Vangelis, the innovative Greek composer whose catalog spans electronic music, progressive rock and major film scores (blade runner, chariots of fire), died at age 79.
Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis tweeted (according to an English translation), “Vangelis Papathanassiou is no longer with us.” While a cause of death has yet to be announced, The Associated Press reports that the musician died Tuesday evening in a French hospital.
Vangelis, born Evangelos Odysseas Papathanassiou in 1943, began experimenting with music as a child and joined his first bands as a teenager. After composing a handful of Greek films in the 60s, he formed the psychedelic progressive rock band Aphrodite’s Child, which released three studio albums – their final project, the loosely conceptual 1972 double LP. 666, is now revered as a classic of the genre. (UCR included the track “The Four Horsemen” in our list of the 50 best progressive rock songs.)
Although primarily known as a keyboard player (he turned down an offer to replace Rick Wakeman on Yes in the mid-’70s), Vangelis was also a versatile multi-instrumentalist – a skill on display throughout his post-Aphrodite solo work. . His 70s gear ventures into space prog, ambient, classical and electronica, with the synthesizer becoming his signature.
The early 80s marked a commercial breakthrough for Vangelis as he landed two major film score projects: the 1981 sports drama chariots of fire (which won an Oscar for Best Original Score) and Ridley Scott’s 1982 sci-fi classic blade runner. (The chiming piano theme from “Chariots of Fire” also topped the Billboard Hot 100.)
“My main inspiration was the story itself,” he said. The Guardian of his work on chariots of fire. “The rest I did instinctively, not thinking of anything other than expressing my feelings with the technological means I had at the time.”
Vangelis remained prolific over the decades: recording numerous other soundtracks, collaborating on four albums with Yes singer Jon Anderson (as Jon & Vangelis), and releasing solo work at a semi-steady pace. His latest studio album, Juno to Jupitercame out in 2021.
While Vangelis is naturally grouped with other electronics pioneers of his day, his work stands out stylistically. Former Tangerine Dream member Paul Haslinger told NPR in 2016, “The main difference is the melody.” ” Whether it be blade runner or the 1492 film… there are big melodic statements,” he said. ” And [Vangelis is] a master of that particular skill.”
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