Vangelis, composer of ‘Cart’ and ‘Blade Runner’ soundtracks, dies at 79

Vangelis, the Greek composer and musician whose synth-driven work brought great drama to film soundtracks including Blade Runner and Chariots of Fire, has died at the age of 79. His representatives said he died in a hospital in France and he was being treated.

Born in Evángelos Odysséas Papathanassíou in 1943, Vangelis won an Oscar for his 1981 work Chariot of Fire soundtrack. Its uplifting piano themes are world-renowned and topped the US charts, as is the accompanying acoustic album.

Mainly self-taught music, Vangelis grew up in Athens and formed his first band in 1963 called Forminx, playing the popular music of the day: up-tempo rock, pop folk and Beatles covers, Vangelis provided the organ Wire.

They split in 1966, and Vangelis became a hired writer and producer, working for other musicians and scoring Greek films. Two years later, he continued his career in Paris, where he formed the progressive rock quartet Aphrodite’s Child with the Greek diaspora including Demis Roussos.Their single Rain and Tears was a hit Europetopped the charts in France, Belgium and Italy, and entered the UK top 30.

Vangelis at his London home in 1982.
Commercial heights… Vangelis at his London home in 1982. Photo: Martyn Goddard/Alamy

After their split – Vangelis thought the world of commercial pop was “very boring” – he returned to scoring for film and TV.Turning down an offer to replace Rick Wakeman’s keyboards in Yes, he moved to London and signed a separate deal with RCA Records: his LPs Heaven and Hell (1975) and Albedo 0.39 (1976) both entered the UK Top 40 , who also scored Carl Sagan’s hit TV series universeThe connection with Yes was finally completed later in the decade, when he teamed up with the band’s Jon Anderson on the duo Jon and Vangelis, whose debut album reached the top 5.

Vangelis continued his soundtrack work throughout the 1970s, but did not reach commercial heights until the 1980s. Chariots of fire are inseparable from Vangelis’ timeless theme, and music has become synonymous with slow-motion motion montages. “My music doesn’t try to evoke emotions like joy, love or pain in the audience. It just matches the image because I work in the moment,” he later explained.

His soundtrack to Blade Runner is also credited for evoking a sinister version of futuristic Los Angeles, where robots and humans live awkwardly with each other through the use of long malevolent synth notes. The saxophone and lush ambient passages enhance the film’s romantic and poignant moments. “It turned out to be a very prophetic movie – we now live in a world of Blade Runner,” he said in 2005.

Later in the decade, he provided the score for the Palme d’Or winner Costa-Gavras political drama Missing starring Jack Lemmon. Mel Gibson and Anthony Hopkins’ theatrical bounty; and Francesco starring Mickey Rourke. In the 1992 film 1492: Conquering Paradise, and elsewhere in the 1990s, he again teamed up with Blade Runner director Ridley Scott for Roman Polanski’s The Bitter Moon and Jacques Cousteau documentary soundtrack.

Wangelis in 2001.
A fascination with outer space… Vangelis in 2001. Photo: Simela Pantzartzi/EPA

Vangelis draws on Greek instruments as well as the typical orchestra used in the soundtrack of Oliver Stone’s 2004 classical epic Alexander.

His most recent score was for El Greco, the 2007 Greek biopic of the Renaissance painter. The Greek artist, who moved to Spain and earned his nickname there, was so admired by Vangelis that he wrote albums inspired by and named after him in 1995 and 1998.

Vangelis is continually acclaimed for his evocative chariot of fire themes, and he has also been commissioned by sports groups to score for major events, including the 2000 Sydney Olympics, the 2002 World Cups in Japan and South Korea, and the 2004 Athens Olympics. He also composed ballet scores and music for the stage productions of Medea, The Tempest and other plays.

Solo releases have remained steady with his commissions and occasional collaborations with singers such as Paul Young.

The fascination with outer space found a voice in 2016’s Rosetta, dedicated to the space probe of the same name, and NASA designated his 1993 composition Mythodea (which he claimed to be done in under an hour) as the official music for the 2001 Mars Odyssey mission His final album, Juno to Jupiter 2021, was inspired by NASA’s Juno probe and features recordings of its launch and the probe itself working in outer space.

Among those paying tribute to Wanjilis was Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis, who praised “the pioneer of electronic sound”.

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