Evángelos Odysséas Papathanassíou best known professionally as Vangelis (b. March 29, 1943) is a Greek composer of electronic, progressive, ambient, jazz, and orchestral music, who 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. Vangelis was born on March 29, 1943, in Agria, near Volos, Greece. Largely a self-taught musician, he reportedly began composing at the age of three. His earliest memories include playing piano, percussion, and music of his own device. He studied painting, an art he still practices, at the Athens School of Fine Arts.
When Vangelis was twelve years old he became interested in 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. 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. 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.
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. In 1973 Vangelis’ solo career began in earnest. His second solo album was Earth. It was a percussive-orientated album with Byzantine undertones and 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). In 1979 was released album Odes, which included Greek folk songs performed by Vangelis and actress Irene Papas.
Carl Sagan’s TV series Cosmos: A Personal Voyage (1980) used several pieces composed by Vangelis during the 1970s, including the series’ opening theme. In the 1980s were released five solo albums, beginning with the experimental and satirical See You Later (1980) which included “Memories of Green.” 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. In 1982, Vangelis collaborated with director Ridley Scott, to write the score for the science fiction film Blade Runner.
In the 1990s were also released five solo albums, beginning with The City (1990) which was recorded during his stay in Rome in 1989, and reflected a day of bustling city life, from dawn until dusk. 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. 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.
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 two albums in 2007, including the soundtrack for the Greek movie, El Greco directed by Yannis Smaragdis, titled El Greco Original Motion Picture Soundtrack. On December 11, 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. In 2012, Vangelis re-tooled and added new pieces to his iconic Chariots of Fire soundtrack, for use in the same-titled stage adaptation.
Vangelis 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 November 12, 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. In September 2016, the works were released as part of the new studio album Rosetta.
The following works by Vangelis are contained in my collection:
1492 Conquest of Paradise (1992): 1492 Conquest of Paradise (Main Theme).
Chariots of Fire (1981): Titles and Theme.