Famous Greek Composer Mikis Theodorakis Dies at 96 | Arts and culture news

Mikis Theodorakis, the beloved Greek composer whose fiery music and life of political challenge gained international fame and inspired millions of people in the country, has passed away. He was 96 years old.

His death Thursday at his home in central Athens was announced on state television and follows multiple hospitalizations in recent years, mainly for cardiac care.

Theodorakis’ prolific career, which began at the age of 17, has produced an extremely varied body of work ranging from somber symphonies and a hymn for the Palestine Liberation Organization to popular television and film scores for Serpico. and Zorba the Greek.

But the towering man with designer work suits, a hoarse voice, and wavy hair is also known to the Greeks for his stubborn opposition to post-war regimes that persecuted him and banned his music.

Relatives and friends escort Theodorakis’ coffin outside his home in Athens [Michalis Karagiannis/ Eurokinissi/AFP]

The Greek flag was half-masted at the Acropolis as three days of national mourning were declared.

“He lived with passion, a life dedicated to music, to the arts, to our country and to its people, dedicated to the ideas of freedom, justice, equality, social solidarity,” said Greek President Katerina Sakellaropoulou in a press release.

“He wrote music which intertwined with the historical and social developments of Greece in the postwar years, music which provided encouragement, consolation, protest and support in the darkest periods of our history. recent. “

Music and politics

Born on the eastern Aegean island of Chios on July 29, 1925, Theodorakis was exposed to music and politics from an early age. He started writing music and poetry as a teenager, just as Greece entered World War II. During the war he was arrested by the Italian and German occupiers of the country for his involvement in leftist resistance groups.

Some of these same groups fiercely opposed the government and monarchy that ruled Greece immediately after the war, leading to a civil war from 1946 to 1949 in which Communist-backed rebels ultimately lost.

Theodorakis was imprisoned and sent to isolated Greek islands, including the infamous “re-education” camp on the small island of Makronissos near Athens. As a result of severe beatings and torture, Theodorakis suffered broken bones, breathing problems, and other injuries that plagued his health for the rest of his life. He suffered from tuberculosis, was thrown into a mental hospital and subjected to mock executions.

International tributes poured in after news of Theodorakis’ death was announced [File: Reuters]

Despite the hardships, he managed to establish himself as a respected musician. He graduated from the Athens Music School in 1950 and continued his studies in Paris with a scholarship in 1954.

A prolific career as a composer began in earnest, as he worked in a wide range of genres, from film scores and ballet music to operas, chamber music, ancient Greek tragedies and Greek folklore, setting to music the work of great poets, including the Spaniard Federico Garcia Lorca and the Greek Nobel laureate Odysseas Elytis. A musical series based on poems written by Nazi concentration camp survivor Iakovos Kambanellis, The Ballad of Mauthausen, described the horrors of camp life and the Holocaust.

But it was the Oscar-winning film adaptation of Nikos Kazantzakis ‘Zorba the Greek in 1964 and the music for Theodorakis’ slow to frantic track that made him a household name.

The film starring Anthony Quinn, Alan Bates and Irene Pappas won three Oscars.

In 1969 he wrote the music for Z, a film based on the assassination of Greek peace activist Grigoris Lambrakis which won the Oscar for best foreign language film that year.

“Started a revolution”

As Theodorakis’ fame grew, political unrest in Greece continued and his compositions were banned by a military dictatorship that ruled the country between 1967 and 1974 – making his music a soundtrack of celebrations when democracy took hold. been restored and resistance that would be played out during demonstrations. gatherings for decades.

Fans of his music were as diverse as his work: The Beatles performed a cover of his song and he was awarded the Lenin Peace Prize of the Soviet Union.

“Speaking to people of all walks of life, of all ages and from different political backgrounds, it seems like we have lost a father figure,” Alexandros Zachariades, doctoral student in international relations at the London School of Economics, told Al Jazeera. . “You know, like a father that we don’t really like every aspect of this figure, but we appreciate him as some kind of guiding light,” he said.

“What Theodorakis did was revolutionize Greek music, and at the same time… revolutionize politics in a very cultural way,” Zachariades explained.

“It is the fact that he chose to put a very folk music – the sound of the bouzouki – with the words of poets not only from the Greek left, like Giannis Ritsos and Manolis Anagnostakis, but he also put his music to the words and poems of Georgios Seferis or Odysseas Elytis, which were people who did not come from the left, and who actually made world-class poetry accessible to average Greek citizens.

“He started a revolution in music, but also I would say in politics in this way. “

‘A giant’

After the announcement of his death, international tributes recalled the many causes he supported.

Istanbul’s mayor Ekrem Imamoglu thanked him in a tweet for his efforts to forge a friendship between the former Greek and Turkish rivals. The Chilean Ambassador to Athens visited his home in the Greek capital to thank his family for denouncing former dictator Augusto Pinochet.

“Greece has lost part of its soul today,” wrote Lina Mendoni, the Greek Minister of Culture, praising Theodorakis’ ability to transform the work of poets into hymns sung by Greeks across generations.

Theodorakis took part in a number of anti-austerity protests during the financial crisis in Greece [File: Nikolas Giakoumidis/AP Photo]

Tireless later in life, Theodorakis continued to work with emerging artists and compositions that included music for the opening ceremony of the Barcelona Olympics in 1992, and maintained an active interest in politics.

He was a member of the Communist Party of Greece for most of the 1980s, but then served in the Conservative government cabinet. He has spoken at rallies supporting the Palestinian state, against the war in Iraq and more recently against a deal to end a name dispute between Greece and North Macedonia.

His supporters saw him as a unifier, ready to make bold decisions in an attempt to heal the country’s bitter and long-standing political divisions, many of which are rooted in the Cold War. Fans who disagreed with him looked beyond his politics, and tributes to Theodorakis on Thursday came from all Greek political parties, as well as from his fellow artists.

“He was a giant and we were all proud of him. His music, his life, he was unique, ”said singer Manolis Mitsias, who has worked a lot with Theodorakis. “Greece has become an orphan today.

Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis has declared three days of national mourning, posting a photo with Theodorakis at his home following a recent hospitalization.

“I had the honor of knowing him for many years… and his advice has always been invaluable to me, especially regarding the unity of our people and overcoming divisions,” Mitsotakis wrote.

“The best way to honor him, a Greek of the world, is to live by this message. Mikis is our story.

Alexis Tsipras, former Prime Minister and leader of the main opposition party Syriza, said: “Mikis has enlightened our souls. He marked by his work the life and the course of those who chose the path of democracy and social justice.

Tsipras added that “the superb composer, the fighter, the communist, the activist, through his music, his life, his struggles and his contradictions, gave a new meaning to freedom, to culture, to art. and participation. We say goodbye to him with the confidence that what he leaves behind is indelible. In the heart of our people, the identity of the country, the cultural heritage of the world.

Theodorakis is survived by his wife of 68 years, Myrto Altinoglou, his daughter Margarita Theodoraki and his son George Theodorakis. Funeral arrangements were not immediately available. His body will rest for three days next week in Athens Cathedral.

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