Mikis Theodorakis (Greek: Μίκης Θεοδωράκης) (b. July 29, 1925) is perhaps the most important Greek music composer of the 20th century, and one of the most significant in the world. Politically, until the collapse of the military junta in 1974, he identified with the left; in the 1980s he became a member of parliament with the centre-right New Democracy party. He has consistently opposed oppressive regimes. He was born on the island of Chios in Greece, and spent his childhood years in different provincial Greek cities such as Mytilene, Cephallonia, Pyrgos, Patras, and Tripolis. His father came from Crete and his mother from Asia Minor. He has received several offers to serve as President of Greece, but has refused them. He is known internationally for his scores in the Hollywood films, Zorba the Greek(1964) and Serpico(1973).
The early years, World War II, and first works
Theodorakis' fascination with music began in early childhood; he taught himself to write his first songs without access to musical instruments. In Pyrgos and Patras he took his first music lessons, and in Tripolis, Peloponnese, he formed a choir and gave his first concert at the age of seventeen.
During World War II he was active in the resistance against the fascist Italian and German occupation troops, helping starving children and Jewish refugees; this led to his capture and subsequent torture in Tripolis (1942) and in Athens (1943-1944). During the Greek Civil War he was exiled to the islands of Ikaria and Makronissos, where he was almost beaten to death and twice buried alive.
Later he studied at the Athens Conservatory under Philoktitis Economidis, and at the Conservatory of Paris where he studied musical analysis under Olivier Messiaen as well as conducting under Eugene Bigot. His time in Paris, 1954-1959, was a period of intense artistic creation for him.
His symphonic works of this period, a piano concerto, his first suite and his first symphony, received international acclaim. In 1957 he won the Gold Medal in the Moscow Music Festival. In 1959, Darius Milhaud proposed him for the American Copley Music Prize as the Best European Composer of the Year, after the successful performances of his ballet "Antigone" at Covent Garden in London.
Notable works up to 1960
Back to Greek roots recognition
Theodorakis returned to Greece and his roots in genuine Greek music, and with his song cycle "Epitaphios" he contributed to a cultural revolution in his country. With his most significant and influential works based on the greatest Greek and world poetry "Epiphania", "Little Kyklades", "Axion Esti", "Mauthausen", "Romiossini", and "Romancero Gitan"… he attempted to give back to Greek music a dignity which he said it had lost. In developing his concept of metasymphonic music, he quickly became recognised internationally, and won acclaim as Greece's greatest living composer.
He founded the Little Orchestra of Athens and the Musical Society of Piraeus, and gave many concerts. He became involved in the politics of his home country, and after the assassination of Gregoris Lambrakis in 1963 he founded the Lambrakis Democratic Youth and was elected its president. Following the 1964 elections, he became a member of the Greek Parliament, associated with the left-wing party EDA.
During 1963, he wrote the basic music theme for the Michael Cacoyiannis film "Zorba the Greek" which, since then, exists as a trademark for Greece in the world art. This music is also known as 'Syrtaki dance'; taken and edited by Theodorakis from an old Cretan traditional dance.
Main works of this period
The junta going underground imprisonment banishment
On 21st April 1967 a fascist junta (the Regime of the Colonels) took power in a putsch. Theodorakis went underground and founded the Patriotic Front. The Colonels published Army decree No 13, which banned playing, and even listening to his music. Theodorakis himself was arrested on 21 August 1967 and jailed for five months. Following his release in 1968, he was banished to Zatouna with his wife Myrto and their two children, Margarita and Yorgos. Later he was interned in the concentration camp of Oropos. An international solidarity movement, headed by such figures as Dmitri Shostakovitch, Leonard Bernstein, Arthur Miller, and Harry Belafonte managed to get Theodorakis freed. On request of the French politician Jean-Jacques Servan-Schreiber, Theodorakis was allowed to go into exile on 13 April 1970.
Main works under the dictatorship
In exile, Theodorakis fought for four years for the overthrow of the colonels. He gave thousands of concerts worldwide as part of his struggle for the restoration of democracy in Greece, met Pablo Neruda and Salvador Allende, Gamal Abdel Nasser and Tito, Igal Alon and Yasser Arafat, François Mitterrand and Olof Palme. For millions of people, he became a universal symbol of resistance against dictatorship.
Main works written in exile
Return to Greece activism prolific writing
After the fall of the Colonels, Theodorakis returned to Greece on 24 July 1974 to continue his work and his concert tours, both at home and abroad. At the same time he participated in public affairs. He was elected several times to the Greek Parliament (19811986 and 19891993) and for two years, from 1990 to 1992, he was a minister in the government of Constantine Mitsotakis. He was then appointed General Musical Director of the Symphony Orchestra and Chorus of Hellenic Radio and Television for another two years.
Theodorakis has always combined an exceptional artistic talent with a deep love of his country. He is also committed to heightening international awareness of human rights, of environmental issues, and of the need for peace. It was for this reason that he initiated, together with the renowned Turkish musician and singer Zülfü Livaneli, the GreekTurkish Friendship Society. Theodorakis is Doctor honoris causa of several universities, including Montreal, Thessaloniki, and Crete, and was nominated for the Nobel Prize for Peace in 2000. Currently he lives in retirement, publishing on music, culture, and politics. But on important occasions he never hesitates to take a position, as in 1999, opposing NATO's Kosovo war, and in 2003 against the Iraq War. In 2005, he was awarded the "Russian International St Andrew the First Called Prize" and the "IMC UNESCO International Music Prize".
Main works after 1974
A Lifetime's Work
A lifetime's work: synopsis
Songs and song cycles
Theodorakis has written more than 1,000 songs and song-cycles, whose melodies have become part of the heritage of Greek music. "Sto Perigiali", "Kaimos", "Aprilis", "Doxa to Theo", "Sotiris Petroulas", "Lipotaktes", "Stis Nichtas to Balkoni", "Agapi mou", "Pou petaxe t'agori mou", "Anixe ligo to parathiro", "O Ipnos se tilixe", "To gelasto pedi", "Dendro to dendro", "O Andonis", and many other songs.
His song cycles are based on poems by famous Greek authors, as well as by Lorca and Neruda: "Epitaphios", "Archipelagos", "Politia", "Epiphania", "The Hostage", "Mykres Kyklades", "Mauthausen", "Romiossini", "Sun and Time", "Songs for Andreas", "Mythology", "Night of Death", "Ta Lyrika", "The Quarters of the World", "Dionysos", "Phaedra", "Mia Thalassa", "Ta Lyrikotera", "Ta Lyrikotata", "Erimia".
Cantatas and oratorios
Music for the stage
Principal film scores
Reference: Guy Wagner. Chairman of the International Theodorakis Foundation FILIKI. List of works based on the research of Asteris Koutoulas.
Theodorakis is well known for his left-wing views, which he has expressed openly (including, notably, during the junta dictatorship). He has campaigned for numerous human rights and peace causes, such as in the Cyprus dispute, the tensions between Turkey and Greece due to the Aegean dispute, NATO attacks against Yugoslavia, the kidnapping and treatment of Abdullah Öcalan, or the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Recently, he has raised controversy for expressing severe criticism of George W. Bush and his government and administration, as well as the policies of the government of Ariel Sharon. His criticism of Sharon has been interpreted by some as being anti-Semitic.
On his alleged anti-Semitism
Official statement by Mikis Theodorakis, after the polemics concerning his anti-Semitism had started on November 11, 2003:
"My opinion of the Israeli people, as on all things, has always been known and I am frankly at a loss as to why such a great commotion was made this time, as if it was heard for the first time. Maybe some people judged this to be the right time to launch an attack on me.
"I was always on the side of the weak, of those struggling for the Justice of People. And among them were the Israeli People. I sang their suffering as well as I could. I was always in favour of the peaceful coexistence of peoples. And I showed this in practice, when, among other things, I undertook a mediatory role between Alon and Arafat in the incidents of 1972.
"But, precisely for these reasons, I am totally opposed to Sharon's policy and I have stressed this repeatedly, just as I have repeatedly condemned the role of prominent American Jewish politicians, intellectuals and theorists in the shaping of today’s aggressive Bush 'policy'.
"Only through a conscious effort can anyone confuse the Israeli People, for whom I have shown my respect and wonder in practice and these negative phenomena which are what truly blacken the image of Israel and play a genuine 'anti-Semitic' role. It is these which are on the side of Evil, the root of Evil, as I stated recently.
"Personally, I am happy because I know that there are many Israelis all over the world and within Israel who agree with me and are striving for the true Justice of their People and can coexist with the Justice of other People as well, who are struggling for Peace in their region and the whole world. I am happy that we have been together in these joint struggles for decades now. And I know that they know me well through these struggles and they are not waiting for the mud of some in order to get to know me.
"But perhaps this is the aim of those who suddenly 'discovered' my ideas and slander me as an alleged 'anti-Semite'."
Athens, 12 November 2003
However, during an interview for Ha'aretz, August 2004 (see external link), Ari Shavit asked about this and Theodorakis answered thus:
"I must clarify, I didn't say that Jews are the root of evil. I said that they are at the root of evil."
"Jews want to feel that they are victims. They want to console themselves by saying: We are in the right, we are victims again, let's build another ghetto. This is a masochistic reaction. There is a masochistic mentality in Jewish tradition.
"I am sure that when Jews of the diaspora speak amongst themselves, they feel satisfaction. They think - now, when we are so close to the world's biggest nation, no one can harm us. We can do whatever we like. This is why their claim about renewing antisemitism is not only sick. It is devious.
"It allows the Jews to do whatever they will. It serves as an excuse politically as well as psychologically. (...) There is no antisemitism in Europe today."
Later in the interview Theodorakis says that the force behind the existence of the Jews is "Your feeling that you are the children of god. That you are a chosen people."
Shavit then asks, do the Jews appear patronizing and aggressive to you? Do they control the music establishment, global economy, mass media, America's foreign policy? To each of these questions Theodorakis replies individually with a "Yes". When asked if, by his account, the great nation of America is actually ruled by Jews, Theodorakis says "Yes".
Later in the interview Theodorakis compares Israeli actions in the occupied territories to "Nazi behaviour".
In an article in Eleftherotypia (14 April 2002):
[September 11th was ] characterized by an incredibly high degree of organization and technological meanshigher I'd say than that possessed by the current superpower, the US.... As far as physical perpetrators are concerned there is still no tangible evidence and that’s why no arrests have been made. There were only moral perpetrators, who have been sought in Afghanistanbut it would be hard to convince anyone of their level of technological and organizational capabilities
Bibliography - His own published written works
Eimaste dyo, eimaste treis, eimaste xilioi dekatreis!