Music Composed & Performed by Vangelis
Movie Genre: Biography, Drama
Movie & Soundtrack CD Release: 2007
Label: Universal Music (Greece)
Available also as a digital stream/download
“If you really want it,
it will happen and
I will write the music!”
Soundtrack Beat is very grateful to the director of the movie
“El Greco”, Yannis Smaragdis, for the valuable information
that he shared about his collaboration
with Vangelis, which comes to light for the first time!
One of the best painters of his time, Domenicos Theotokopoulos, internationally known as “El Greco” from the Spanish version of the word “The Greek”, is expected to appear before the Inquisition, accused of blasphemy. The night before, he depicts on paper the memories of his life, thinking that this may be his last one. From his birthplace, the Greek Island of Crete, to the studio of the most famous painter at the time, Titian, in Venice, and from there to Spain, where recognition came. This is the story of the movie “El Greco” (2007), directed by Yannis Smaragdis, the music of which Vangelis undertook to compose. However, even before embarking on the movie’s music, Vangelis had already greatly contributed to the realization and completion of the movie.
When the excellent collaboration between Vangelis and the director Yannis Smaragdis in the movie “Cavafy” (1996) finished, the composer asked him what he was thinking his next movie would be. The answer he received was a movie about Domenicos Theotokopoulos, a difficult project, providing the budget was available, since the movie’s topic required an expensive production by the Greek cinema standards. “If you really want it, it will happen and I will write the music”, Vangelis replied, anticipating, in a way, the future with his participation in the movie. Was it, thus, possible for the project to come to nothing?
It may have taken several years until it happened, but finally the time came for the production to start. Filming took place in stages, starting from Crete, namely the first part of the movie. After seeing the scenes shot in Crete, Vangelis provided valuable advice, which led to repeating some of the interior filming that took place there. The new material played a decisive role in finding later the Spanish co-producer, who helped complete the movie. After the whole filming was completed, Vangelis saw the entire material and suggested changes in the montage, so that his music is able to work better and that its accuracy is enhanced, changes which were accepted. In the framework of these changes, Vangelis suggested new ideas as well, like the scene that we see in the opening credits, where El Greco is writing the memories of his life before he appears in front of the Inquisition. In order for the viewer to be able to follow better the story, the composer suggested that El Greco himself takes the role of narrator. The words of the narrative of El Greco throughout the movie, were written for the most part by Vangelis himself, in cooperation with the director Yannis Smaragdis. As to whether Vangelis received any instructions for the music of the movie, the director is clear: none at all! The director’s philosophy is that in each of his partners, he chooses a trusted person who is competent in what he does, every instruction is, thus, unnecessary. When you trust the one you choose, you make him feel more intensively the sense of the responsibility he takes, so that he delivers his best. You seek to get this special thing that each of the contributors to the movie will give with their personal signature.
The soundtrack of Vangelis, as one would expect, is electronic, with the only exceptions of the choir of the Greek Official Public Radio Broadcaster and the following three tracks: “Part 5” (#5), “Part 8” (#8) and “Part 11” (#11). In the first part of the movie, which includes the location of Crete, we have the appearance of local music, for which Crete is famous. The first shots of Crete are accompanied by a song written and performed by Loudovicos Ton Anogion, in “Part 11” (#11). Later, the outcome of the battle between the Venetian conquerors and the locals who are resisting, will be in favor of the latter ones but with heavy losses. The view of those killed in the battlefield will give rise to a lament, a traditional Cretan song praising the heroes who fell in glory for their homeland, which is found in “Part 5” (#5). Subsequently, a dance is taking place, a celebration of the Cretan soul and its bravery, which is found in “Part 8” (#8) and was written and performed with his lyre by one of the most renowned performers of the Cretan lyre, Psarantonis. The place of Crete is totally identified with dance, which is an integral part of its culture. Indicative is the fact that over the centuries 25 different dances were formed, whereas the study of the ancient texts reveals that the dance was born in ancient Crete and from there it spread to the rest of Greece. The travels of the brother of El Greco will bring him to Venice, where he will meet him with a smile. But this will soon fade when he has to tell his brother the sad news from home, regarding the death of their father, in a trap set by the Venetians. The two brothers are hugging and the lament that was heard previously in the movie returns to mourn the spirit of the dead father (Part 5).
The narrative of El Greco (Nick Ashdon) starts from Crete in 1566 A.D., under the beautiful sound made by the slip of a finger on the strings of a harp (glissando). The magical sound of the harp is the most ideal musical beginning to tell a story full of the art of painting and the man who used to paint by giving a divinity to the faces. Both the art practiced by El Greco and the way in which he paints faces, will later appear to have an amazing connection with the harp. But before this, the harp will undertake another musical mission, to give substance to a romance.
The daughter of the Venetian governor of Crete, Francesca, attends the auction of a painting of El Greco. His eyes and her eyes meet and the harp monopolizes the attention of the viewer on the music, by expressing the attraction their eyes are talking about. Later, she visits uninvited the studio of El Greco to give him an invitation for a dance at her father’s castle. The music in the scenes the two of them share has sweetness and tenderness, and it denotes the feeling developing between them. The harp is the musical instrument that undertakes to narrate this feeling in terms of music, as we hear in the track “Part 7” (#7). But its presence in the music does not stop here, since the characteristic sound of the glissando in the harp returns when the physical space of action changes. Francesca and El Greco are in Venice and its exquisite shots are decorated with the wonderful sounds of the harp. In the next scenes where they will be together again, the harp will not stop coloring their dialogues.
However, its presence in the music will not be limited only to the scenes the two of them share. The scenes in the famous painting studio of Titian have a musical background with the harp dominating. Of course, in these scenes there is not Francesca, but El Greco, his paintings and brushes, in a studio where Titian’s students paint and he supervises their creations. It is a temple of painting and possesses the holiness that every temple of art has. The harp, here, highlights the parameter of the art that El Greco serves and at the same time becomes a harbinger of the sacred element that is born through every brushstroke of El Greco, who will there form his personal style as a painter. When he says, obviously disappointed to his teacher, Titian, that he cannot paint like him, then he gets the unexpected answer “Better! Be El Greco!” Namely, be yourself. And this is what El Greco finally achieved, but he achieved it because he listened to the prompting of his then-future partner, Francesca, when the two of them met in Crete. It was her who presented to him a world that he did not know and she proposed him to come with her to Venice, where he could nurture his talent in painting in Titian’s studio. Therefore, the symbolism of the harp in the movie’s music is not only the highlighting of a romance but ultimately the highlighting of the artistic status of El Greco! A decisive role in nurturing this status was played by Francesca, whose portrait will be painted by El Greco. Her physical beauty is unquestionable, but he will give her an unusual holiness, it will be like painting a Saint! He will not reveal to anyone to whom her portrait belongs and when much later in the movie the later life partner of El Greco asks him who is this woman depicted in his painting, the presence of the harp will return in the music after a long absence. In “Part 14” (#14) we hear the music of the above scene.
The harp in its electronic sound performance is the musical instrument that Vangelis chooses in order to highlight at first the romance of El Greco and Francesca, subsequently the talent of El Greco in painting, and finally when this matures, the holiness he gives to his portraits. If you consider the history, the sound and the symbolism of the harp, then you will discover that the use of its electronic sound was a brilliant decision of the composer. The harp has its own special way to be splendidly combined with the distant past in general and with the time period covered by the movie’s story in particular. The history of the harp is lost in the depths of antiquity. Along with the first percussion instruments invented by man. And its pure sound has been a tool for narrating love, maintaining its value unchanged in time. The timelessness of the harp in the musical expression of people goes hand in hand with the timelessness of the creations of El Greco. From the moment of their creation, his paintings will never cease to be a benchmark for the art they represent and will forever enchant the eyes facing them. Additionally, the gentle sound of the harp possesses a special artistic quality, easily identifying with whatever has to do with art, which in this case is painting. The sacred depiction of the faces in the portraits of El Greco is totally in line with the sound of the harp, since the Christian religion has given a sacred identity to the harp, through illustrations of heaven, which often consists of angels playing the harp. Therefore, the audio imprint of the harp is the sound of Heaven, a sacred dimension beaming the light El Greco is talking about in his narrative. The light he has inside him, which he illustrates in his paintings. The harp that follows the course of the painting development of El Greco until he finds himself, expresses the divine presence standing beside him and guiding him.
The music of the movie’s opening credits lies in the track “Part 2” (#2). The electronic sound of a percussion instrument marks the start of the opening credits, to which, soon afterwards, the sound of the harp is added and finally a choir appears, divided in two groups, the male and the female voices, which sometimes sing together and sometimes separately. In the opening credits we see El Greco the night prior to his appearance before the Inquisition, writing about the most important facts of his life until then. His fear for his life is given. In something less than two minutes of music, the opening credits define the spirit of the music that follows and the atmosphere of the movie. This is the reason why their existence in the cinematic narrative is so important, they act as the basis on which the music that will next come will be built, by creating a musical mechanism that has immediately started to operate, enhancing the feeling of the viewer, while this mechanism is to culminate in the course of the story. The music of the opening credits will act as the canvas, on which the following tracks will add the colors. The electronic percussion alludes to the homeland of El Greco, Crete, and its traditional percussion instruments. The constant repeat of its performance throughout the track symbolizes his uncompromising spirit and his determination to stand for what he believes in at all costs, before anyone, even before the Inquisition! The harp, as has been said earlier, symbolizes his artistic status and the Providence blessing him in his painting. Two musical instruments, in their electronic version, percussion and harp, compose the entire personality of El Greco, whereas their coexistence in the track “Part 2” (#2) is wonderful through the contrast created by the individual sounds of the instruments, one of them being abrupt and implacable (percussion), the other being gentle and condescending (harp). The voices of the choir in the opening credits symbolize a third parameter of the story that the movie will next narrate, the one of the catholic church and its darkest version, the Inquisition. When the choir performs words like “Kyrie” and “Agnus Dei”, both being an appeal to God and Jesus Christ, then it becomes perfectly clear that the theological element will be an important aspect in the unfolding of the story.
In Titian’s studio in Venice, El Greco meets the visitor from Spain, priest Guevara (Juan Diego Botto), who shows his interest in the ascending painter. In one of their conversations, the priest will describe Spain to El Greco as a country full of light, something that will trigger the curiosity of El Greco so much that he will want to visit Spain. It is from this scene that the track “Part 3” (#3) will start, including the music from next scenes as well, of different atmosphere though, and it is generally of interest for the music’s development and for how aptly it is adjusted to the movie’s events by highlighting the emotion. There follows the separation of El Greco from Francesca, the transition to Spain and the first contact with the actions of the Inquisition. The music in the dialogue between El Greco and Guevara captures the curiosity of the painter for a beautiful foreign place at 0:33 until 1:21, whereas later the music takes a sad turn in the separation of Francesca and El Greco at 1:22 until 2:15. The first shots in Spain record the internal of a cathedral, and that’s when the organ comes to enhance the religious atmosphere at 2:20 until 2:45. The arrest of a woman by the Inquisition leads the music to darker paths, where the male voices of the choir highlight the unholy mission of the catholic church, to shut the mouths of those saying something different from what the church says, from 3:05 until the end of “Part 3” (#3). We hear more music dedicated to the Inquisition in “Part 6” (#6), where convicted people are led to the stake. The screen is flooded by flames, behind of which the faces of the people suffering appear. The male voices of the choir denote that what the viewer sees is the atrocious work of the church, while the sounds of metallic percussion that are heard give a heavy sense of fait accompli in what the viewer of the movie sees.
The first visit of the future partner of El Greco, Jerónima (Laia Marull), at his studio has the music of “Part 4” (#4). The piano dominates in the musical theme that connects the souls of these two people, who are expected to become partners for the rest of their lives. The beautiful music defining their love possesses the maturity of a solid and conscious feeling, contrary to the corresponding music for the relation of El Greco with Francesca, which had a youthful spontaneity. In his narrative, El Greco describes Jerónima as a cool breeze fulfilling his soul, so, at the closing of “Part 4” (#4) do not wonder why there is the sound of wind, a wonderful addition coloring the music. The same music will be later repeated, when El Greco is found under the balcony of Jerónima, asking her to come with him, something that will not happen at that moment. But it won’t be long, ultimately, it is inevitable.
El Greco and his loyal friend from Crete, Nicolos, are discussing and realizing how happy El Greco has been since he met Jerónima. With her father not giving his consent to the romance, Nicolos senses that it will not be long before he will have to defend the happy couple and to act as a shield against the rage of Jerónima’s father. In the scene of their conversation, in “Part 16” (#16), the music does not allude to something positive nor at the joy of El Greco, who is looking forward to seeing Jerónima. The music’s atmosphere is heavy and the appearance of the sound of the Cretan lyre, initially, and of a violin next, gives additional emotion. Does the almost mournful mood of the music want to presage something? The sound of the wind appears once again at the closing of the track and reminds us of the physical presence of Jerónima, who shortly afterwards will come to stay with El Greco, abandoning her father.
When El Greco receives the visit of the former priest, now Inquisitor, Guevara, the latter will challenge him to paint his portrait. El Greco will do so with a heavy heart. The presence of Guevara in his studio will make the atmosphere unbearable, it is like he is absorbing the air of the space and El Greco feels like being unable to breathe. The music of the scene in “Part 9” (#9) is about a repeated motif from synthetic strings that depicts the penetrative negative energy emitted by the Inquisitor, which penetrates El Greco.
El Greco is now standing before the Inquisition, which lists to him a series of accusations concerning his painting and life and accuses him of blasphemy against the church. The court hearing lasts many hours, until the first morning light comes. El Greco exits the room as a victor, the crowd flocks to him and glorifies him. It is the movie’s finale and the music talks about the triumph of light over darkness, with El Greco as a vehicle. How does music do that? With the voices of the choir. The voices in the music are usually used to define something spiritual, something superior, a spiritual situation that moves beyond and above what the eyes see and generally what the human senses realize. In the track “Part 1” (#1), the voices of the choir are the souls of the people who lost their life at the stake by the Inquisition. People who were martyred and finally became angels, who honor El Greco for his unwavering faith, the light of which managed to win the darkness of the Inquisition. The choral hymn about the triumph of El Greco will be repeated in the movie’s closing credits, in the track “Part 18” (#18), with the addition of the piano in the forefront and the performance of the choir operating in the background.
Vangelis translated the soul of El Greco into music, in an exquisite and memorable manner, composing a musical theme of a particular spiritual power! He wrote a choral hymn about the light that El Greco had inside him and that motivated him. A hymn to the divine element of his soul, which he depicted in his paintings. Both the choral hymn and the entire soundtrack of the movie “El Greco”, are ambassadors of the music that has a loud voice, has depth and content. The collaboration of Vangelis and the director Yannis Smaragdis left an indelible touch on the music of Greek cinema. Let us hope that this rare chemistry will be repeated, because you can never have enough of its beauty and magic! Some write music for movies that exists as a neutral presence, without substance. Some write music that tries to say something but lacks soul. The soundtrack of “El Greco” does not belong in either of these categories. With plenty of substance and an abundance of soul, it is a remarkable musical moment in the filmography of Vangelis, of which many are not aware, since the movie was not internationally distributed to cinemas. A musical treasure, unknown to many, that the time has come for you to discover!
The soundtrack of the movie “El Greco” should not be confused with the album that Vangelis wrote in honor of the painter Domenicos Theotokopoulos, with the same title, and was released in 1998.
01. Part 1 (3:59)
02. Part 2 (1:56)
03. Part 3 (4:20)
04. Part 4 (2:26)
05. Part 5 (3:06) –
Traditional Folk Song of Chania, Crete
06. Part 6 (2:05)
07. Part 7 (1:30)
08. Part 8 (1:56) –
Composed and Performed by Psarantonis
09. Part 9 (1:00)
10. Part 10 (1:51)
11. Part 11 (2:50) –
Composed and Performed by Loudovicos ton Anogion
12. Part 12 (4:56)
13. Part 13 (2:36)
14. Part 14 (1:06)
15. Part 15 (2:40)
16. Part 16 (2:46)
17. Part 17 (2:28)
18. Part 18 (3:16)
Total Time: 46:40
The tracks that stand out are noted with bold letters
Score Rating: * * * *