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Vangelis dies, age 79: Blade Runner and Chariots Of Fire composer was one of electronic music’s towering figures

Vangelis
(Image credit: Rob Verhorst/Redferns)

Greek composer and synth legend Vangelis (Evángelos Odysséas Papathanassíou) has died at the age of 79. Known for his evocative and emotional movie soundtracks - most notably Chariots Of Fire and Blade Runner - he was recognised as one of electronic music’s towering figures.

By the time he’d been tapped to score 1982’s Blade Runner, Vangelis had led a storied career. As keyboardist for rock band Aphrodite’s Child, he’d recorded a classic of psychedelic art rock in the form of their LP, 666. As a solo artist, he’d created some of the most memorable film scores of the 1970s and kicked off the 1980s by winning an Oscar.

The Academy Award was for Chariots Of Fire, the title theme for which combined acoustic piano with Vangelis’ beloved Yamaha CS-80 to create a dramatic, optimistic anthem. A steady electronic pulse, echoing percussion, resonant fanfares and that simple, unforgettable piano are etched into music history. Released as a chart-topping single, Chariots Of Fire became an obligatory feature of athletics events for decades to come.

The CS-80 was called on once again by Vangelis for his iconic and hugely influential Blade Runner score. Indeed, there can be few dramatic films in which the soundtrack was as thoroughly embedded and as important to the mood as the lighting, set design, or even the dialogue. Vangelis crafted a sonic soundscape that perfectly described the loneliness and alienation of the futuristic cityscape and its denizens.

Despite being nominated for a BAFTA and Golden Globe award, Vangelis’ original Blade Runner soundtrack was inaccessible for years, thanks to a dispute that resulted in him withholding its release. Fans settled for a recreation by recorded session musicians, named New American Orchestra. When the real deal finally emerged in 1994, it was incomplete, missing several cues that had appeared in the film.

Not that it really mattered much. By that point, the longing, wailing tones of Vangelis’ CS-80 had become indelibly etched into the (sub)cultural consciousness. He went on to compose further soundtracks, also contributing themes to a series of major sporting events.

Instinctive, emotional, and evocative, Vangelis' music was always grand, romantic, and often quite moving. His career spanned more than 50 years and composed and performed more than 50 albums. He’s reported to have died in hospital in France.

Vangelis in 1976

(Image credit: Michael Putland / Getty)

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