Movie composer appreciation: Vangelis

Kicking off a new occasional series, Stuart looks at the Vangelis story, and cites some CDs you really need to buy...


When it comes to film composers, Evanghelos Odyssey Papthanassiou, better know simply as Vangelis, is one of the more unusual. Where most composers write for huge orchestras (here’s looking at you, Hans Zimmer), Vangelis sits behind his huge banks of synths creating beautifully elegant and purely electronic pieces.

Born near Volos, Greece on March 29th, 1943, Vangelis began composing at the age of four and went on to study fine arts in Athens, which, like all good art students, lead to the formation of a number of bands. The most influencial and successful of these was Aphrodite’s Child. Featuring fellow Greek musician Demis Roussos on vocals, Aphrodite’s Child went on to sell 20 million copies of their first two albums, but their last and epic 1972 release, 666, is considered a work of crazed genius that is still as highly regarded now as it was 36 years ago.

While in Aphrodite’s Child, Vangelis started to become involved in other projects including early scores for short films and also recording a number of solo electronic albums (he also released material under the name Odyssey and worked with Yes singer Jon Anderson), but it was one of his scores to wildlife documentaries, Opera Sauvage, that brought him to the attention of some of the worlds top film makers and lead to his work on Chariots Of Fire (1981).

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A period piece where an electronic score shouldn’t have worked, Vangelis won the Academy Award for Best Original Music Score, and the opening theme of the movie – still a hummable classic – topped both the UK and US charts.

But it is his score to Blade Runner (1982) that he is most reveered for.

His work on Blade Runner is one of the best examples of underscoring in the history of cinema, never intruding upon the film while perfectly representing the themes present within the narrative. And while it took twelve years for the score to be released officially, following a disagreement with the studio, its impact upon electronic performers such as Air and Aphex Twin (and many others) cannot be doubted.

Vangelis went onto work with Ridley Scott again on 1492: Conquest Of Paradise and Oliver Stone’s ill-fated Alexander. But with the re-issue of the Blade Runner score as a three disc set (featuring unreleased pieces and a new album of music inspired by it), it will surely prove to be his greatest work.

Vangelis’ brilliance can still be heard today in pretty much any electronic score or any dance record, and you can be sure that there is still great work to come from this musical pioneer.

Essential listening:* Aphrodite’s Child: 666* Odyssey: The Definitive Collection* Vangelis: China* Chariots of Fire Original Score* Blade Runner Original Score: 3 disc box set

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