Say the phrase “science fiction” and immediately an image forms in your mind. Maybe it’s of space. Maybe it’s high-tech machinery. Maybe it’s some odd-looking creature. Whatever it is, that image likely has a sound as well, and for many of us, that sound was written by a composer named Vangelis, who passed away this week at the age of 79.
Vangelis, real name Evángelos Odysséas Papathanassíou, was a musician and composer who crafted the unforgettable, ethereal, and utterly magical synth music for Ridley Scott’s 1982 film Blade Runner. That sound, beautiful and soothing but with an electronic edge, came to define science fiction for many fans to this day. Unlike the more wave-y, string-y, weird music one might associate with sci-fi of the 1950s, or the bombastic sounds composers like John Williams made in the 1970s, Vangelis’ Blade Runner score split the difference. There’s that distinct, sci-fi, metal feel to it but also, it could be as soft as a lullaby or as brash as a horn section. It truly captured the essence of the dystopian stories that sprung from the minds of Philip K Dick, Ridley Scott, and others.
And while it’s his score for Blade Runner that sci-fi fans hold most dear, that’s only his second most famous work. A year earlier, Vangelis won the Oscar for Best Original Score for his work on Chariots of Fire, the sports drama that also won Best Picture. If you aren’t already humming it just at the mere mention of it, you can listen here. At the time, the score wasn’t just a critical success, it was a commercial success too, which is a rare feat for a film score even today. It remains a very well-known and referenced piece of music—and one of the best and most recognizable scores ever.
Then, to think, those scores make up just two years of work from Vangelis’ near 80-year life. He grew up in Greece, learned to play music, joined several bands, traveled the world, and eventually became one of the world’s foremost and in-demand composers, working not just in film, but for the stage as well. It was an incredible life that ended, according to Variety, in a French hospital while being treated for covid-19—a sad end to a tale that will forever live in our hearts, minds, and ears.
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