Vangelis, composer known for ‘Chariots of Fire’, dies at 79


Vangelis, the Greek film composer and synthesizer virtuoso whose soaring music for “Chariots of Fire,” the 1981 film about two British runners at the 1924 Summer Olympics in Paris, won the Oscar for best music original, died Tuesday in Paris. He was 79 years old.

The cause was heart failure, said Lefteris Zermas, a frequent contributor.

A self-taught musician, Vangelis (pronounced vang-GHELL-iss), born Evangelos Odysseas Papathanassiou, recorded solo albums and wrote music for television and films including “Blade Runner” (1982), “Missing” (1982) and “1492: Conquest of Paradise” (1992). But he remains best known for scoring “Chariots of Fire”.

The most familiar part of this score – modern electronic music composed for a period film – was heard during the opening credits: a mix of acoustic piano and synthesizer that provided a lush, heart-pounding accompaniment to the view of about two dozen young men running in slow motion. on an almost deserted beach, mud splattering their white shirts and shorts, the pain and joy of life wrinkled their faces.

Vangelis’ music became as popular as the film itself, directed by Hugh Hudson, which won four Oscars, including Best Picture.

The opening song, also called “Chariots of Fire”, was released as a single and spent 28 weeks on the Billboard Hot 100 chart, including one week at No. 1. The soundtrack album remained on the chart Billboard 200 for 30 weeks and spent four weeks at number one.

Vangelis said the score immediately came to him as he watched the film in partially edited form.

“I try to put myself in the situation and feel it” he told the Washington Post in 1981. “I’m a runner at the time, or in the stadium, or alone in the locker room… and then I compose… and the moment is fruitful and honest, I think.”

He was working at the time in his London studio with a Yamaha CS-80 synthesizer.

“It’s the most important synthesizer of my career and the best analog synthesizer design that has ever existed.” he said Progan alternative music website, in 2016, adding, “It’s the only synthesizer I can describe as a real instrument.

For “Blade Runner,” a sci-fi noir set in futuristic Los Angeles, Vangelis created a score to match director Ridley Scott’s dystopian vision. It supplemented the CS-80 synthesizer, which produced the sounds of horns and basses, with an electric piano and a second synthesizer that imitated strings.

“What interested me most about this film was the overall atmosphere and feeling, rather than the distinct themes.” he says on a fan site, Nemo Studios, named after the studio in London that he built and worked in for many years. “The visual atmosphere of the film is unique, and that’s what I tried to improve as much as I could.”

The “Blade Runner” soundtrack album was not released until 1994, but it was well received. Zac Johnson of Allmusic wrote that “the listener can almost hear the indifferent winds blowing over the neon and metal landscapes of Los Angeles in 2019”.

Vangelis was born on March 29, 1943 in Agria, Greece and grew up in Athens. He started playing the piano at age 4 and gave his first public performance two years later. He didn’t have much training and never learned to read music.

“Music runs through me,” he told The Associated Press in 1982. “It’s not mine.”

In the 1960s, he played the organ with Forminx, a Greek rock band. He left Greece for Paris in 1967 after the military coup.

Vangelis was one of the founders of Aphrodite’s Child, a progressive rock band that had hit singles in Europe and had some success on FM radio in the United States. The group released a few albums, including “666”, inspired by the Book of Revelations. When Aphrodite’s Child separated, he moved to London in 1974.

In the 1970s, he began composing music for television shows such as the French documentary series “L’Apocalypse des Animaux” (1973), as well as working on solo albums and film projects. Music from his album “China” was used by Mr. Scott in the memorable 1979 “Share the Fantasy” Advertisement for Chanel No. 5.

He also befriended Jon Anderson, the lead singer of British prog-rock band Yes. Vangelis was asked to replace keyboardist Rick Wakeman when he left the band, but he turned down the offer. He and Mr. Anderson subsequently collaborated, as Jon and Vangelis, on four albums, including “The Friends of Mr. Cairo”, between 1980 and 1991.

Vangelis’ music was also heard in scientist Carl Sagan’s 1980 television series, “Cosmos.”

Information about survivors was not immediately available.

Among the films Vangelis scored after “Chariots of Fire” were “Antarctica” (1983), a Japanese film about scientists on expeditions; “The Bounty” (1984), with Anthony Hopkins and Mel Gibson; “Alexander” by Oliver Stone (2004), about the Macedonian king; and “El Greco” (2007), a Greek film about the artist.

He also composed music for shows like the 2000 and 2004 Olympics and the 2002 World Cup. And in 2001 he recorded a choral symphony, “Mythodee”, which he had adapted from earlier work, at the Temple of Zeus in Athens to commemorate NASA’s Odyssey mission to Mars.

“I coined the name Mythodea from the words myth and ode,” Vangelis said in an interview for NASA’s website in 2001. NASA’s current exploration of the planet Whatever key we use – music, mythology, science, math, astronomy – we are all working to decode the mystery of creation, searching for our deepest roots.

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