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Mikis Theodorakis (1925-2021)

Mikis Theodorakis

On September 2, 2021, the world lost one of the most influential and a wonderful Greek composer, songwriter, author, poet, and of course a steady fighter for promoting peace and social justice around the world. He created over 1000 works including principal film scores, modern plays, international theatre, operas, classical tragedies, symphonies, chamber music, cantatas and oratorios, ballets, hymns, written works and poems.

Born on July 29th in the Greek Island of Chios. Due to his father Georgios’, a lawyer and a civil servant, frequent assignments, Mikis spent much of his childhood in different Greek cities and learned a lot about the different cultures of his country. His mother Aspasia Poulakis was from an ethnically Greek family born in the town of Cheshmeh now part of Turkey. Cheshmeh means fountain in Persian owing to large number of fountains and cold-water resources in that area.

Theodorakis’ interest with music began in early childhood. He gave his first concert at the age of 17. In 1943, during WWII, he joined the communists led “People’s Liberation Army” to fight against the Italian Fascists aggressors in Athens, but regrettably he got exposed and consequently arrested and tortured.

After WWII and the start of the Greek Civil War of 1946-1949, between the right-wing Greek Government Army supported by the British Army on one side, and the Democratic Army of Greece, the military branch of the Communist Party of Greece on the other side, Theodorakis as a militant of DAG, was arrested again; first sent to Icaria, then Makronisos Island in the Aegean Sea, where he was tortured and even twice buried alive.

During the period of 1943-1950 when Theodorakis was not forced to hide, not exiled or jailed, he studied at the Athens Conservatoire, which led him to form his first orchestra. In 1953 he married then famous doctor, Myrto Altinoglou. In 1954, they went to Paris, where Theodorakis continued his study in music and composed pieces based on the poems of Federico Garcia Lorca of Spain, and Pablo Neruda of Chile.

In 1960, Theodorakis returned back to Greece and contributed to the Cultural Revolution and gave back to Greek music a dignity, which in his perception, it had lost.

In 1962, nearly 3 years after the Cuban Revolution, Theodorakis went to Cuba and met Fidel Castro and Che Guevara, and participated in the newly established radio station of the Cuban Revolution. In 1981, he travelled back to Cuba and gave his historic concert in front of the Havana Cathedral. Now his friend, Fidel Castro attended the concert; praised and embraced him with warm enthusiasm.

In 1963, after the assassination of Dr. Grigoris Lambrakis, the former leader of the resistance against the occupiers of Greece, Nazi-Germany and Fascist Italy, Theodorakis founded “The Lambrakis Democratic Youth”, and was elected its President with more than fifty thousand members. He was a great leader and organiser and was elected twice as the member of Greek Parliament and appointed as minister in different Governments. For instance, in 1964, he was elected as Member of Parliament, while he was blacklisted by the cultural establishment, and a large number of his songs were censored by studios and not allowed to be played by radio stations. Interesting to know that in spite of these crackdowns, he wrote the music for Michael Cacoyannis’ movie “Zorba the Greek”, whose main theme since then is a trademark for Greece.

On April 21st 1967, a CIA sponsored coup by a group of far-right Colonels took place in Greece. Theodorakis became the symbol of the resistance against the Coup. He founded the Patriotic Front from hiding. On June 1st, the Junta banned his music. Theodorakis was then arrested on August 21st and jailed for five months, and then deported along with his wife and their two children to the village of Zatouna in the north of Greece. He was later sent to the Concentration Camp of Oropos village in south-western Greece. There he got tuberculosis. An international solidarity movement headed by famous personalities such as Dmitri Shostakovich, Harry Belafonte, Jules Dassin, Melina Mercouri, and Leonard Bernstein requested his release. He was finally released and allowed to go to Paris for his treatment.

In 1971, Theodorakis was invited to Chile by the Socialist President Salvador Allende. Back in Paris in 1972, he met Pablo Neruda and they started cooperating in poetry and music.

Theodorakis was received by Tito of Yugoslavia, Abdel Nasser of Egypt, and Yasser Arafat of Palestine as a symbol of Greece Resistance against dictatorship. After the fall of the Colonels on the 24th of July 1974, Theodorakis returned to Greece in triumph. He was welcomed by thousands of people, while his music was playing on the Radio.

Theodorakis never stopped his participation in public affairs. In 1981, he was elected for the second time to the Greek Parliament and then served as a minister in the Government.

In 1981, Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat visited Greece and met Theodorakis during his stay. Arafat asked Theodorakis to compose an anthem for the independent Palestinian State once the goal was achieved. In spite of his continued efforts to open a path for peace between Israel and Palestine authorities, it was Israel that invaded Beirut in 1982 and massacred Palestinian and Lebanese civilians. Theodorakis was invited by Arafat through the General Secretary of the Communist Party of Greece to Beirut in order to support the Palestinian struggle and boost the moral of Palestinian, Lebanese, and Syrian peoples. Finally, he went to Syria and held a concert in front of teeming spectators.

In 1983, Theodorakis was awarded the International Lenin Peace Prize, for strengthening peace among peoples.

In 1987, Theodorakis helped found the Greek-Turkish Friendship Committee which is still continuing today. He was against the neoliberalism policy of imperialist powers. On May 31, 2011 Theodorakis gave a speech attended by thousands in Athens criticizing the Greek Government for debts caused by receiving loans from the IMF and other international usurers.

Theodorakis was opposed to the US-NATO wars in Yugoslavia, Iraq, Libya, and other parts of Middle-East. He was against the occupation of Palestine by Israel, and imperialists meddling in the affairs of Africa, Latin America, and Asia.

Although Theodorakis was a staunch supporter of the Communist Party of Greece, he nevertheless sometimes worked with right-wing organizations and parties to encourage social conscious at times of despair and tumultuous political tensions. He was a bearer of the torch of hope and humanity wherever he was present.

Some of his famous works:

Principal film scores

  • Phaedra (Director: Jules Dassin), 1961

  • Electra (Director: Michael Cacoyannis), 1962

  • Zorba the Greek (Director: Michael Cacoyannis), 1964

  • The Day of the Fish Came Out (Director: Michael Cacoyannis), 1967

  • Z (Director: Constantin Costa-Gavras), 1969

  • State of Siege (Director: Costa-Gavras), 1972

  • Serpico (Director: Sidney Lumet), 1973

  • The Rehearsal (director: Jules Dassin), 1974

  • Actas de Marousia (Director: Miguel Littin), 1976

  • Iphigenia (Director: Michael Cacoyannis), 1978

  • The Man with the Carnation (Director: Nikos Tzimas), 1980

International Theatre

  • Enas Omiros (The Hostage), drama, (Branden Behan), 1961

  • The Chinese Wall, drama (Max Frisch), 1963

  • Das Sauspiel, tragicomedy (Martin Walser), 1975

  • Polites B’ Katigorias (Second Class Citizens), drama (Brian Friel), 1978

  • Caligula, drama (Albert Camus), 1979

  • Pericles, tragedy, (William Shakespeare), 1980

  • Macbeth, tragedy, (William Shakespeare), 1994


  • The Metamorphosis of Dionysos (poem by Costas Karyotakis), 1985

  • Medea, 1990

  • Electra, 1993

  • Antigone, 1996

  • Lysistrata, 2001


  • Greek Carnival (Rallo Mananoa), 1953

  • Le Feu aux Poudres (Paul Goubé), 1958

  • Antigone in Jail (Micha van Hoecke), 1972

  • Sept Danses Grecques (Maurice Béjart), 1983

Cantatas and Oratorios

  • Mauthausen Trilogy (In memoration of Liberation of the Mauthausen concentration camp in May 1945), 1965

  • Canto General (Text: Pablo Neruda), 1982

  • Liturgy No2 (“To children”, killed in War); Text: Tassos Livaditis, Theodorakis, 1982

  • Lorca, for voice, solo guitar, choir, and orchestra (based on Romancero Gitano, Text: Federico Garcia Lorca, translated by Odysseas Elytis)

  • Requiem (Text: St. John Damascene)

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