a look at the music of Vangelis Papathanassiou


Who is Vangelis ?

Evanghelos Odyssey Papathanassiou is the full name of the man known to many as the artist Vangelis. Although best known for his musical compositions Vangelis has not limited himself to the role of composer, as he also likes to paint and sculpt. Born in Volos, Greece on the 29th of March 1943 Vangelis was raised together with a sister and brother. According to his own memories Vangelis has always been fascinated by sound and music, ever since his earliest childhood. He remembers as a kid he was always banging on things to see what kind of sound it would produce, and even staging a public concert at the age of six ! The fascination for sound is essential to understand Vangelis and his work. During his long career (now already spanning more than 30 years), his work has received the appreciation of a worldwide public, and received many prizes. Nevertheless it seems that Vangelis has always tried to let his music prevail before any commercial success. From his early successes with groups like the Forminx and Aphrodite's Child, to his highly acclaimed scores for movies like Chariots of Fire and Conquest of Paradise, Vangelis usually shies away from public attention and rather focuses on his next experiment in artistic creation.


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The 60's

Halfway through the sixties Vangelis first publicly appears performing with his school band The Forminx, who soon become a huge national success in Greece with their Beatles-like appearance and songs. Already Vangelis showcases his talent for composing catchy songs and playing the keys of his Hammond organ. After a few short collaborations with other Greek performers like Maria, Zoitsa 'Zoe' Kouroukli and Aleka Kanellidou, Vangelis forms his own band under the name 'The Papathanassiou Set', together with 'Silver' Koulouris, Demis Roussos and Lucas Sideras. It is under this name that they record singles with George Romanos, Ricardo Credi and Vilma Lado. In 1968 Vangelis, Demis and Lukas decide to try their luck in the British music scene, but on their way to London they get stuck in Paris, where strikes have paralyzed the air traffic. Under the name of Aphrodite's Child they record their first single "Rain and tears", which immediately becomes a huge hit. The single is quickly followed by their first album "End of the world", and only one year later the band releases another album, titled "It's five o'clock". It was only at the end of this decade that Vangelis stood at the start of his career. Refusing to tour with the band, he rather stays in the studio working on new material for the band. It is during this period that for the first time he composes a musical score, for a movie titled "Sex Power" by director Henry Chapier.


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The 70's

In the early seventies Vangelis starts composing music for French director Frédéric Rossif, for the first time on a wildlife documentary series titled "L'Apocalypse des Animaux". This was the beginning of a long-lasting cooperation, as during the following decades Vangelis would provide most of the music for the documentaries of Frédéric Rossif, e.g. for "Georges Mathieu ou la fureur d'etre" in 1971, "Au pays des visages" in 1972, "Georges Braque ou le temps different" in 1974, "La fête sauvage" in 1975, "L'Opera sauvage" in 1979, "Pablo Picasso Peintre" in 1981, "Sauvage et beau" in 1984, "Pasteur le siecle" in 1987 and in 1989 "Morandi" and "De Nuremberg a Nuremberg". Even before the release of their last album "666", Aphrodite's Child splits up. Now Vangelis is finally free to start working on his solo career, and he does so with the release of his first solo album "Fais que ton rêve soit plus long que la nuit", an album based on the student riots in Paris during 1968. It is during this period, in the first part of the seventies, that Vangelis experiments with sounds created with synthesizers, a relative new instrument at the time. In 1973 again he composes the score for another Henry Chapier movie, this one titled "Amore", as well as releases a progressive rock album titled "Earth". In between he also finds the time to record a few songs with Greek singer Melina Mercouri. In 1974, after arranging an album for Italian singer Claudio Baglioni, Vangelis decides to move to London and build his very own studio.

Even before "Nemo", his very first self-owned studio finishes, in 1975 Vangelis produces albums for Greek rock-band Socrates and Greek singer Mariangela at Orange Studio in London. And as Nemo continues to be built in an old school building at Hampden Guerney Street, already Vangelis records his first album "Heaven and Hell" there... It is the first album to be released for his new record label RCA, and in later followed by "Albedo 0.39" in 1976, "Spiral" in 1977 and "Beaubourg" in 1978. It is also the first album where Jon Anderson appears, singing lyrics to the beautiful "So long ago, so clear". Their long friendship would last into the nineties, and produce albums as "Short stories" in 1980, "The friends of Mr. Cairo" in 1981, "Private Collection" in 1983 and "Page of life" in 1991. The newly built studio attracts a lot of other artists as well during the next few years, and Vangelis works with Italian singers and bands like Chrisma, Patty Pravo, Riccardo Cocciante, Panda and I Nuovi Angeli to name a few. Another long lasting relationship with Aphrodite's Child lead singer Demis Roussos continues with the cooperation on albums like "Magic" in 1977, "Demis" in 1982 and "Reflection" in 1984. In 1979, at the end of another decade Vangelis signs a new contract with record label Polydor, which would serve him well into the eighties. The first album to be released for Polydor is "China", a typical album where Vangelis not only shows his ability to play electronic instruments, but also masterfully plays all kinds of percussion instruments.


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The 80's

The first solo album of the eighties is titled "See you later", an unusual album which included performances by Jon Anderson, Peter Marsh (with whom Vangelis would produce a separate single later), Cherry Vanilla, Krisma, Michel Ripoche and Argyris 'Silver' Koulouris. In the meantime in the USA Carl Sagan creates the documentary series "Cosmos", which main theme and background music was lifted from several of Vangelis' seventies albums. Together with Irene Papas, who also participated on Aphrodite's Child last album "666" in 1972, Vangelis now returns to his Greek roots on the album "Odes", an album inspired on Byzantine music. The two would work together again on another album "Rapsodies" in 1986. After this album Vangelis creates the scores for a number of movies, music that by many is valued as some of his finest compositions ever. It started with "Chariots of Fire" and "Missing" (1981), quickly followed by "Blade Runner" (1982), "Antarctica" (1983) and "The Bounty" (1984). In-between he finds the time to work with Italian singer Milva on her album "Ich hab' keine Angst" in 1981. The two would work together again on another album "Geheimnisse" in 1986. In 1983 Vangelis takes to the stage and composes his first work for the British ballet-director Wayne Eagling titled 'R B Sque'. Their relation would produce more music for ballet, "Frankenstein, a modern Prometheus" in 1985, and "Beauty and the Beast" in 1986. His next solo album "Soil festivities", inspired by nature itself, saw the light in 1984. Next are "Invisible Connections" and "Mask" in 1985, followed by "Direct" in 1988, which is the first album to be created with the aid of a revolutionary new 'Zyklus' tool. "Direct" is also the first (and only) album for record label Arista. The year 1987 is not a fruitful one for Vangelis, as he has to spend a lot of time in court, fighting the allegations of Stavros Logaridis. The case is about the composition of the main theme of "Chariots of fire", which Logaridis claims is his instead of Vangelis'. Vangelis wins the case, but still the allegations affected him greatly. He decides to close his studio Nemo (which is demolished a few years later) and moves back to Athens. In 1989 Vangelis once more creates the score for a motion picture, this time the movie "Francesco". While staying in Rome for this movie, Vangelis both stages a concert, as well as records the music for his next album "The City", released in 1990. With the release of "The City" he moves to the new record label that would issue most of his album during the nineties, East-West.

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The 90's

While staying in Athens Vangelis records three songs with Greek singer Maria Farantouri, published on her album "17 songs". In 1991 Vangelis cooperates on three performances; first he performs in Rotterdam, The Netherlands at "Eureka, the event of excellence", then he improvises music at the Night of Poetry in Athens, and finally he composes and performs the music for the mini-opera Antigone. In 1992 Vangelis moves to Paris where he builds a new studio, Epsilon, and scores yet another three movies "1492 Conquest of paradise", "The Plague" and "Bitter Moon". 1994 finally sees the release of the official "Blade Runner" soundtrack. The next year Vangelis composes "Foros Timis Ston Greko", a tribute to Greek painter Domenico Theotocopoulos. Originally only released as a limited edition in 1995, the music is later repackaged as a commercial release in 1998. Solo albums keep pouring out, like "Voices" in 1995, and "Oceanic" in 1996. It would take another 5 years before the next solo album to be released...  In 1996 Vangelis composes the score to the Greek movie "Kavafis", but like many before the music is not officially released. For  Montserrat Caballe Vangelis composes a number of songs, which are published on her albums "Friends for life" (1997) and "With all my heart" (1998). They perform together at the opening ceremony of the 1997 World Championship Athletics in Athens. With the release of "Reprise 1990-1999" in 1999 Vangelis concludes his contract with East-West.

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Recent years...

In 2001 Vangelis signs with a new record label, Sony Classical. In close cooperation with Sony, the NASA and the Greek Ministry of Culture for the first time in many years Vangelis stages a concert. The work presented is Mythodea, an earlier work from 1993, but now re-performed with a few added movements at the temple of Zeus in Athens. Shortly after the performance the new album "Mythodea" follows, linked to the NASA Odyssey Mission to Mars. In September of the same year long-time friend Irene Papas stages the play "Las Troyanas" in Sagunto, Spain for which Vangelis composes the score. By the end of the year Vangelis' composes the theme for the 2002 Japan / Korea World championship Soccer, which is first performed in Korea at the drawing ceremony. and later abundantly used during the tournament.

In 2002 Vangelis composes the music to yet another play, this time for "A Vihar" (The tempest) by Williams Shakespeare, performed during the summer, in Budapest (Hungary). In 2003 the worldwide premiere of Vangelis' paintings on public display is in Valencia, Spain, where an exhibition is organised from June to September. Vangelis composes special music for the occasion. Later that year Irene Papas again stages and two interconnected plays "Il Troiane" and "Ecuba", both of them performed with Vangelis' score in Rome, Italy in September. 2004 brings the long awaited return of Vangelis to the silver screen, with an epic score for Oliver Stone's film Alexander, about the life of Alexander the Great. A creative reunion with Greek director Iannis Smaragdis for the film "El Greco" produces another score in 2007. The title refers to Domenicos Theotokopoulos, one of the most influential Greek painters of all times, a subject Vangelis has had a major interest in considering his nineties albums...