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Greek Composer Vangelis Papathanasiou Passes Away

greek composer vangelis papathanasiou
Greek composer Vangelis passed away on Tuesday. Credit: Kapetan Nikolios/Wikimedia Commons/CC BY-SA 3.0

World renowned Greek composer Vangelis Papathanasiou, known professionally simply as Vangelis, passed away at 79, according to an announcement made on Thursday.

The composer, who won an Oscar award for composing the score for the film Chariots of Fire (1981), passed away late Tuesday evening, according to a statement released by his legal team.

The composer had been hospitalized with COVID-19 in France before his passing.

Vangelis was known for his groundbreaking compositions in a variety of genres, including electronic, progressive, ambient, and even orchestral pieces.

His theme for Chariots of Fire beat John Williams’ score for the first Indiana Jones film in 1982. It reached the top of the US billboard and was an enduring hit in Britain, where it was used during the London 2012 Olympics medal presentation ceremonies.

The signature piece is one of the hardest-to-forget film tunes worldwide – and has also served as the musical background to endless slow-motion parodies.

Vangelis was one of the most famous Greek composers in the world

Vangelis was born in the small town of Agria in Thessaly but grew up in Athens. From a young age, Vangelis showed an interest in and talent for music.

He began to compose songs at the young age of just four years old without having had any training in music.

After noticing his talent for music, Vangelis’ parents enrolled him in music lessons, but the Greek composer didn’t find the lessons helpful whatsoever, so he developed his own technique for playing music.

Later in his life, Vangelis stated that he was glad he had no formal training in music, as it would have prevented him from exploring his own creativity.

In the earliest days of his career, Vangelis mainly composed music for Greek musicians and films. He then moved to Paris, where he founded the Greek progressive rock band, Aphrodite’s Child, with Greek musicians Demis Roussos, Loukas Sideras, and Anargyros “Silver” Koulouris.

After the band split up in 1971, Vangelis began to focus more on composing scores for film and television.

Vangelis went on to become one of the most well-respected composers in the world of film, and his work on the films Chariots of Fire and Bladerunner have made him a household name across the world.

He was a prolific composer over many decades, his work ranging from advertising music and film scores to elaborate symphonic-style compositions and “Jon and Vangelis”, his duo with Jon Anderson, lead singer of the prog-rock group Yes.

But he remained wary of commercial success and valued his independence over record sales, once telling an interviewer he never saw music as just entertainment.

“Success is sweet and treacherous,” the composer told the Observer newspaper in 2012. “Instead of being able to move forward freely and do what you really wish, you find yourself stuck and obliged to repeat yourself.”

Vangelis readily admitted to the Los Angeles Times in 1986 that “half of the films I see don’t need music. It sounds like something stuffed in.”  

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