Vangelis: Composer who wrote Chariots of Fire and Blade Runner

Vangelis, the self-taught, Oscar-winning Greek composer who steered a dashboard of synthesizers through the New Age and into cinema, notably with catchy, cosmic scores for Chariot of Fire and BladerunnerHe died at the age of 79.

Chariot of Fire (1981) was Vangelis’ first studio film, and it earned it an Oscar – it surpassed John Williams’ traditional orchestral film Hunter of the lost treasure. Chariot of Fire also won an Oscar for Best Picture for his audience-loving story of English runners representing their country at the 1924 Olympics, beginning with an iconic image of the young men running down a beach in slow motion.

Vangelis’ score – preceded by a lively anthem rising above a persistently throbbing rhythm – defied the film’s historical trappings with its space-age palette and pop-like melodies.

“It’s an electric texture that at first glance seems oddly modern for a film so meticulously accurate in its 1920s setting,” wrote pop music critic Richard Harrington The Washington Post back then, “but the neoclassical mood and the moment triumph: you get carried away with the runners, and it’s easy to suddenly lose your breath.”

Vangelis may also have been carried away with the runners.

“I try to put myself in the situation and feel it,” the composer told Harrington. “I’m a runner at the time, or in the stadium, or alone in the dressing room… and then I’m composing… and the moment is fruitful and honest, I think.”

The score brought Vangelis international fame and the soundtrack became the best-selling LP at the time. Its theme remains one of the most famous – and parodied – in the history of film music.

He helped cement his cinematic legacy over the next year Bladerunnerto create a magnificent, ice-age-advancing work for Ridley Scott’s neo-noir sci-fi film – a failure of its time that went on to become a classic and inspire a 2017 sequel.

Scott visited Vangelis every night he was editing the film in London and vividly recalled his reaction when he first heard the composer’s musical idea for the opening shot, a stunning aerial view of a future Los Angeles burning against the night sky .

“Honestly, my hair stood on end,” Scott said The post in 2017. “He was the soul of the film.”

That Bladerunner The score filled Scott’s crowded city with huge waves of elegant, electric chords and accompanied Harrison Ford’s replicant assassin with a mournful ballad for saxophone and synth. It became a paragon of the genre and continued to influence bands and film composers decades later.

Vangelis began his musical career in rock ‘n’ roll, first as a songwriter and organist for Greece’s first popular rock band, the Forminx, which he formed in high school. After the military coup in Greece in 1967, he moved to Paris and co-founded the progressive rock band Aphrodite’s Child, which released three successful albums that sold more than 20 million copies in Europe.

Vangelis (right) with his band Aphrodite’s Child in 1969


“It was too demanding for the group,” he said of their ambitious album 666in a 1974 interview with the magazine Sounds. “I realized that I could no longer follow the commercial path; it was very boring.”

The band broke up in 1974 and Vangelis moved to London to record solo albums – including heaven and hell, Spiral and the more avant-garde beauburg. The band Yes invited him to join when their keyboardist Rick Wakeman left, but Vangelis he said Keyboard Magazine In 1982, the group found irreconcilable.

He made several albums with the band’s lead singer, Jon Anderson. Under the Jon and Vangelis name, they produced two hit singles in the UK: “I Hear You Now” (1979) and “I’ll Find My Way Home” (1981).

In music stores, the composer’s solo work was shelved in the burgeoning new-age genre, with like-minded artists such as Mike Oldfield, Jean-Michel Jarre and Tangerine Dream. A key difference between Vangelis and his contemporaries was the melody.

“Vangelis is the master of stirring, melodic statement,” former Tangerine Dream member Paul Haslinger told NPR in 2016. “Whether you like that opulent, symphonic sound or not, the melodies grab you — and if you do.” ever tried anything in music, you know how hard it is.”

While others experimented with modular, sequenced rhythms, Vangelis played his synths like a church organ, infusing big melodies with massive, artificial reverberations to create a cathedral-like sonic feel. He also devised a system that allowed him to play multiple synth voices simultaneously – turning his keyboards into a full orchestra – and typically recorded tracks in one go.

“I won’t even re-record if I play a bum note,” he said beat instrumentally 1975. “Making music is like making love—it’s no good unless it’s honest and spontaneous.”

Performance of his ‘Mythodea’ composition in the Temple of Zeus in Athens


His music connected sacred space to outer space – a quality that made him a natural fit for the films many of his “cosmic synth” artists immigrated to. His first endeavors were with French documentaries and the 1970 film sex powerand his album music provided much of the score for Carl Sagan’s 1980 PBS series cosmos. In 1982 he met AbsenceCosta-Gavras’ Oscar-nominated drama about an American writer who disappears in Chile during the 1973 coup that brought the Pinochet regime to power.

In 1992, Vangelis teamed up again with Scott for the Columbus epic 1492: Conquest of Paradise. Its infectious anthems mixed electronics, choir and primitive instruments, and the soundtrack topped the European pop charts. His last major score was poorly received for Oliver Stones Alexander (2004) on Alexander the Great, the Macedonian conqueror of antiquity.

Outside of film, Vangelis wrote two scores for the London Royal Ballet in the mid-1980s and continued to record solo albums throughout the ’90s and 2000s. He has provided music for high profile special occasions including the 2000 and 2004 Olympic Games.

In 2001 he wrote a symphonic oratorio, Mythodea, commemorating NASA’s mission to Mars – a production staged at the ancient Temple of Zeus in Athens and criticized in the Greek media for costing $7 million, half of which was provided by the state government. In 2016 he released a now retro synthesizer album, rosetteinspired by the European Space Agency’s probe mission of the same name.

“For me, music is more science than art,” Vangelis told NPR. “It is the main code of the universe.”

Evangelos Odysseas Papathanassiou was born on March 29, 1943 in Volos, Greece and grew up in Athens. His father was “owned,” he told the Los Angeles Times, and was “a great lover of music”. Vangelis began playing the piano at the age of four but received little formal training.

He soon began composing and experimenting with sound by ‘playing’ with dishes filled with different amounts of water. As a teenager, he received his first Hammond organ and painted it gold.

After moving to London in 1974, he built his high-tech Nemo Studios – named after Captain Nemo from Jules Verne’s fantasy adventure novel Twenty thousand leagues under the sea. He also started going by the name Vangelis because, as he said SoundsPapathanassiou was “impossible to fit on record sleeves” and difficult to pronounce for English speakers.

Vangelis granted few interviews and revealed little personal information. By all accounts, he has had three serious romantic partners and no children. Information about survivors was not immediately available.

Friends remembered him as a fun-loving bear of a man with a hearty appetite for cigars, wine and practical jokes.

Anderson told about his first meeting with Vangelis in Paris The post: “When I came in he had a longbow and some arrows, which he fired down the very large hallway. The arrows passed through the very large curtained window. I told him he could kill someone and he just laughed and said he was Greek. ‘Don’t worry Jonny.’”

Vangelis, musician and composer, born March 29, 1943, died May 17, 2022

© The Washington Post Vangelis: Composer who wrote Chariots of Fire and Blade Runner

Bobby Allyn

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