Anthony Quinn’s frantic dance in Zorba the Greek, involving a young man stuck on traditional Greek chords made Mikis Theodorakis world famous when the film was released in 1964. The composer, who died at the age of 96 on September 2, 2021 in Athens, has yet known many other lives in the service of his country of which he was one of the most illustrious representatives.
“Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony changed my life”
Born July 29, 1925 in Chios, Aegean, in a family of Cretan origin, Mikis Theodorakis is the author of a gigantic work. The most famous of Greek composers wrote from childhood, discovering a passion for Beethoven. “Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony changed my life. This music was the conquest of myself, my thirst for freedom ”, he confided to Jacques Chancel in the Radioscopie program, on France Inter, on June 9, 1989.
In 1941, when Greece was occupied by Germany, Italy and Bulgaria, the young man, barely 17, joined the resistance. Several times arrested, tortured, he discovered communism with his fellow travelers. This decisive political passion that he unfailingly associates with the love of Greece will define all the commitments of his life.
He rejects the opposition between popular and classical culture
During the civil war that broke out in Greece following the world conflict, he fought alongside the Communists. Severely beaten by the police during a demonstration, he was left for dead in 1946 and transported to the morgue. The young man recovered, resumed the fight, and, arrested, he was imprisoned in the penal colony of Macronissos, where he was tortured.
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Released, Mikis Theodorakis began late studying music in Athens and Paris, passed the Conservatory exams and obtained a diploma in harmony, counterpoint and fugue. He already composed operas performed in the country and became director of a music school in Crete. He married in 1953 Myrto Altinoglou, with whom he had two children, Marguerite and Georges.
From “Zorba the Greek” to “Z”
Oratorio, symphonies, hymns, operas, but also rebetiko, the “Greek blues” with traditional instruments such as the bouzouki, popular Greco-oriental songs, Mikis Theodorakis has faith in culture. He wants to open it to everyone, refusing the opposition between popular and classical culture. He sets the Canto General by Pablo Neruda, and wrote the film scores that would make him famous.
With Zorba the Greek, film by Michael Cacoyannis, carried by the charisma of Anthony Quinn, the world discovers the sirtaki. Theodorakis will compose the music for the film Honeymoon of the English Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger, and later, that of Z, which Costa Gavras dedicates to one of his friends, the leftist deputy Grigoris Lambrakis, assassinated in November 1963 in Thessaloniki.
Opposing the Colonels’ dictatorship from the start
Elected deputy for Piraeus in 1964 under the colors of the left-wing EDA party, the bubbling musician, giant with a disheveled hair and fiery orator, is a political symbol. He was immediately arrested during the military coup of the Colonels on April 21, 1967. Pardoned a year later, he led an underground movement and found himself under house arrest, his work banned in Greece. He will eventually join Paris calling without truce, along with other famous opponents like the actress and singer Melina Mercouri, the international community to sanction the dictatorship imposed on the country which invented democracy.
After the fall of the colonels, a huge crowd awaited him at Athens airport on July 24, 1974. Mikis Theodorakis then brought unexpected support to Constantin Caramanlis, the right-wing statesman who would restore democracy, angering his people. comrades with his formula: “Caramanlis or the tanks”.
The musician will not stop intervening in the political life of his country, sometimes slipping into murderous invectives that he uttered without complex. In 2012, after calling German Chancellor Angela Merkel and her Finance Minister Wolfgang Schäuble de “Predators”, he demonstrated against the austerity measures imposed by international creditors on the country, and suffered tear gas at 87 years old. Always combative, in the name of his love for Greece.