Vangelis, the electronic composer who helped generalize the Chariots of Fire theme, has died

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His full name was Evangelos Odysseas Papathanassiou but the world knew him as Vangelis, the electronic music composer. Born in Greece in 1943, he became a self-taught musician at the age of four. As an adult, he oscillates between psyche, synth-based music, jazz and music with various ethnic flavors. There was music for ballet, theatre, other films (including blade runner), and even a FIFA World Cup.

His biggest hit was the 1981 film theme chariots of fire when he beat John Williams’ score for the first Indiana Jones movie. The victory came on March 29, 1982, the day he turned 39. He didn’t see it happen on television, however; he was out partying and fell asleep.

Listening to this theme now, it’s hard to explain how revolutionary those sounds were in 1981. The synths just went from being monophonic (i.e. only being able to play one note at a time) to polyphonic (allowing them to play a proper chord.) The track has been used a billion times since then, including during the 2012 London Olympics.

Vangelis has also teamed up with big names in rock, including Jon Anderson of Yes in a band called Jon and Vangelis. A few songs from their one and only album were hits, including this MTV staple.

Vangelis died in a French hospital on May 18 at the age of 79. No cause of death was given.

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