To say that Mikis Theodorakis' life has been tumultuous is an understatement. He fought during the 2nd World War and was captured and imprisoned by the Italian army. After the war he was able to follow a relatively normal life and had time to study music including the Athens Conservatory and some time at the Paris Conservatoire studying with Olivier Messiaen. He gained worldwide recognition for his music to the film "Zorba the Greek" (also known as "Alexis Zorba") with the title role played by Anthony Quinn. But his country was to experience further upheaval during the Greek civil war, and suffered immensely at the hands of the fascist dictator Papadopolous. Theodorakis was outspoken in his politics and under this regime he was persecuted, imprisoned and later exiled with his family. He wrote patriotic songs and gained the support of many composers and musicians across the world including Shostakovich and Leonard Bernstein. When democracy was established in his homeland, Theodorakis held a number of political posts and has frequently campaigned for human rights.
Despite his political career and campaigning, Theodorakis has still found time for a music career, writing, conducting and promoting Greek music. He composed operas and ballets, concert works including symphonies and the Olympic anthem "Canto Olympico", as well as releasing albums and writing for films. Theodorakis' style has its roots in Greek traditional music with many of his instrumental tracks played on traditional Greek instruments like the Bouzouki (or Bazouki), which is a stringed instrument like a lute with eight strings. It is played in a similar way to a guitar or a mandolin with tremolos (repeating a note quickly so as to give a sustained yet agitated sound).
Traditional Greek music varies in style from island to island and can also vary in mood, but often seems to convey a carefree enjoyment and celebration of life. It is music to dance to, and shake off the day's troubles. As previously mentioned Mikis Theodorakis has released a number of albums of his music in this traditional style, and many of these are available from retailers. Some recommended recordings include:
You might also want to check out the "Summon the Heroes" album (from Amazon.com), conducted by John Williams, containing Olympic and Celebration music by John Williams, Miklos Rozsa, Dmitri Shostakovich, "Canto Olympico" by Mikis Theodorakis and the theme from "Chariots of Fire" by fellow Greek composer Vangelis. We can also recommend the following web-site for further information about the composer. You might not agree with the composer's statements about the Iraq war, but the man's life and music are fascinating - Mikis-Theodorakis.net has lots of information about the composer in English, Greek, German and French. "Zorba the Greek" has also been turned into a ballet which has been performed in Verona.