Evángelos Odysséas Papathanassíou (29 March 1943), known as Vangelis, is a Greek musician and composer of electronic, progressive, ambient, jazz, and orchestral music. He is best known for his Academy Award-winning score to Chariots of Fire (1981), as well as for composing scores to the films Blade Runner (1982), Missing (1982), Antarctica (1983), The Bounty (1984), 1492: Conquest of Paradise (1992), and Alexander (2004), and for the use of his music in the 1980 PBS documentary Cosmos: A Personal Voyage by Carl Sagan.

The American Film Institute nominated Vangelis’ scores for Blade Runner and Chariots of Fire for their list of the 25 greatest film scores.

Vangelis began his career working with several popular bands of the 1960s such as The Forminx and Aphrodite’s Child, with the latter’s album 666 going on to be recognized as a progressive-psychedelic rock classic. Throughout the 1970s, Vangelis composed music scores for several animal documentaries, including L’Apocalypse des Animaux, La Fête sauvage and Opéra sauvage; the success of these scores brought him into the film scoring mainstream. In the early 1980s, Vangelis formed a musical partnership with Jon Anderson, the lead singer of progressive rock band Yes, and the duo went on to release several albums together as Jon & Vangelis.

In 1981, he composed the score for the Oscar-winning film Chariots of Fire, for which he won an Academy Award for Best Original Score. The soundtrack’s single, the film’s “Titles” theme, also reached the top of the American Billboard Hot 100 chart and was used as the background music at the London 2012 Olympics winners’ medal presentation ceremonies.

Having had a career in music spanning over 50 years and having composed and performed more than 50 albums, Vangelis is considered to be one of the most important figures in the history of electronic music.

Evángelos Odysséas Papathanassíou was born on 29 March 1943 in Agria, a coastal town in Magnesia, Thessaly, Greece, and raised in Athens. His father Odysseus worked in property and was an amateur sprinter; his son described him as “a great lover of music”. He has one brother, Nikos. Vangelis developed an interest in music at age four, composing on the family piano and experimenting with sounds by placing nails and kitchen pans inside it and with radio interference. At six his parents enrolled him for music tuition, but Vangelis later said that his attempts to study “failed” as he preferred to develop technique on his own. He considers himself fortunate not to attend music school as it impedes creativity, and learned to play from memory. “When the teachers asked me to play something, I would pretend that I was reading it and play from memory. I didn’t fool them, but I didn’t care”. Vangelis studied painting at the Athens School of Fine Arts.

Vangelis found traditional Greek music as particularly important in his childhood, but at twelve developed an interest in jazz and rock. At fifteen, he started to form school bands, not to cover other musicians but to have fun. Vangelis acquired his first Hammond organ at eighteen. In 1963, Vangelis and three school friends started a five-piece rock band The Forminx (or The Formynx), playing cover songs and original material largely written by Vangelis with English lyrics by radio DJ and record producer Nico Mastorakis. After nine singles and one Christmas EP, which found success across Europe, the group disbanded in 1966.

Following the split of The Forminx, Vangelis spent the next two years mostly studio-bound, writing and producing for other Greek artists. He scored music for three Greek films; My Brother, the Traffic Policeman (1963) directed by Filippos Fylaktos, 5,000 Lies (1966) by Giorgos Konstantinou and To Prosopo tis Medousas (1967) by Nikos Koundouros.

During this time, Vangelis worked on the scores to Frenzy (1966) for director Jan Christian, Apollo Goes on Holiday (1968) for George Skalenakis, Antique Rally (1966), and 5,000 Lies (1968) for Giorgos Konstantinou.

In 1968, the 25-year-old Vangelis wished to further his career and, amidst the political turmoil surrounding the 1967 coup, left Greece for London. However, he was denied entry into the UK and settled in Paris for the next six years. Later in 1968 he formed the progressive rock band Aphrodite’s Child with Demis Roussos, Loukas Sideras, and Anargyros “Silver” Koulouris. Their debut single, “Rain and Tears”, was a commercial success in Europe which was followed by the albums End of the World (1968) and It’s Five O’Clock (1969). Vangelis conceived the idea of their third, 666 (1972), a double concept album based on the Book of Revelation. After increasing tensions during the recording of 666, the group split in 1971. Vangelis would produce future albums and singles by their singer Demis Roussos. Vangelis recalled after the split: “I couldn’t follow the commercial way anymore, it was very boring. You have to do something like that in the beginning for showbiz, but after you start doing the same thing everyday you can’t continue.”

From 1970 to 1974, Vangelis took part in various solo projects in film, television, and theatre. He composed the score for Sex Power (1970) directed by Henry Chapier, followed by Salut, Jerusalem in 1972 and Amore in 1974. In 1971, he took part in a series of jam sessions with various musicians in London which resulted in two albums released without Vangelis’ permission in 1978: Hypothesis and The Dragon. Vangelis succeeded in taking legal action to have them withdrawn. 1972 saw the release of his debut solo album Fais que ton rêve soit plus long que la nuit, French for Make Your Dream Last Longer Than the Night. It was inspired by the 1968 French student riots, after which Vangelis decided to write a “poème symphonique” to express his solidarity with the students, comprising musical with news snippets and protest songs; some lyrics were based on graffiti daubed on walls during the riots. A soundtrack album of music that Vangelis performed for a 1970 wildlife documentary series by Frédéric Rossif was released as L’Apocalypse des animaux (1973). Vangelis also provided music for the Henry Chapier film Amore (1973).

In 1973, Vangelis released his second solo album Earth, a percussive-orientated album with various additional musicians including Robert Fitoussi and Aphrodite’s Child bandmate Silver Koulouris. The line-up performed and released a single entitled “Who” in 1974 under the name Odyssey, including a concert that Vangelis held at the Paris Olympia in February 1974. Several months later Vangelis travelled to England to audition with the progressive rock band Yes, after singer Jon Anderson had become a fan of his music and invited Vangelis to replace departing keyboardist Rick Wakeman. However, after problems with obtaining a work visa and the Musician’s Union, and his reluctance to travel and tour, Vangelis declined. The band hired Patrick Moraz, who used Vangelis’s keyboards in his audition. In 1974, Vangelis left Paris for London as he “outgrew France”.

In August 1975, after Vangelis had settled in a flat in Marble Arch, London where he set up his new 16-track studio, Nemo Studios, which Vangelis named his “laboratory”, he secured a recording deal with RCA Records. He would release a series of electronic albums for RCA until 1979; the first, Heaven and Hell, features the English Chamber Choir and Yes singer Jon Anderson. Released in December 1975, Vangelis supported it with a sold out concert at the Royal Albert Hall in 1976. This was followed by Albedo 0.39 (1976), Spiral (1977), Beaubourg (1978) and China (1979), each having their own thematic inspiration including the universe, Tao philosophy, the Centre Georges Pompidou and Chinese culture, respectively.

Vangelis provided the score for Do You Hear the Dogs Barking? directed by François Reichenbach. This was released in 1975 and re-released two years later. In 1976 Vangelis released his second soundtrack for a Rossif animal documentary, La Fête sauvage, which combined African rhythms with Western music. This was followed in 1979 by a third soundtrack for Rossif, Opéra sauvage. Almost as well known as L’Apocalypse des animaux, this soundtrack brought him to the attention of some of the world’s top filmmakers. The music itself would be re-used in other films, most notably the track “L’Enfant” in The Year of Living Dangerously (1982) by Peter Weir; the melody of the same track (in marching band format) can also be heard at the beginning of the 1924 Summer Olympics opening ceremonies scene in the film Chariots of Fire while the track “Hymne” was used in Barilla pasta commercials in Italy and Ernest & Julio Gallo wine ads in the US. Rossif and Vangelis again collaborated for Sauvage et Beau (1984) and De Nuremberg à Nuremberg (1989).

In 1979 Vangelis released the album Odes, which included Greek folk songs performed by Vangelis and actress Irene Papas. It was an instant success in Greece and was followed by a second collaboration album, Rapsodies, in 1986. 1980 saw the release of the experimental and satirical See You Later.

In 1979, Vangelis entered a collaboration with Yes singer Jon Anderson as the duo Jon and Vangelis. Their debut album, Short Stories (1980), reached No. 4 in the UK. They went on to release three more albums; The Friends of Mr Cairo, Private Collection and Page of Life released in 1981, 1983, and 1991 respectively.

Carl Sagan’s TV series Cosmos: A Personal Voyage (1980) uses several pieces composed by Vangelis during the 1970s, including the series’ opening theme, the third movement of Heaven and Hell. In 1986, Vangelis was actively involved in the composition of new music for a special edition. Vangelis recalls he was sent by Sagan some sounds collected by satellites, which were exactly what he heard as a child.

In 1980, Vangelis agreed to record the score for Chariots of Fire (1981); he accepted because “I liked the people I was working with. It was a very humble, low-budget film.” The choice of music was unorthodox as most period films featured orchestral scores, whereas Vangelis’ music was modern and synthesiser-oriented. It gained mainstream commercial success which increased Vangelis’ profile as a result. The opening instrumental title piece, “Titles”, later named “Chariots of Fire – Titles”, was released as a single which reached No. 1 on the US Billboard Hot 100 chart for one week after a five-month climb. The soundtrack album was No. 1 on the Billboard 200 for four weeks and sold one million copies in the US. In March 1982, Vangelis won an Academy Award for Best Original Music Score, but refused to attend the awards ceremony partly due to his fear of flying. He turned down an offer to stay in a stateroom aboard the Queen Elizabeth 2 for a boat crossing. Vangelis commented that the “main inspiration was the story itself. The rest I did instinctively, without thinking about anything else, other than to express my feelings with the technological means available to me at the time”. The song was used at the 1984 Winter Olympics.

The success of Chariots of Fire led to further offers for Vangelis to score films, but he avoided becoming “a factory of film music”. In 1981, he scored the documentary film Pablo Picasso Painter by Frédéric Rossif. It was the third such score by Vangelis as he’d previously scored documentaries about Georges Mathieu and Georges Braque. In 1982 he composed the score of Missing directed by Costa-Gavras, which was awarded the Palme d’Or and gained Vangelis a nomination for a BAFTA Award for Best Film Music. Other Vangelis film soundtracks produced during this time include Antarctica for the film Nankyoku Monogatari in 1983, one of the highest-grossing movies in Japan’s film history, and The Bounty in 1984. He declined an offer to score 2010: The Year We Make Contact (1984), the sequel to 2001: A Space Odyssey.

In 1981, Vangelis collaborated with director Ridley Scott to score his science fiction film, Blade Runner (1982). Critics have written that in capturing the isolation and melancholy of Harrison Ford’s character, Rick Deckard, the Vangelis score is as much a part of the dystopian environment as the decaying buildings and ever-present rain. The score was nominated for a BAFTA and Golden Globe award. A disagreement led to Vangelis withholding permission for his recordings to be released, so the studio hired musicians dubbed the New American Orchestra to release orchestral adaptations of the original score. After 12 years, Vangelis’ own work was released in 1994 but is considered incomplete as the film contained other Vangelis compositions that were not included. In 2007, a box set of the score was released to commemorate the film’s 25th anniversary, containing the 1994 album, some previously unreleased music cues, and new original Vangelis material inspired by Blade Runner.

In 1992, Paramount Pictures released the film 1492: Conquest of Paradise, also directed by Ridley Scott, as a 500th anniversary commemoration of Christopher Columbus’ voyage to the New World. Vangelis’s score was nominated as “Best Original Score – Motion Picture” at the 1993 Golden Globe awards, but was not nominated for an Academy Award. However, due to its success Vangelis won an Echo Award as “International Artist Of The Year”, and RTL Golden Lion Award for the “Best Title Theme for a TV Film or a Series” in 1996.

Vangelis wrote the score for the 1992 film Bitter Moon directed by Roman Polanski, and The Plague directed by Luis Puenzo. In the 90s, Vangelis scored a number of undersea documentaries for French ecologist and filmmaker, Jacques Cousteau, one of which was shown at the Earth Summit. The score of the film Cavafy (1996) directed by Yannis Smaragdis, gained an award at the Flanders International Film Festival Ghent and Valencia International Film Festival

In the early 1980s Vangelis began composing for ballet and theatre stage plays. In 1983 he wrote the music for Michael Cacoyannis’ staging of the Greek tragedy Elektra which was performed with Irene Papas at the open-air amphitheater at Epidavros in Greece. The same year Vangelis composed his first ballet score, for a production by Wayne Eagling. It was originally performed by Lesley Collier and Eagling himself at an Amnesty International gala at the Drury Lane theatre. In 1984 the Royal Ballet School presented it again at the Sadler’s Wells theatre. In 1985 and 1986, Vangelis wrote music for two more ballets: “Frankenstein – Modern Prometheus” and “The Beauty and the Beast”. In 1992, Vangelis wrote the music for the Euripides play, Medea, that featured Irene Papas. In 2001 he composed for a third play which starred Papas, and for The Tempest by Hungarian director György Schwajdas.

Vangelis collaborated in 1981 and 1986 with Italian singer Milva achieving success, especially in Germany, with the albums Ich hab’ keine Angst and Geheimnisse (I have no fear and Secrets). An Italian language Nana Mouskouri album featured her singing Vangelis composition “Ti Amerò”. Collaborations with lyricist Mikalis Bourboulis, sung by Maria Farantouri, included the tracks “Odi A”, “San Elektra”, and “Tora Xero”.

Vangelis released Soil Festivities in 1984. It was thematically inspired by the interaction between nature and its microscopic living creatures; Invisible Connections (1985) took inspiration from the world of elementary particles invisible to the naked eye; Mask (1985) was inspired by the theme of the mask, an obsolete artefact which was used in ancient times for concealment or amusement; and Direct (1988). The latter was the first album to be recorded in the post-Nemo Studios era.

Vangelis performed his only concert in the US on 7 November 1986 at Royce Hall on the campus of University of California, Los Angeles. It featured a special guest appearance by Jon Anderson.

There were another five solo albums in the 1990s; The City (1990) was recorded during a stay in Rome in 1989, and reflected a day of bustling city life, from dawn until dusk; Voices (1995) featured sensual songs filled with nocturnal orchestrations; Oceanic (1996) thematically explored the mystery of underwater worlds and sea sailing; and two classical albums about El Greco – Foros Timis Ston Greco (1995), which had a limited release, and El Greco (1998), which was an expansion of the former.

The Sport Aid (1986) TV broadcast was set to music specially composed by Vangelis. He conceived and staged the ceremony of the 1997 World Championships in Athletics which were held in Greece. He also composed the music, and designed and directed the artistic Olympic flag relay portion (“Handover to Athens”), of the closing ceremonies of the 2000 Summer Olympics in Sydney. While no official recording of this composition exists, the music can be heard accompanying the presentation of the emblem of the 2004 Athens Games. In 2002, Vangelis created the official Anthem for the 2002 FIFA World Cup. His work from Chariots of Fire was heard during the 2012 Summer Olympics opening ceremony.

In 2001 Vangelis performed live, and subsequently released, the choral symphony Mythodea, which was used by NASA as the theme for the Mars Odyssey mission. This is a predominantly orchestral rather than electronic piece that was originally written in 1993. In 2004, Vangelis released the score for Oliver Stone’s Alexander, continuing his involvement with projects related to Greece.

Vangelis released two albums in 2007; the first was a 3-CD set for the 25th anniversary of Blade Runner, titled Blade Runner Trilogy and second was the soundtrack for the Greek movie, El Greco directed by Yannis Smaragdis, titled El Greco Original Motion Picture Soundtrack.

On 11 December 2011, Vangelis was invited by Katara’s Cultural Village in the state of Qatar to conceive, design, direct, and compose music for the opening of its world-class outdoor amphitheater. The event was witnessed by a number of world leaders and dignitaries participating in the 4th Forum of the United Nations Alliance of Civilizations held in the city of Doha. British actor Jeremy Irons performed in the role of master of ceremonies, and the event featured a light show by German artist Gert Hof. It was filmed for a future video release by Oscar-winning British filmmaker Hugh Hudson.

In 2012, Vangelis re-tooled and added new pieces to his iconic Chariots of Fire soundtrack, for use in the same-titled stage adaptation. He composed the soundtrack of the environmental documentary film Trashed (2012) directed by Candida Brady, which starred Jeremy Irons. A documentary film called Vangelis And The Journey to Ithaka was released in 2013. He also scored the music for the film Twilight of Shadows (2014) directed by Mohammed Lakhdar-Hamina.

For the 12 November 2014 landing of the Philae lander on Comet 67P (part of the European Space Agency’s Rosetta mission), Vangelis composed three short pieces titled “Arrival”, “Rosetta’s Waltz”, and “Philae’s Journey”. The pieces were released online as videos accompanied by images and animations from the Rosetta mission. He was quoted by ESA as saying, “Mythology, science and space exploration are subjects that have fascinated me since my early childhood. And they were always connected somehow with the music I write”. In September 2016, the works were released as part of the new studio album Rosetta. In 2018, Vangelis composed an original score for Stephen Hawking’s memorial. While Hawking’s ashes were interred at Westminster Abbey, the music which backed Hawking’s words were beamed by ESA to the nearest black hole to Earth. It was a personal tribute by Vangelis, and a limited CD titled “The Stephen Hawking Tribute” was shared with the family and over 1,000 guests.

On 25 January 2019, a new studio album, Nocturne: The Piano Album, was released, which includes both new and old compositions played on a grand piano, “inspired by night time, and by Vangelis’ long-held passion for space”.

For an artist of his stature, very little is known about Vangelis’ personal life and he rarely gives interviews to journalists. However, in a 2005 interview with The Daily Telegraph, Vangelis talked openly about various parts of his life. He stated in the interview that he was “never interested” in the “decadent lifestyle” of his band days, choosing not to use alcohol or other drugs. At the time of the Telegraph interview, Vangelis was involved in his third long-term relationship. When asked why he had not had children, Vangelis replied:

… Because of the amount of travelling I do and the nonsense of the music business, I couldn’t take care of a child in the way I think it should be taken care of.

Excerpts from other interviews mention that Vangelis has been married twice before. In a 1976 interview with Dutch music magazine Oor, the author wrote that Vangelis had a wife named Veronique Skawinska, a photographer who had done some album art work for Vangelis. An interview in 1982 with Backstage music magazine suggests that Vangelis had previously been married to a singer named Vana Verouti, who had performed vocals on some of his records, performing for the first time with him on La Fête sauvage and later on Heaven and Hell.

It is not publicly known where Vangelis generally resides; he has stated that he “travels around”, rather than settling down in one specific place or country for long periods of time. As a hobby, Vangelis enjoys painting; his first art exhibition of 70 paintings was held at Almudin in Valencia, Spain in 2003 and then toured South America until the end of 2004.

The musical style of Vangelis is diverse; although he primarily uses electronic music instruments, which characterize electronic music, his music has been described as a mixture of electronica, classical (his music is often symphonic), progressive rock, jazz (improvisations), ambient, avant-garde/experimental, and world. Vangelis is sometimes categorized as a new-age composer, a classification others have disputed. Vangelis himself called New-age music a style which “gave the opportunity for untalented people to make very boring music”.

As a musician who has always composed and played primarily on keyboards, Vangelis relies heavily on synthesizers and other electronic approaches to music. However, he also plays and uses many acoustic instruments (including folk) and choirs:

I don’t always play synthesizers. I play acoustic instruments with the same pleasure. I’m happy when I have unlimited choice; in order to do that, you need everything from simple acoustic sounds to electronic sounds. Sound is sound and vibration is vibration, whether from an electronic source or an acoustic instrument.

Synthtopia, an electronic music review website, stated that Vangelis’ music could be referred to as “symphonic electronica” because of his use of synthesizers in an orchestral fashion. The site went on to describe his music as melodic: “drawing on the melodies of folk music, especially the Greek music of his homeland”. Vangelis’ music and compositions have also been described as “…a distinctive sound with simple, repetitive yet memorable tunes against evocative rhythms and chord progressions.” His first electric instrument was a Hammond B3 organ, while first synthesizer a Korg 700 monophonic. He has often used vibrato on his synthesizers, which was carried out in a distinctive way on his Yamaha CS-80 polyphonic synthesizer – varying the pressure exerted on the key to produce the expressive vibrato sound. In a 1984 interview Vangelis described the CS-80 as “The most important synthesizer in my career — and for me the best analogue synthesizer design there has ever been.”

In an interview with Soundtrack, a music and film website, Vangelis talked about his compositional processes. For films, Vangelis stated that he would begin composing a score for a feature as soon as he sees a rough cut of the footage. In addition to working with synthesizers and other electronic instruments, Vangelis also works with and conducts orchestras. For example, in the Oliver Stone film Alexander, Vangelis conducted an orchestra that consisted of various classical instruments including sitars, percussion, finger cymbals, harps, and duduks.

He explains his customary method of approach. As soon as the musical idea is there, as many keyboards as possible are connected to the control-desk, which in turn are directly connected to the applicable tracks of the multi-track machine. The idea now is to play as many keyboards as possible at the same time. That way, as broad a basis as possible develops, which only needs fine-tuning. After that it’s a question of adding things or leaving out things.

Vangelis once used digital sampling keyboard E-mu Emulator. While acknowledging that computers are “extremely helpful and amazing for a multitude of scientific areas”, he describes them as “insufficient and slow” for the immediate and spontaneous creation and, in terms of communication, “the worst thing that has happened for the performing musician”. He considers that the contemporary civilization is living in a cultural “dark age” of “musical pollution”. He considers musical composing a science rather than an art, similar to Pythagoreanism. He has a mystical viewpoint on music as “one of the greatest forces in the universe”, that the “music exists before we exist”. Some consider that his experience of music is a kind of synaesthesia.

In 1989 he received the Max Steiner Award. France made Vangelis a Knight of the Order of Arts and Letters in 1992 and promoted him to Commander in 2017, as well Chevalier de la Legion d’ Honneur in 2001. In 1993 he received the music award Apollo by Friends of the Athens National Opera Society. In 1995, Vangelis had a minor planet named after him (6354 Vangelis) by the International Astronomical Union’s Minor Planet Center (MPC) at the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory; the name was proposed by the MPC’s co-director, Gareth V. Williams, rather than by the object’s original discoverer, Eugène Joseph Delporte, who died in 1955, long before the 1934 discovery could be confirmed by observations made in 1990. In 1996 and 1997 was awarded at World Music Awards.

NASA conferred their Public Service Medal to Vangelis in 2003. The award is the highest honour the space agency presents to an individual not involved with the American government. Five years later, in 2008, the board of the National and Kapodistrian University of Athens voted to make Vangelis an Honorary Doctor, making him Professor Emeritus at their Faculty of Primary Education. In June 2008, the American Hellenic Institute honoured Vangelis with an AHI Hellenic Heritage Achievement Award for his “exceptional artistic achievements” as a pioneer in electronic music and for his lifelong dedication to the promotion of Hellenism through the arts. On 16 September 2013, he received the honour of appearing on the Greek 80 cent postage stamp, as part of a series of six distinguished living personalities of the Greek Diaspora. In May 2018 the University of Thessaly in Vangelis’ hometown of Volos awarded him an Honorary Doctorate degree in Electrical and Computer Engineering.