Greek composer Mikis Theodorakis has died at 96

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Image Credit: Stringer / File Photo

ATHE: _ Mikis Theodorakis, the beloved Greek composer whose catchy music and life of political challenge have been acclaimed abroad and inspired millions around the country, passed away on Thursday. He was 96 years old.

His death at his home in central Athens was announced on state television and followed 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 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.

“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. “

Born Michail Theodorakis on the eastern Aegean island of Chios on July 29, 1925, he 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 execution.

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 folk, collaborating with leading poets, including the Spaniard Federico Garcia Lorca. and Greek Nobel Laureate Odysseas Elytis. A musical series based on poems written by Nazi concentration camp survivor Iakovos Kambanellis, “The Ballad of Mauthausen”, describes 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.

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 resistance that would be played at rallies of protest for decades. 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 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 have 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. ”

Funeral arrangements were not immediately available.

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