Mikis Theodorakis

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Mikis Theodorakis (Greek: Μίκης Θεοδωράκης; July 29, 1925 - September 2, 2021) was a Greek music composer and left-wing politician. 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 received several offers to serve as President of Greece, but refused them.


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 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, 19541959, 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

  1. Chamber music: Trio for piano, violin, violoncello; Preludes, Little Suite and Sonatina for Piano; Sonatines No.1 et 2 for violin and piano
  2. Symphonic music: "The Feast of Assi-Gonia" (symphonic movement); Symphony No.1 ("Proti Simfonia"); Suites No.1, 2 and 3 for Orchestra; "Life and Death" (for voice and strings); "Oedipus Tyrannos" (for strings), Concerto for Piano
  3. Ballet music: "Greek Carnival"; "Les Amants de Téruel" (The Lovers from Teruel); "Antigone"

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.

Main works of this period

  1. Song cycles: "Epitaphios" (Yannis Ritsos); "Archipelagos", "Politia A & B", "Epiphania" (George Seferis, Nobel Prize 1963), "Mauthausen" (Yakovos Kabanellis), "Romiossini" (Yannis Ritsos)
  2. Music for the Stage: "The Hostage" (Brendan Behan); "Ballad of the Dead Brother" (Theodorakis); "Maghiki Poli (Magical City)"; "I Gitonia ton Angelon" (The Angels' Quarter, Kabanellis)
  3. Film scores: "Electra" and "Zorba the Greek" (Michalis Cacoyannis)
  4. Oratorio: "Axion Esti" (Odysseas Elytis, Nobel Prize 1979)

The junta — going underground — imprisonment — banishment

On April 21, 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 August 21, 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 Yiorgos. 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 April 13, 1970.

Main works under the dictatorship

  1. Song cycles: "O Ilios ke o Chronos" ("Sun and Time", Theodorakis); "Ta Laïka"("The Popular Songs", M. Elefteriou); Arcadies I-X; Songs for Andreas (Theodorakis); "Nichta Thanatou" ("Nights of Death", M. Elefteriou)
  2. Oratorios: "Ephiphania Averoff" (Seferis), "State of Siege" (Marina-Rena Hadjidakis), "March of the Spirit" (Angelos Sikelianos), "Raven" (Seferis, after Edgar Allan Poe)
  3. Film score: "Z" (Costa-Gavras).

Exile — resistance

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

  1. Song cycles: "Lianotragouda" ("18 Songs for the Bitter Fatherland", Yannis Ritsos); "Ballades" (Manolis Anagnostakis)
  2. Oratorio: "Canto General" (Pablo Neruda)
  3. Film scores: "The Trojan Women" (M. Cacoyannis); "State of Siege" (Costa-Gavras); "Serpico" (S. Lumet)

Return to Greece — activism — prolific writing

After the fall of the Colonels, Theodorakis returned to Greece on July 24, 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 always combined an exceptional artistic talent with a deep love of his country. He was 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 Greek–Turkish Friendship Society. Theodorakis was Doctor honoris causa of several universities, including Montreal, Thessaloniki, and Crete, and was nominated for the Nobel Prize for Peace in 2000. Later, he lived in retirement, publishing on music, culture, and politics. On important occasions he didn't hesitate 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

  1. Song cycles: "Ta Lyrika", "Dionysos", "Phaedra", "Beatrice in Zero Street", "Mia Thalasssa" ("A Sea Full of Music"), "Os archeos Anemos" ("Like an Ancient Wind"), "Lyrikotera" ("The More-Than-Lyric Songs"), "Lyrikotata" ("The Most Lyric Songs"), "Erimia" ("Solitude")
  2. Music for the Stage: "Orestia" (dir.: Spyros Evangelatos); "Antigone" (dir.: M. Volanakis); "Medea" (dir.: Spyros Evangelatos)
  3. Film scores: "Iphigenia" (M. Cacoyannis), "The Man with the Carnation" (N. Tzimas)
  4. Oratorios: "Missa Greca", "Liturgia 2", "Requiem"
  5. Symphonic music and cantatas: Symphonies no 2, 3, 4, 7, "According to the Sadducees", "Canto Olympico", Guita Rhapsody (1996), Cello Rhapsody (1997)
  6. Operas: "Kostas Karyotakis", "Medea", "Elektra", "Antigone", "Lysistrata".

A lifetime's work: synopsis

Songs and song cycles

Theodorakis wrote more than 1,000 songs and song-cycles, whose melodies have become part of the heritage of Greek music: "Apagogi", "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 were 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".

Symphonic works

  • 1952: Piano Concerto "Helikon"
  • 1953: Symphony No 1 ("Proti Simfonia")
  • 1954–1959: 3 Orchestral Suites
  • 1958: Piano Concerto
  • 1981: Symphony No 2 ("The Song of the Earth"; text: Mikis Theodorakis) for children's choir, piano, and orchestra)
  • 1981: Symphony No 3 (texts: D. Solomos; K. Kavafis; byzantine hymns) for soprano, choir, and orchestra
  • 1983: Symphony No 7 ("Spring-Symphony"; texts: Yannis Ritsos; Yorgos Kulukis) for four soloists, choir, and orchestra
  • 1986–87: Symphony No 4 ("Of Choirs") for soprano, mezzo, narrator, choir, and symphonic orchestra without strings
  • 1995: Rhapsody for Guitar and Orchestra
  • 1996: Rhapsody for Cello and Orchestra

Chamber music

  • 1942: Sonatina for piano
  • 1945: Elegy No 1, for cello and piano
  • 1945: Elegy No 2, for violin and piano
  • 1946: To Kimitiro (The Cemetery), for string quartet
  • 1946: String Quartet No 1
  • 1946: Duetto, for two violins
  • 1947: Trio, for violin, cello and piano
  • 1947: 11 Preludes, for piano
  • 1947: Sexteto, for piano, flute and string quartet
  • 1949: Study, for two violins and cello
  • 1952: Syrtos Chaniotikos, for piano and percussion
  • 1952: Sonatina No 1, for violin and piano
  • 1955: Little Suite, for piano
  • 1955: Passacaglia, for two pianos
  • 1959: Sonatina No 2, for violin and piano
  • 1989: Choros Assikikos (Galant Dances) for violoncello solo

Cantatas and oratorios

  • 1960: "Axion Esti" (text: Odysseas Elytis)
  • 1969: "The March of the Spirit" (text: Angelos Sikelianos)
  • 1971–82: "Canto General" (text: Pablo Neruda)
  • 1981–82: "Kata Saddukaion Pathi" (Sadducean-Passion; text: Michalis Katsaros) for tenor, baritone, bass, choir, and orchestra
  • 1982: Liturgy No 2 ("To children, killed in War"); texts: Tassos Livaditis, Mikis Theodorakis) for choir
  • 1982–83: "Lorca" for voice, solo guitar, choir, and orchestra (based on "Romancero Gitan")
  • 1992: "Canto Olympico"


  • 1970: Hymn for Nasser
  • 1973: Hymn for the Socialist Movement in Venezuela
  • 1973: Hymn for the Students. dedicated to the victims of Polytechnical School in Athens (18.11.)
  • 1977: Hymn of the French Socialist Party
  • 1978: Hymn for Malta
  • 1982: Hymn of P.L.O.
  • 1991: Hymn of the Mediterranean Games
  • 1992: "Hellenism" (Greek Hymn for the opening ceremony of the Olympic Games of Barcelona


  • 1953: "Greek Carnival" (choreography: Rallou Manou)
  • 1958: "Le Feu aux Poudres" (choreography: Paul Goubé)
  • 1958: "Les Amants de Teruel" (choreography: Milko Sparembleck)
  • 1959: "Antigone" (choreography: John Cranko)
  • 1972: "Antigone in Jail" (choreography: Micha van Hoecke)
  • 1979: "Elektra" (choreography: Serge Kenten)
  • 1983: "Sept Danses Grecques" (choreography: Maurice Béjart)
  • 1987–88: "Zorba il Greco" (choreography: Lorca Massine)


  • 1984–85: "Kostas Karyotakis"
  • 1988–90: "Medea"
  • 1992–93: "Elektra"
  • 1995–96: "Antigone"
  • 1999–2001: "Lysistrata"

Music for the stage

Classical tragedies

  • 1959–60: "Phinisses" (Euripides)
  • 1960–61: "Ajax" (Sophocles)
  • 1965: "Troades" (Euripides)
  • 1966–67: "Lysistrata" (Aristophanes)
  • 1977: "Iketides" (Aeschylus)
  • 1979: "Ippies" (Aristophanes)
  • 1986–88: "Oresteia": "Agamemnon", "Choephores", "Eumenides" (Aeschylus)
  • 1987: "Ekavi" (Euripides)
  • 1990: "Antigone" (Sophocles)
  • 1992: "Prometheus Desmotis" (Aeschylus)
  • 1996: "Oedipus Tyrannos" (Sophocles)
  • 2001: "Medea" (Euripides)

Modern plays

  • 1960–61: "To Tragoudi tou Nekrou Adelfou" ("Ballad of the Dead Brother"), Musical Tragedy (text: Mikis Theodorakis)
  • 1961–62: "Omorphi Poli" ("Beautiful City"), revue (Bost, Christodoulou, Christofelis, et al.)
  • 1963: "I Gitonia ton Angelon" ("The Neighbourhood of Angels"), Music-drama (Iakovos Kabanellis)
  • 1963: "Magiki Poli" ("Enchanted City"), revue (Theodorakis, Pergialis, Katsaros)
  • 1971: "Antigoni stin Filaki" ("Antigone in Jail"), drama (Yiannis Ritsos)
  • 1974: "Prodomenos Laos" ("Betrayed People"), music for the theatre (Vangelis Goufas)
  • 1975: "Echtros Laos" ("Enemy People"), drama (Iakovos Kabanellis)
  • 1975: "Christophorus Kolumbus", drama (Nikos Kazantzakis)
  • 1976: "Kapodistrias", drama (Nikos Kazantzakis)
  • 1977: "O Allos Alexandros" ("The Other Alexander"), drama (Margarita Limberaki)
  • 1979: "Papaflessas", play (Spiros Melas)

International theatre

  • 1961: "Enas Omiros" ("The Hostage"), drama (Brendan Behan)
  • 1963: "The Chinese Wall", drama (Max Frisch)
  • 1975: "Das Sauspiel", tragicomedy (Martin Walser)
  • 1979: "Caligula", drama (Albert Camus)
  • 1978: "Polites B' Katigorias" ("Second-Class Citizens"), drama (Brian Friel)
  • 1980: "Perikles", tragedy, (William Shakespeare)
  • 1994: "Macbeth", tragedy (William Shakespeare)

Principal film scores

  • 1960: "Ill Met by Moonlight"
  • 1960: "Honeymoon"
  • 1960: "Faces in the Dark"
  • 1961: "The Shadow of the Cat"
  • 1961: "Phaedra"
  • 1961–62: "Les Amants de Téruel"
  • 1961–62: "Five Miles to Midnight"
  • 1961–62: "Elektra"
  • 1964: "Zorba the Greek"
  • 1967: "The Day the Fish came out"
  • 1969: "Z"
  • 1972: "State of Siege"
  • 1973: "Serpico"
  • 1974: "The Rehearsal"
  • 1976: "Actas de Marousia"
  • 1977–78 "Iphigenia"
  • 1980: "The Man with the Carnation"

Reference: Guy Wagner. Chairman of the International Theodorakis Foundation FILIKI. List of works based on the research of Asteris Koutoulas.

Political views

Theodorakis was well known for his left-wing views, which he has expressed openly (including, notably, during the junta dictatorship). He campaigned for numerous human rights and peace causes, such as in the Cyprus dispute, the tensions between Turkey and Greece during the Aegean crisis, NATO attacks against Yugoslavia, the kidnapping and treatment of Abdullah Öcalan, or the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Later, he 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 was interpreted by some as being anti-Semitic.

Political quotations

On allegations concerning his "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, November 12, 2003.

On 9/11

In an article in Eleftherotypia (April 14, 2002):

9/11 was characterized by an incredibly high degree of organization and technological means—higher 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 Afghanistan—but it would be hard to convince anyone of their level of technological and organizational capabilities.

See also


  • Mikis Theodorakis: Journals of Resistance. Translated from the French by Graham Webb, Hart-Davis MacGibbon, London, 1973
  • Mikis Theodorakis: Music and Theater, Translated by George Giannaris, Athens, 1983
  • George Giannaris: Mikis Theodorakis. Music and Social Change, Foreword by Mikis Theodorakis. G. Allen, London, 1972
  • Gail Holst: Myth & Politics in Modern Greek Music, Adolf M. Hakkert, Amsterdam, 1980