Some of my favorite musicians simply do not lend themselves to categorization. Most of them, though, utilize electronics and synthesizers to create their masterpieces. A few of the artists, whose music frequently appear in my stereo, are Jean-Michel Jarre, Kitaro, Klaus Schultze, Ralf Hütter, Hans Zimmer, and Vangelis.
Among those artists, the general public probably recognizes the name Vangelis, most readily. Aficionados have variously described his music as New Age, progressive rock, trance, electronica, space music, or simply, electronic music.
The artist was born Ευάγγελος Οδυσσέας Παπαθανασίου (Evanghelos Odyssey Papathanassiou) on March 29, 1943 in a village near Volos, Greece. He could be considered a child prodigy, because he began piano when he was four-years-old. Vangelis was composing and performing his own music at six years of age.
As a schoolboy, he helped found the pop band “Forminx”, which enjoyed considerable European popularity. After a move to Paris, he collaborated with singer Demis Roussos and drummer Lucas Sideras, to form “Aphrodite’s Child”. Throughout the late 1960s, their music became a hit across Europe. The group disbanded in 1970, marking the beginning of Vangelis’ solo career as a multi-instrumentalist.
Electronic keyboards in some form, grand pianos, harpsichord, percussion instruments, and a mixing console are his creative environment. His pieces are improvised on location and are often recorded for later audio mixing while he plays. Vangelis’ most famous works have been created for stage plays, movies and television because he rarely performs live in public.
The first appearance on the American pop charts for Vangelis was also likely the first time most listeners report hearing about him. In 1981, the movie based on the 1924 Summer Olympics, “Chariots of Fire”, was filmed with Vangelis’ music as the soundtrack. The movie score won the Academy Award for Best Original Music Score. The film’s opening theme was released as a single and reached number one on Billboard Magazine’s “Hot 100” chart. In 1984, that same chart topper was picked by Steven Jobs as the music when he introduced the first Macintosh PC to the public.
After a couple of studio albums, Vangelis teamed up with Ridley Scott to compose the sci-fi film “Blade Runner”. After a twelve year disagreement with the studio was resolved, the original Vangelis music album for the movie was finally released in the U.S. Most, but not all, of the soundtrack can be found on that album. Various bootleg and unofficial recordings can still be heard after diligent searches by fans.
Of interest to current science culture fans is the compilation album “Cosmos”. The television series “Cosmos: A Personal Voyage” by Carl Sagan utilized a great many Vangelis compositions that had already been recorded between 1975 to 1979. The popular acclaim of Dr. Sagan plus the etherial appeal of the Vangelis music added up to further popularity of the program, worldwide.
Vangelis’ association with the “Chariots of Fire” movie has linked his work with other Olympic Games. His original design and composition of the Olympic flag relay segment of the 2000 Sydney Games’ closing ceremony comes to mind. That same piece was reworked for the emblem presentation at the 2004 Athen’s Olympics. Also noteworthy are outtakes from “Chariots of Fire” during the 2012 Summer Olympics opening presentation.
If you’re interested in Vangelis’ vast catalogue of works, you can search such categories as Electronic Music, 20th Century Classical Music, as well as the name “Vangelis”.
The Blue Jay of Happiness recommends the 1973 album “L’Apocalypse des Animaux” as an introduction to Vangelis’ earlier solo music.