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 Original Music, died Tuesday in Paris. He was 79.
The cause was heart failure, said Lefteris Zermas, a frequent collaborator.
A self-taught musician, Vangelis (pronounced vang-GHELL-iss), born Evangelos Odysseas Papathanassiou, recorded solo albums and wrote music for television and films such as Blade Runner (1982), Missing (1982) and 1492: Conquest of Paradise (1992). However, he is still best known for the scoring of “Chariots of Fire”.
The best-known 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 enlivened the sight of about two dozen young men running in slow motion, lush and throbbing on a nearly deserted beach, mud spattering their white shirts and shorts, pain and exhilaration wrinkling 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 stayed and spent 30 weeks on the Billboard 200 chart four weeks at the top.
Vangelis said the score came to mind immediately upon seeing the film in partially edited form.
“I try to put myself in the situation and feel it,” he told the Washington Post in 1981. The moment is fruitful and honest I think.”
At that time he was working in his London studio with a Yamaha CS-80 synthesizer.
“It’s the most important synthesizer in my career and the best analog synthesizer design that has ever existed,” he told Prog, an alternative music website, in 2016, adding, “It’s the only synthesizer I’ve ever used as a synthesizer.” real instrument.”
For Blade Runner, a sci-fi film noir set in futuristic Los Angeles, Vangelis created a score that fits director Ridley Scott’s dystopian vision. He expanded the CS-80 synthesizer that created the sounds of horns and basses with an electric piano and a second synthesizer that emulated strings.
“What interested me most about this film was the atmosphere and overall feel, rather than the different themes,” he said on a fansite, Nemo Studios, named for the London studio he built and where he spent many years worked . “The visual atmosphere of the film is unique and I have tried to enhance it as much as possible.”
The soundtrack album Blade Runner was not released until 1994 but was well received. Allmusic’s Zac Johnson wrote, “The listener can almost hear the indifferent winds 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 didn’t have much training and never learned to read music.
“Music goes through me,” he told The Associated Press in 1982. “It’s not mine.”
In the 1960s he played organ with the Greek rock band Forminx. After the military coup there, he left Greece for Paris in 1967.
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 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 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 Chanel No. 5 “Share the Fantasy” commercial.
He also became friends with Jon Anderson, the lead singer of 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 as Jon and Vangelis on four albums between 1980 and 1991, including The Friends of Mr. Cairo.
Vangelis’ music was also featured in scientist Carl Sagan’s 1980 television series Cosmos.
Information about survivors was not immediately available.
Among the films Vangelis made 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 Olympic Games and the 2002 World Cup. And in 2001 he recorded a choral symphony, “Mythodea”, which he had adapted from earlier works, at the Temple of Zeus in Athens to commemorate the Odyssey mission of the NASA to remind Mars.
“I formed the name Mythodea from the words myth and ode,” Vangelis said in a 2001 interview for the NASA website. “And I felt there was some sort of common or common ground with NASA’s current exploration of the planet. Whatever we use as a key – music, mythology, science, mathematics, astronomy – we all work to unlock the mystery of creation and search for our deepest roots.”