Mikis Theodorakis (Greek: Μίκης Θεοδωράκης) is perhaps the most important Greek music composer of the 20th century, and one of the most significant in the world. Politically, until the late 70’s he identified with the left; in 1990 he became a member of parliament with the centre-right New Democracy party, a move which since, he has said to regret. He has consistently opposed oppressive regimes.
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 has received several offers to serve as President of Greece, but has refused them. He is known internationally for his scores in the Hollywood films, Zorba the Greek(1964) and Serpico (1973).
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 fascist 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 Conservatoire 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, 1954–1959, 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.