Vangelis - Biography
Vangelis is the stage name of the Greek keyboard player and composer Evangelos Odysseas Papathanassiou. Vangelis has played in rock and prog-rock groups, but is primarily known as a composer of electronic music and as a solo artist. His work with the Greek psychedelic band Aphrodite's Child garnered him his first recognition. Their 1972 album 666 (Vertigo) was hailed as a psychedelic masterpiece. Vangelis is renown for his soundtracks to the 1980’s films Chariots of Fire and Blade Runner. He is also a painter and has been showing his work in small galleries in Europe since 2000.
Vangelis seldom makes public appearances and rarely gives interviews, preferring to make music alone in his studio. He was born in 1943 in a small town near Volos, Greece. He started playing piano at the age of four, but refused to take lessons even after passing an audition at a school for musically gifted children at the age of six. In high school, Vangelis took up the electric organ. He studied painting at the Academy of Fine Arts in Athens while he played in Formynx, the first Greek pop band to gain a national reputation. Vangelis wrote music for their popular singles, all of which were in English. They became “The Beatles of Greece,” but broke up in 1966 before they had the chance to record an album. Vangelis went on to produce and write songs for other Greek rock bands.
After a right-wing military coup took power, Vangelis and a few other friends left Greece to settle in Paris. With singer Demis Roussos and drummer Loukas Sideras, he formed the psychedelic prog-rock band Aphrodite's Child. The title track of their second album, 1968’s Rain and Tears (Vertigo), was a hit throughout Europe and sold millions of copies. Their next release, the double album 666 (1972 Vertigo), was hailed as a psychedelic masterpiece. Vangelis’s thematic music based on the life of John the Baptist impressed critics with its scope and power. The band broke up just before the release of 666 and Vangelis retreated to his studio. He began scoring French TV documentaries and films like Frederic Rossif’s L’Apocalypse des Animaux (1971), which was his first solo album. He also recorded Dragon (Phillips) in 1971, still using the conventions of prog-rock as a template. In 1974, Vangelis moved to London when the band Yes asked him to replace Rick Wakeman. After a few rehearsals, he decided that being in a band was not for him. Instead, he built Nemo Studios and recorded 1975’s Heaven and Hell (RCA), a dark electronic masterpiece. Music from the album would later be used in Carl Sagan’s TV series Cosmos.
Vangelis followed with the spacey jazz-rock album Albedo 0.39 (RCA) in 1976, the expansive ambient journeys of Spiral (RCA) in 1977, the dark and moody tone poem Beaubourg (RCA) in 1978, and the pop friendly China (Vertigo) in 1979. Also in 1979, Frederic Rossif commissioned Vangelis to compose music for a documentary about African lions and the result, Opera Sauvage (Polydor), was a commercial success. Opera Sauvage brought Vangelis to the attention of other filmmakers, and Hugh Hudson asked him to compose music for his film about the British runners of the 1924 Summer Olympics. The soundtrack for Chariots of Fire (Polydor), released in 1981, made Vangelis an international superstar. The film won an Oscar for Best Picture and Vangelis won for Best Original Music Score. The single “Theme from Chariots of Fire” topped charts around the world, selling millions of copies. The album was a multi-platinum phenomenon. The 1984 Olympic Games in Sarajevo used “Theme from Chariots of Fire” as its own theme song.
Meanwhile, Vangelis was making pop albums with his pal Jon Anderson, whom he met while auditioning for Yes. As Jon and Vangelis, they made Short Stories (1980 Polydor), Friends of Mr. Cairo (1980 Polydor), the symphonic rock of Private Collection (1983 Polydor), and the deeply spiritual world music-influenced Page of Life (1991 Higher Octave).
Vangelis followed Chariots of Fire with the soundtrack to Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner. While the music was a big part of the film’s appeal, Vangelis would not allow the soundtrack to be released as an album for 12 years. In 1983, he produced the soundtrack for the film Antarctica by Nankyoku Monogatari, and two pop albums for Italian singer Milva. He continued making his own albums as well as writing music for the Royal Ballet productions of Frankenstein and Beauty and the Beast. His studio work includes the atmospheric suite Soil Festivities (1985 Polydor), the neo-classical Ignacio (1985 Polydor), the expansive and cinematic Mask (1985 Polydor), the rocking Direct (1988 Arista), and the Roman epic The City (1990 Atlantic).
In 1992, the soundtrack to 1492: Conquest of Paradise reunited Vangelis with Ridley Scott and combines 15th Century music with modern elements. Other works of the 1990’s include the moody Voices (1995 Atlantic), the soundtrack for El Greco, and Oceanic (1996 Atlantic).
In 2000, Vangelis composed the music for the closing ceremonies of the Sydney Olympics. The following year, he resurrected some older pieces for Mythodea: Music for the NASA Mission - 2001 Mars Odyssey (2001 Sony Classical), which NASA used as the theme for its Mars mission. In 2004, he worked with Oliver Stone on the soundtrack to Alexander (2004 Sony). His honors include being made a French Knight of the Order of Arts and Letters in 1992, receiving NASA’s Public Service Medal in 2003, becoming Professor Emeritus of the National and Kapodistrian University of Athens on 2008, and winning an American Hellenic Institute Hellenic Heritage Award for lifetime achievements. His most recent soundtrack is for the film Swiadectwo (2008 RPK Poland), a biopic about the life of Pope John Paul II, for which he collaborated with film composer Robert Jansson.