Telegraph interview, Vangelis was involved in his third long-term relationship. When asked why he had not had children, Vangelis replied:
…Because of the amount of travelling I do and the nonsense of the music business, I couldn't take care of a child in the way I think it should be taken care of.
It is not publicly known where Vangelis generally resides; he has stated that he "travels around", rather than settling down in one specific place or country for long periods of time. As a hobby, Vangelis enjoys painting; his first art exhibition of 70 paintings was held at Almudin in Valencia, Spain in 2003 and then toured South America until the end of 2004.
Excerpts from other interviews mention that Vangelis has been married twice before. In a 1976 interview with Dutch music magazine Oor, the author wrote that Vangelis had a wife named Veronique Skawinska, a photographer who had done some album art work for Vangelis. An interview in 1982 with Backstage music magazine suggests that Vangelis had previously been married to a singer named Vana Verouti, who had performed vocals on some of his records, performing for the first time with him on La Fête sauvage and later on Heaven and Hell.
The musical style of Vangelis is diverse; although he primarily uses electronic music instruments, which characterize electronic music, his music has been described as a mixture of electronica, classical (his music is often symphonic), progressive rock, jazz (improvisations), ambient, avant-garde/experimental, world, and new-age. Vangelis is often categorized as a New-age composer, but some consider it an erroneous classification. Vangelis considers it a style which "gave the opportunity for untalented people to make very boring music".
As a musician who has always composed and played primarily on keyboards, Vangelis relies heavily on synthesizers and other electronic approaches to music. However, he also plays and uses many acoustic instruments (including folk) and choirs:
I don't always play synthesizers. I play acoustic instruments with the same pleasure. I'm happy when I have unlimited choice; in order to do that, you need everything from simple acoustic sounds to electronic sounds. Sound is sound and vibration is vibration, whether from an electronic source or an acoustic instrument.
Synthtopia, an electronic music review website, stated that Vangelis' music could be referred to as "symphonic electronica" because of his use of synthesizers in an orchestral fashion. The site went on to describe his music as melodic: "drawing on the melodies of folk music, especially the Greek music of his homeland". Vangelis' music and compositions have also been described as "...a distinctive sound with simple, repetitive yet memorable tunes against evocative rhythms and chord progressions." His first electric instrument was a Hammond B3 organ, while first synthesizer a Korg 700 monophonic. He has often used vibrato on his synthesizers, which was carried out in a distinctive way on his Yamaha CS-80 polyphonic synthesizer – varying the pressure exerted on the key to produce the expressive vibrato sound. In a 1984 interview Vangelis described the CS-80 as "The most important synthesizer in my career — and for me the best analogue synthesizer design there has ever been."
In an interview with Soundtrack, a music and film website, Vangelis talked about his compositional processes. For films, Vangelis stated that he would begin composing a score for a feature as soon as he sees a rough cut of the footage. In addition to working with synthesizers and other electronic instruments, Vangelis also works with and conducts orchestras. For example, in the Oliver Stone film Alexander, Vangelis conducted an orchestra that consisted of various classical instruments including sitars, percussion, finger cymbals, harps, and duduks.
Vangelis uses a technique of recording all tracks simultaneously on tape, using a Zyklus MIDI Performance System. He named the album Direct after the successor to the Zyklus was specially manufactured for him by the Zyklus MPS designers, Bill Marshall, Pete Kellock, and Mike Crisp.
He explains his customary method of approach. As soon as the musical idea is there, as many keyboards as possible are connected to the control-desk, which in turn are directly connected to the applicable tracks of the multi-track machine. The idea now is to play as many keyboards as possible at the same time. That way, as broad a basis as possible develops, which only needs fine-tuning. After that it's a question of adding things or leaving out things.
Vangelis once used digital sampling keyboard E-mu Emulator, and tried to use computer software for recording, but concluded its "the worst thing that has happened for the performing musician". He deems it "insufficient and slow" for immediate and spontaneous creation and all his efforts "are to stay away from that beast". He considers that the contemporary civilization is living in a cultural "dark age" of "musical pollution". He considers musical composing a science rather than an art, similar to Pythagoreanism. He has a mystical viewpoint on music as "one of the greatest forces in the universe", that the "music exists before we exist". Some consider that his experience of music is kind of synaesthesia.
In 1989 received Max Steiner Award. France made Vangelis a Knight of the Order of Arts and Letters in 1992, and Chevalier de la Legion d’ Honneur in 2001. In 1993 received music award Apollo by Friends of the Athens National Opera Society. In 1995, Vangelis had a minor planet named after him (6354 Vangelis) by the International Astronomical Union's Minor Planet Center (MPC) at the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory; the name was proposed by the MPC's co-director, Gareth V. Williams, rather than by the object's original discoverer, Eugène Joseph Delporte, who died in 1955, long before the 1934 discovery could be confirmed by observations made in 1990. In 1996 and 1997 was awarded at World Music Awards.
NASA conferred their Public Service Medal to Vangelis in 2003. The award is the highest honour the space agency presents to an individual not involved with the American government. Five years later, in 2008, the board of the National and Kapodistrian University of Athens voted to make Vangelis an Honorary Doctor, making him Professor Emeritus at their Faculty of Primary Education. In June 2008, the American Hellenic Institute honoured Vangelis with an AHI Hellenic Heritage Achievement Award for his "exceptional artistic achievements" as a pioneer in electronic music and for his lifelong dedication to the promotion of Hellenism through the arts. On 16 September 2013, he received the honour of appearing on the Greek 80 cent postage stamp, as part of a series of six distinguished living personalities of the Greek Diaspora.
The American Film Institute nominated Vangelis' scores for Blade Runner and Chariots of Fire for their list of the 250 greatest film scores.
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