We all have musicians and artists that we cherish in our hearts; people that have changed our lives for the better. Vangelis was one such artist for me. I suppose you could call him one of my heroes. My love for his vast catalogue of music has grown in leaps and bounds over the years for various reasons, perhaps as my mind has grown and been ready for such a thing.
Look, I’m fairly young, but getting older. There are a million tributes to Vangelis out there that detail his life, career, and legacy, even by people who haven’t heard his music before (as I noticed recently). I don’t feel that I have much to add to that discussion, if you know what I mean. Anyone can look up his Wikipedia page and vomit out a bunch of facts to jump on the Vangelis bandwagon after his death. However, I wanted to take a few moments and explain what his music meant to me and how it made me feel.
I first heard Vangelis when I was a child through his Chariots of Fire score. I think that is pretty typical, honestly. That film was pretty average, except for perhaps the great performance from Ben Cross. But the music; oh, the music was sensational. My late father absolutely loved “Titles”, and I felt inspired by it, as well. I remember that piece making me feel like I could do anything, like there were worlds out there to be conquered. The rest of the score was just as good, and is perhaps underrated. I love the personal darkness of “Abraham’s Theme” and the haunting sacredness of “Jerusalem”. Sure, you can find a copy of this score at any record exchange or thrift market, and so I think the sheer power of it has been taken for granted over the years.
Vangelis had a way of uplifting my heart. His music could often be shadowy, mysterious, cacophonous, or even downright strange. His improvisation style of writing seems absolutely impossible to me today, but that was his way. I feel that, seeing all of the reports of his passing, that many people didn’t know his music outside of Chariots of Fire or Blade Runner. And, honestly, that hurts my heart.
I understand why, though. Blade Runner is also extremely important to me, and I know it is a weighty release for many people out there. The rainy visage that it portrays is merely a touchstone for music that explores the human soul, that makes us question the most inhumane things within us. What makes us who we are? I love the film, obviously, as it is one of my all-time favorites, but I cannot deny that the music plays a huge part in that. I know that most people talk about “Tears in Rain” and other iconic tracks, but my favorite has always been the abstract, jazzy electronica of “Wait for Me”, a song that brings me to tears for some reason; maybe it does this because I can hear Rachael’s desperation to understand herself and to be loved. Maybe I can relate to that.
If you don’t know Vangelis outside these two film scores, know that you have an entire universe of music to discover yet. His work on 1492: Conquest of Paradise is still legendary. That album is still a favorite of mine, especially the ethereal and dazzling “Pinta, Niña, Santa María (Into Eternity)”, a song that takes me to the deeper recesses of my mind. It is an introspective piece for me, one that always ends too early in my eyes, despite it being thirteen minutes in length. I’m not sure I’ve ever heard a more beautiful piece of music. I mean that.
I love his work on nature documentaries, too. My favorite is L’Apocalypse des animaux, a stunning and subtle work of art that is full of awe and wonder, and helps us feel those things, too. The track “Création du monde” especially achieves this for me. I like the more personal and dark Opéra sauvage, which I’ve been listening to quite a bit lately. The opener “Hymne” is such a comforting piece. Antarctica is another masterwork, this one feeling triumphant and epic. Vangelis could write music that was pensive and mysterious, yes, but much of his work actually feels heroic and grand. I think that the film score for Alexander is a good example of this, and also of his diversity in composition. He wore many hats, so to speak, in how he composed.
A couple years ago, I attempted to write a discography project that spanned Vangelis’ entire career to that point; you can read it here. I missed several albums along the way, either on purpose or on accident. There are several albums of his, though, for which I simply cannot express the depth of my emotions. An example would be Soil Festivities. This celebration of the natural world beneath our feet, namely the insects and microscopic life that drive processes on this planet, took some time to grow on me, but it never fails to arrest me with its wondrous elevation of small things. Sometimes we overlook the beauty of the falling rain or the glorious symphony of the hidden world below us; sometimes we fail to appreciate the ritual of it all, perhaps because we are concerned with the stresses of our lives. This album causes me to pause and reflect, to offer tribute to the things that sustain me without my knowledge.
One of my favorite Vangelis moments is a bonus track on the re-release of 1988’s Direct. It is called “Intergalactic Radio Station” and features a voiceover near the end that is addressed to Jon Anderson of Yes. This illustrious song feels so at peace and so limitless in its imagination to me. I feel like I can reach the stars myself as Vangelis (through another person’s voice) finds himself excited about life, about creativity, and about the dawn of each day. I wish I could capture that energy and drink it each morning. This song makes me feel alive.
There is one more album I want to mention, and it is my favorite from Vangelis. Mask from 1985 is one of the most complicated things I’ve ever heard. It is a chaotic realm of dark choral madness mixed with piercing electronic textures, and it rumbles forward with untamed and unchained imagination. The sheer drama, the tribal elements, and the mystery of it all never fails to enrich my mind. I get lost in this album completely, as if nothing else matters. In some ways, all of Vangelis’ music does that to me; he could transport us to worlds seemingly out of reach, both within and without.
I know that I haven’t done justice to his work or how it has affected me. I think I’m still processing his death, honestly. I obviously never met him and never saw him play, but he feels part of my DNA, my very soul. His synth tones and keystrokes are still refreshment for my heart; there’s something about the ease with which he played and the love for his art that always inspires me. When I choose to descend into his musical universe, I’m making a conscious decision to pursue healing, beauty, and boundless imagination in my own life. I think that is why I am so drawn to him.
So, whether I’m visiting the brilliant contrasts of Heaven and Hell, or the indescribable oddity of Beaubourg, or the serenity and peace of China, I feel at home in his music. Whether I journey through his tranquil Oceanic, feel the calm darkness of The City, or launch into the unknown with Rosetta or Juno to Jupiter, his music makes me feel more myself, safely and confidently. His recent piano album Nocturne, I think, will probably become an unexpected favorite now. That album feels like Vangelis musing over his creative career. Did he know the end was near? I don’t know, but I do appreciate the hazy and thoughtful exploration of his own mind there, and perhaps it will be the closest I will ever get to knowing him personally.
Vangelis changed my life. He made me a better, more thoughtful person, I believe. His music reaches fathoms of my heart that few other artists can. The gentleness and spiritual touch of style revives me in ways that last. I will miss his continued work, but I will always cherish the music he gifted to us. And I can reach for the ends of universe, like he did. Farewell, maestro. May you ever enrich our lives. May you ever explore the far reaches of the cosmos.