The Greek composer Vangelis has died

The composer, best known for his soundtracks to Chariots of Fire and Blade Runner, was a pioneer in the field of electronic music

Published: May 20, 2022 at 2:41 pm
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Vangelis, the Greek composer best known for his epic film soundtracks to Blade Runner and Chariots of Fire, has died, aged 79, in a hospital in Paris. Over the course of a 60-odd-year career, his influence spread far and wide, from Hollywood to the world of electronic music, thanks to the fearless imagination behind his synth-driven soundworld.

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Born Evángelos Odysséas Papathanassíou in 1943, Vangelis grew up in Athens and developed an interest in music aged four, experimenting on the family piano by placing nails and kitchen pans inside it. That taste for experimentation would prove permanent for the self-taught musician: although he started his career playing in bands - the Forminx and Aphrodite’s Child, with whom he achieved a degree of fame in the late 1960s - he later tired of the world of commercial pop, going on to make his name as a pioneering electronic solo artist.

Living in Paris in the early 1970s, he released his first solo album, Fais que ton rêve soit plus long que la nuit, and began to establish himself as a TV and film composer. In 1974 he moved to London, where he signed a solo deal with RCA Records, and released a series of LPs: Heaven and Hell (1975) and Albedo 0.39 (1976) each reached the UK Top 40, and the former was used to soundtrack Carl Sagan’s popular TV series Cosmos.

But it was in the 1980s that Vangelis achieved real success. At a time when film music tended to be symphonic, he broke new ground with his synth-heavy soundtracks - and was much admired for it. His rousing score for 1981’s Chariots of Fire, which won him an Oscar, became indelibly associated with sporting montages - especially after being performed by Mr Bean at the opening ceremony of the London Olympic Games. The composer’s chilling soundtrack to the 1982 science fiction thriller Bladerunner was similarly acclaimed, receiving nominations for a Golden Globe and a BAFTA.

Vangelis’s other film credits include The Bounty, Francesco, Bitter Moon, 1492: Conquest of Paradise and Alexander. He was commissioned to soundtrack major sporting events, including the 2000 Olympic Games in Sydney, the 2002 World Cup in Japan and South Korea, and the 2004 Olympics in Athens. He wrote music to ballet and stage productions including Medea and The Tempest. And his long-held fascination with outer space found an outlet in various works, including his final album: Juno to Jupiter, which was inspired by the Nasa probe Juno and featured recordings of its launch.

Among those paying tribute to Vangelis on Twitter was the musician Rick Wakeman, who tweeted: ‘RIP Vangelis…your music will live on and on for ever.’

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Photo: Getty

Authors

Hannah Nepilova is a regular contributor to BBC Music Magazine. She has also written for The Financial Times, The Times, The Strad, Gramophone, Opera Now, Opera, the BBC Proms and the Philharmonia, and runs The Cusp, an online magazine exploring the boundaries between art forms. Born to Czech parents, she has a strong interest in Czech music and culture.

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