Sailing ships gliding through the ocean against the light of the setting sun. Flags flap in the wind. Muscular sailors with bare, sweaty torsos set sail. Gérard Depardieu leans over the railing and looks presciently into the distance. Then it appears dimly, the jungle-like foreign land that they mistaken for India. The accompanying music: Excitingly swinging string sections, a monk-like humming choir, rising dramatically until the finale – appropriate to the setting of the anchor – erupts in spray-like, roaring wind instruments and cymbal hits.
In his historical film “1492 – The Conquest of Paradise”, which was released in cinemas in 1992 to mark the 500th anniversary of the so-called discovery of America, Ridley Scott staged the moment when Christopher Columbus, played by Depardieu, and the crew of his ships Santa Maria, Niña and Pinta reached the new world. The soundtrack is even more memorable than the pictures, especially the title song “Conquest of Paradise”, which sounds just as majestic as it is melancholic.
It comes from the Greek composer Vangelis. In the video you can see how the musician studies film scenes on the screen and accompanies them on his synthesizer. In contrast: the English Chamber Choir, which contributes the vocal parts. The text consists of lines like “In noreni per ipe / In noreni cora / Tira mine per ito / Ne domina”, which sound Latin but are not Latin.
They are Romanesque set pieces, joined together to form an archaic Esperanto. “Conquest of Paradise” became a hit in 1995 when boxer Henry Maske marched into the ring to the tune of this piece. After that, it was number one in the German single charts for almost three months.
Vangelis, born Evangelos Odysseas Papathanassiou in 1943 in the small town of Agria in eastern Greece, became known with the prog rock group Aphrodite’s Child, which he founded in 1968 in exile in Paris with singer Demis Roussos. He later moved to London, set up a studio he named after the mythical submarine captain Nemo, and embarked on a solo career using electronic instruments almost exclusively.
Vangelis wrote his first soundtrack in 1970 for the romantic drama “Sex-Power”, followed by more than 70 other film scores: for Hollywood blockbusters such as Oliver Stone’s sandal film “Alexander” as well as for documentaries and television series. The Oscar he received in 1982 for the sports film “The Hour of the Winner” was the first Oscar for a soundtrack that was created on a synthesizer. His masterpiece are the tracks he composed for Ridley Scott’s sci-fi classic Blade Runner, a cold, minimalist vision of the future.
Music is “the most important force in the universe and also its driving force,” Vangelis said. He died in Paris on Tuesday. Showing the importance the musician had for Greece, his death was announced by Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis on Thursday.