Legendary Greek composer Mikis Theodorakis passed away on Thursday morning. He was 96. He died in his home in Athens. A symbol of democratic struggles and the most recognizable Greek worldwide. A man that put his seal in the contemporary Greek music an eternal “minister for culture”. A brilliant talent that captured in notes the most dramatic moments of Greece’s political history.
A man whose music is associated with struggles for democracy and freedom and whose political path from left to the right and back to the left confirmed that great artists are restless spirits that may not feel comfortable or cannot settle down within the boundaries of this mundane world.
Greece honors him with a 3-day national mourning.
Mikis – as we simply called him in the country because there was only one Mikis – contributed to contemporary Greek music with over 1,000 works that included songs and symphonies. He wrote the music to the lyrics of great Greek poets like Seferis. Elytis and Ritsos and he was the key voice against the colonels’ junta (1967-1974) which imprisoned and banned his songs. With his songs he raised awareness against the military dictatorship internationally.
… and here I find out that I have run out of words for a post about Mikis because words are too poor and too few to describe such a talented and manifold personality with a breathtaking life as if from a film. What can I personally say about a man who drove our souls high for decades praising freedom and thus triggered controversial feelings when he moved to the nationalist front despite his years in prison and exile for being a leftist?
Music and politics – that’s what Mikis Theodorakis was.
Mikis became famous worldwide for his music for Zorba the Greek (1964) and syrtaki.
Mikis Theodorakis/Antony Quinn (1995)
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.
Next to music for Zorbas, he also composed the score for Z (1969) and Serpico (1973).
Soundtrack with lyrics based on poem by Manolis Anagnostakis “Old roads” with Maria Farantouri.
He composed the “Mauthausen Trilogy”, also known as “The Ballad of Mauthausen”, which has been described as the “most beautiful musical work ever written about the Holocaust” and possibly his best work.
Once a communist, always a communist
Politically, he is associated with the left because of his long-standing ties to the Communist Party of Greece. He was an MP for the KKE from 1981 to 1990. In 1989 he ran as an independent candidate within the centre-right New Democracy party, in order for the country to emerge from the political crisis that had been created due to the numerous scandals of the government of Andreas Papandreou, and helped establish a large coalition between conservatives, socialists and leftists. In 1990 he was elected to the parliament (as in 1964 and 1981), became a government minister under Constantine Mitsotakis, and fought against drugs and terrorism and for culture, education and better relations between Greece and Turkey.
After several year of political silence he became active again in 2011 speaking against the bailout agreements of Greece’s lenders.
He “joined” the nationalist, far-right front and appeared in “Macedonia is Greek” rallies in 2018.
And yet, in a personal letter on October 5, 2020, to the secretary general of KKE, Dimitris Koutsoumbas, he reportedly wrote: “Now at the end of my life, at the time of the accounts, the details disappear from my mind and the” Large Sizes “remain. This is how 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.”
Mikis during the junta
On 21 April 1967 a junta (the Regime of the Colonels) took power in a putsch. Theodorakis went underground and founded the “Patriotic Front” (PAM). On 1 June, the Colonels published “Army decree No 13”, which banned playing, and even listening to his music. Theodorakis was arrested on 21 August and jailed for five months. Following his release end of January 1968, he was banished in August 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 personalities as Dmitri Shostakovich, Leonard Bernstein, Arthur Miller, and Harry Belafonte demanded to get Theodorakis freed. On request of the French politician Jean-Jacques Servan-Schreiber, Theodorakis was allowed to go into exile to Paris on 13 April 1970. Theodorakis’s flight left secretly from an Onassis-owned private airport outside Athens. He arrived at Le Bourget Airport where he met Costa Gavras, Melina Mercouri and Jules Dassin. Theodorakis was immediately hospitalized, as he suffered from tuberculosis. His wife and children joined him a week later in France, having travelled from Greece via Italy on a boat.
In the last couple of years, he was repeatedly hospitalized due to health problems. In 2019 he underwent heart surgery to place a pacemaker.
He died in his home in his last wish was. He refused to be hospitalized and he was treated with oxygen at home.
Also his last wish was that he would be buried in Galatas, by Chania on the island of Crete.
According to state broadcaster ERT, his family has said that his coffin will lie in state for the public to pay honor and respect, however, no more details on where and when are known, so far.
Meanwhile, hundreds of people have already and are still flocking to his home at Makryiannis area in Athens.
Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis has declared a 3-day national mourning.
A minute of silence was held at the Greek Parliament Thursday noon.
Mikis Theodorakis was the last from a generation that offered so much to this country.
He is gone but he is and will be always with us through his music.
KTG posts on Mikis Theodorakis activities after 2011 here.
Theodorakis biography & great works here.