Mikis Theodorakis is undoubtedly one of the most important Greek composers, considered the cornerstone of Greek music. Some people consider Mikis Theodorakis the most important and talented Greek composer ever; and maybe they are right.
Theodorakis’ work is multi leveled and multi layered, since he was able to compose music in different genres and different themes. He easily composed music for revolutionary causes, for the movies, for the opera. A man of exquisite talent, with a very harsh life, Mikis Theodorakis became the symbol of Greek music, the symbol of Greece. Words are few to describe his musical genius.
Mikis Theodorakis – The first years
Mikis Theodorakis was born on the island of Chios in 1925. He spent his childhood in various towns in the Greek countryside, where he became familiar with folk music and the music of the Greek Orthodox Church.
In the town of Tripolis in Peloponnese, where he spent his teenage years, he heard his first piece of symphonic music, Beethoven’s ninth symphony, and decided to become a composer. In Tripolis, Theodorakis also began his lifelong struggle for freedom. The Second World War had begun and Tripolis was occupied by the Italians.
The seventeen-year old composer took part in a massive protest on the 25th of March, the anniversary of the Greek struggle for independence from Turkey, by laying a wreath at the statue of the revolutionary hero Kolokotronis. He was arrested for the first time and tortured but managed to escape to Athens.
In Athens, Theodorakis registered at the conservatorium of music to study composition. At the same time he joined E.A.M., the largest of the resistance organisations to the German occupation. For the remainder of the war he took an active part in the resistance while continuing his studies in composition.
During the years of the Greek Civil War (1945-48) Theodorakis continued his political activities. He spent these years either in hiding or in prison camps. Arrested several times and severely tortured, he struggled to continue his musical activities. His first symphony was composed on the notorious prison island of Makronissos. It was also during these years that he became interested in folk music and the popular Greek music known as rebetika.
Despite the terrible conditions of Makronissos, where supporters of the Communists party were tortured and killed for their beliefs, it was here that Theodorakis began his lifelong struggle to effect a reconciliation between the opposing sides of the Civil War in Greece.
Mikis Theodorakis in the 60s
1960 marked the beginning of a very productive period for Theodorakis. He began setting Greek poetry to music and creating a new wave of sophisticated popular songs. Other young composers were encouraged to follow the lead and an exciting new wave of Greek music began.
Theodorakis was attempting to bring about a cultural renaissance, and to institute democratic reforms within his party. It was during these years that he established the basis of his lifelong popularity with Greeks from all walks of life. As a parliamentary deputy, Theodorakis traveled to Cyprus to meet Archbishop Makarios and discuss ways to find a solution to the Cyprus problem.
Mikis Theodorakis and The Greek Junta
Theodorakis’s musical and political attempts to break down the divisions in Greek society were interrupted by the military dictatorship, the Greek Junta
Theodorakis immediately began touring the world giving concerts, holding press conferences and meetings with political leaders and other world figures in an effort to bring about the restoration of democracy in Greece. At the same time he tried to bring about the unification of the divided Greek leftist parties and urged co-operation between all the opposition forces.
At his concerts he gave an opportunity for many oppressed peoples – Kurds, Chileans and Palestinians among them – to express their grievances. Above all he stressed the need for a solution to the Cyprus problem.
Theodorakis opposed to the junta that took control of Greece in April, 1967. One of the first acts of the new regime was to place a ban on Theodorakis’s work.
Knowing he would be an immediate target, he went underground and issued an appeal for opposition to the regime. Soon after, he was elected president of the first opposition organization (The Patriotic Front). In hiding, and later in prison he continued to compose.
In 1968 Theodorakis was placed under house arrest in an isolated village in the Peloponnese. Even from there he managed to smuggle messages of resistance and musical scores to the outside world. He also composed a series of song cycles based on the work of Greek poets.
Theodorakis was transferred again to the prison camp of Oropos where his health began to deteriorate alarmingly. He was then sent to Paris in order to be away from Greece, where he joined forces with Melina Mercouri composing music against the junta, informing the Europeans about the problem.
Mikis Theodorakis returned to Greece after the fall of junta.
Mikis Theodorakis – The Greek Composer Today
Since the 70s Theodorakis has been composing music endlessly, working with all the major Greek singers. He also worked with European and American singers, such as Edith Piaf, Zülfü Livaneli, Leonard Bernstein and more.
Mikis Theodorakis is one of the most beloved and recognized Greek composers, with active participation to the social and political life, and the man who initiated the Greek-Turkish Friendship Society. He is also the composer of one of the most famous Greek songs, Zorba the Greek.