Greek veteran composer and political activist Mikis Theodorakis, who was instrumental in raising global awareness of Greece’s plight during the 1967-74 military dictatorship, has died at the age of 96.
Born on the island of Chios, on 29 July 1925, he studied music in Athens and later Paris.
His work ranges from rousing songs based on major Greek poetic works, many of which remain left-wing anthems for decades, to symphonies and film scores.
He composed perhaps the most recognizable Greek music internationally, the syrtaki from the film “Zorba the Greek” (1964), while his songs were performed by famous artists, such as The Beatles, Shirley Bassey and Edith Piaf. He composed the scores in films such as “Z” (1969), which won the BAFTA Prize for original music, “Phaedra” (1962), which included songs with lyrics by Nikos Gatsos, and “Serpiko” (1973), for which he was nominated for a Grammy in 1975 (he claimed the same award for his music “Zorba the Greek” in 1966).
Theodorakis also composed the “Mauthausen Trilogy” — also known as “The Ballad of Mauthausen”, and the “Mauthausen Cantata” — a cycle of four arias with lyrics based on poems written by Greek poet Iakovos Kambanellis, a Mauthausen concentration camp survivor.
A very outspoken political activist, he joined a reserve unit of ELAS, the military arm of the left-wing National Liberation Front (EAM) during the period of the Greek resistance against the Nazi occupation, and led a troop in the fight against the British and the Greek right in the “Dekemvriana.” During the Greek Civil War he was arrested, sent into exile on the island of Icaria and then deported to the island of Makronisos, where he was tortured.
Theodorakis had long-standing ties to the Communist Party of Greece of which he was an MP from 1981 to 1990. However, in 1989 he ran as an independent candidate with the right-wing New Democracy and became a minister in 1990 under Constantine Mitsotakis (father of the current Greek prime minister), only to resign in March 1992.
In later years, he was repeatedly hospitalized due to health problems and in 2019 underwent heart surgery to place a pacemaker.
Visibly distraught, his daughter, Margarita Theodoraki, said on Thursday his health had deteriorated repidly in recent days. “He was a very good man, a great man. Keep loving him,” she told journalists waiting outside the composer’s home.
The leader of the Greek Communist party (KKE), Dimitris Koutsoumbas, revealed on Thursday a personal letter sent to him by Theodorakis on October 5, 2020, in which he asked him to fulfil his last wishes, which include being burried in the small village of Galatas on Crete, where his father was born.
“I see that I spent my most critical, strong and mature years under the banner of the KKE. That is why I want to leave this world as a communist,” the letter says.
The Ministry of Culture announced on Thursday the postponement of all events sponsored by the ministry, due to the three-day national mourning declared for the passing of Theodorakis.