Evangelos Papathanassiou is something of a mouthful for non-Greek speakers, so it is easy to see why he has adopted the name Vangelis. Though he had composed occasionally for the small screen, his early career was with the progressive rock band called "Aphrodite's Child" which he formed with the singer Demis Roussos, Loukas Sideras and Anargyros Koulouris. The band's first hit was a song called "Rain and Tears" which was based on the famous Canon in D by Pachelbel. Over the course of a few years they released three albums "End of the World", "It's Five O'Clock" and "666" before the group split up. Demis Roussos pursued a career as a singer while Vangelis concentrated on his work as a film composer. Nevertheless the composer retained his strong affinity for synthesisers and was one of the pioneers who used electronic music in film scores. However this is certainly not to the exclusion of traditional orchestral sounds for which he can compose at ease. Vangelis' output is perhaps best described as mood music, in part because of the leisurely pace in the classical tradition of Schubert or Bruckner. He is able to create a distinctive sound with simple, repetitive yet memorable tunes against evocative rhythms and chord progressions.
It was "Chariots of Fire" which brought him widespread recognition as a film composer, with its quietly exhilarating thematic material. This soundtrack was something of a landmark in film music history, being a major film release with a totally electronic soundtrack. On paper it seems strange to choose such music for a story based on historical events connected with Olympic runners. Yet the evocative mood is a perfect creation for those slow motion closeups. It is interesting to notes in passing that although the score is electronic, it largely uses the synthetic equivalent of real instruments - the main theme being orchestrated for the electronic piano, brass and strings sounds of the expressive Yamaha CS80 Synthesiser. Another career highlight for Vangelis is the soundtrack to Blade Runner. While it is the end-titles alone which appears on certain compilation albums, it is the brooding atmosphere of the incidental music such as the track "Memories of Green" which, together with the futuristic film noir visuals, sets the mood for the whole film and contributes significantly to the movie's cult status. "Memories of Green" was in not specifically composed for "Blade Runner" since it appeared on the composer's concept album "See You Later" where it was discovered by Ridley Scott and convinced him to hire Vangelis for the film score. Here is a re-creation of the Blade-Runner sound on youtube using the Yamaha CS70M rather than the CS80.
Vangelis' approach to film scoring has been described as very instinctive. Rather than writing out melodies and parts and crafting them to the movie, he tends to prefer improvising at the keyboard and building up a film's soundscape by developing these ideas. Vangelis was commissioned to compose music for NASA's 2001 Mars Odyssey Mission. This has been released in album format under the title "Mythodea", the music being given its premiere at the Olympian Temple of Zeus in Athens. A web-site has been set to promote this album under the title-name Mythodea. In contrast to previous Vangelis albums, this one is entirely acoustic with a large orchestra and choir, and can be recommended as a powerful experience.
2004 saw the last major release in the West of a film score by Vangelis, Oliver Stone's epic Alexander. Within it Vangelis uses some synth tracks giving sounds similar to "Chariots of Fire", but many tracks major on acoustic instruments including ethnic ones such as the Duduk, and solo and ensemble voices are also in evidence. There is also a lot of action for drums and percussion, the harp features prominently in some tracks and the violinist Vanessa-Mae is featured on the track "Roxanne's Veil". The soundtrack can be found at Amazon.com or Amazon.co.uk. Also we now have the 25th anniversary of "Blade Runner" for which Ridley Scott has released his "Final Cut" DVD and Vangelis has released a 3 CD Anniversary Celebration of his soundtrack with some previously unreleased material and some new tracks.
Sadly Vangelis died in May 2022 at the age of 79, though he left behind an important musical legacy.
See our review of Alexander and the soundtracks listed below. There is also a collection of keyboard sheet music with some excellent arrangements called "The Best of Vangelis" so look out for this is music shops.
See also the Blade Runner 25th Anniversary "Trilogy" soundtrack albums.