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Mikis Theodorakis, World-Renowned Greek Composer, Turns 96

Mikis Theodorakis Greek composer
Mikis Theodorakis in Paris in 1967. Credit: Nationaal Archief/Wikimedia Commons/CC BY-SA 3.0

Greek patriot and world-renowned composer Mikis Theodorakis celebrates his 96th birthday on Thursday.

Theodorakis has contributed countless compositions to the music of Greece and beyond, and scored several iconic popular films, including “Zorba the Greek,” in 1964.

Mikis Theodorakis celebrates 96th birthday

Theodorakis was born on the Greek island of Chios on July 29, 1925 and spent his childhood years moving between several provincial Greek cities. His father, a lawyer and a civil servant, was from the small village of Kato Galatas on Crete and his mother, Aspasia Poulakis, was from an ethnically Greek family in Çeşme, in what is today Turkey.

Theodorakis is almost universally beloved and admired in Greece, with his first name “Mikis” being deeply tied to the musician. He is certainly the best Greek composer of all time, and his work is distinctive as his song cycles are based on poems by Greek authors.

He is also a visionary humanitarian. Starting out as a socialist, in his later years he tried to unite all the Greek people, regardless of their political affiliation.

This year, the Athens Orchestra performed a tribute concert to Theodorakis to celebrate his 96th birthday. On July 20, the orchestra performed some select works from Theodorakis’ massive list of titles in the Megaro Mousikis, Athens Concert Hall garden. The concert had free admission and was well-attended by music-loving guests.

Musician in exile

Theodorakis suffered terribly for his early idealism, even enduring torture multiple times. During the Greek Civil War he was arrested, sent into exile on the island of Icaria and then deported to the island of Makronisos, where he was tortured and buried alive twice.

He was later imprisoned and exiled for his beliefs, even after he had achieved acclaim as a composer.

But like all great creators, he transformed all his painful experiences into tremendously moving works of art. The end result was that Theodorakis made his personal history part of the musical history of the nation of Greece.

One cannot separate Theodorakis’ political activism from his compositions, because one is the reflection of the other. Even in his nineties, his creative spirit was strong, and he remained active in both fields. No Greek can forget his moving speech during the rally against the use of the term “Macedonia” by Greece’s northern neighbor, on February 4, 2018.

He was even a Member of Parliament for a number of years, representing both the Communist Party of Greece (KKE) and the center-right New Democracy Party throughout the 1980s and 1990s.

Watch below as Mikis Theodorakis conducts an 1000-member choir on “Βρέχει στη Φτωχογειτονιά” at Panathenaic Stadium in Athens in June 2017 and gets a standing ovation from 50,000 spectators.

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