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 Academy Award for best original score, died Tuesday in Paris. He was 79.
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 for 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 famous part of that score – modern electronic music composed for a historic film – was heard during the opening credits: a mix of acoustic piano and synthesizer that provided lush, pulsating accompaniment as about two dozen young men play in slow motion. running on a nearly empty beach, with mud on their white shirts and shorts, pain and excitement in their faces.
Vangelis’ music became as popular as the film itself, directed by Hugh Hudson, which won four Oscars, including Best Picture.
The opening track, also known as “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 stayed on the Billboard 200 chart for 30 weeks and spent four weeks in the first place.
Vangelis said the score immediately came to his mind when he watched the film in partially edited form.
“I’m trying to put myself in the situation and feel it,” he told The Washington Post in 1981. “I’m a runner at that moment, or in the stadium, or just in the locker room … and then I compose … and the moment is fruitful and fair, I think.”
At the time, he was working 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 there’s ever been,” he told alternative music website Prog in 2016, adding, “It’s the only synthesizer I could describe. like a real tool.”
For “Blade Runner,” a science-fiction film noir set in a futuristic Los Angeles, Vangelis created a score that suited director Ridley Scott’s dystopian vision. He expanded the CS-80 synthesizer, which produced the sounds of horns and bass, with an electric piano and a second synthesizer that emulated strings.
“What interested me most about this film was the atmosphere and the general feel, rather than the different themes,” he said on a fan site, Nemo Studios, named after the London studio he built and worked from for many years. “The visual atmosphere of the film is unique, and it’s that I’ve tried to improve it as much as possible.”
The soundtrack album “Blade Runner” was not released until 1994, but was well received. Zac Johnson of Allmusic wrote that “the listener can almost hear the indifferent wind blowing through 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 the age of 4 and gave his first public performance two years later. He hadn’t had much training and never learned to read music.
“Music goes through me,” he told The Associated Press in 1982. “It’s not through me.”
In the sixties he played organ with the Forminx, a Greek rock band. He left Greece for Paris in 1967 after the military coup there.
Vangelis was a founding member of Aphrodite’s Child, a progressive rock band that had singles in Europe and some success on FM radio in the United States. The band released a few albums, including ‘666’, which was inspired by the Book of Revelations. When Aphrodite’s Child broke up, he moved to London in 1974.
In the 1970s, he began composing music for television programs such as the French documentary series “L’Apocalypse des Animaux” (1973), working on solo albums and film projects. Music from his album “China” was played by Mr. Scott used in the memorable 1979 “Share the Fantasy” commercial for Chanel No. 5.
He also became friends with Jon Anderson, the lead singer of the British prog-rock band Yes. Vangelis was invited to replace keyboardist Rick Wakeman when he left the band, but he turned down the offer. He and mr. Anderson then worked together, as Jon and Vangelis, on four albums, including “The Friends of Mr. Cairo”, between 1980 and 1991.
Vangelis’ music was also featured in scientist Carl Sagan’s 1980 TV series “Cosmos.”
Information on survivors was not immediately available.
Among the films Vangelis scored after “Chariots of Fire” were “Antarctica” (1983), a Japanese film about scientists on an expedition; “The Bounty” (1984), with Anthony Hopkins and Mel Gibson; Oliver Stone’s “Alexander” (2004), about the Macedonian king; and “El Greco” (2007), a Greek film about the artist.
He also composed music for spectacles such as the 2000 and 2004 Olympics and the 2002 World Cup. And in 2001, he recorded a choral symphony, “Mythodea”, which he had adapted from earlier work, at the Temple of Zeus in Athens to perform NASA’s Odyssey. mission to Mars.
“I made up the name Mythodea from the words myth and ode,” Vangelis said in an interview for NASA’s website in 2001. “And I felt in it a kind of shared or common path with NASA’s current exploration of the planet. customs – music, mythology, science, mathematics, astronomy – we are all working to decipher the mystery of creation, in search of our deepest roots.”