Obituary: Manos Hadjidakis

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The Independent Online
Manos Hadjidakis, composer: born Xanthi, Greece October 1925; died Athens 15 June 1994.

Manos Hadjidakis was prominent amongst a small group of talented Greek musicians and composers (others including Mikis Theodorakis and Vangelis) who wrote for the cinema.

Hadjidakis is best remembered for his Oscar-winning song and score to the 1960 Jules Dassin film Never on a Sunday. Starring Melina Mercouri, Jules Dassin (Mercouri's husband) and Georges Foundas, this was a light-hearted idyll about a visiting intellectual's attempt to inject culture into an earthy Greek prostitute (played by Mercouri). As with many of Hadjidakis' other compositions, the themes in the film drew substantially on popular Greek culture - urban folk music and, in particular, the influence of bouzouki. Mercouri's raw, passionate delivery, to the accompaniment of the lively, jangling bouzouki, was a memorable moment in a quirky comedy. The song was so popular that in Athens many of the taxi- drivers bought car horns that replayed the main hook of the song. Hadjidakis once commented, in the light of the Oscar that the song won: 'I have fought for years to get this honour off my back. I never succeeded but the fight helped to keep me young.'

Born in the northern Greek town of Xanthi in 1925, Manos Hadjidakis was a self-taught musician who worked prolifically in various different musical forms before composing for the cinema. Before the age of 30 he had earned many substantial notices and credits for string compositions in legitimate theatre, several concertos and a ballet. He earned much acclaim for a musical setting of a collection of poems by Nikos Gatsos, Blood Wedding, performed in 1948.

His early compositions for the cinema included Bed of Grass and Stella, both in the same year (1957). Never on a Sunday was his first break and other film commissions followed. These included such Sixties Greek classics as Paper Moon and The Moon is Red, as well as It Happened in Athens (1962), The 300 Spartans (1962) and, directed by Maximilian Schell, The Pedestrian (1974) - a story about a successful industrialist who is revealed to have been a Nazi officer, involved in the slaughter of an entire Greek village.

A particularly popular and successful score was his composition for Jules Dassin's attempt to better his own masterpiece Rififi - Topkapi (1964), featuring Peter Ustinov and Robert Morley. This was a glossy international heist movie based on Eric Ambler's novel The Light of Day about a hit on an Istanbul museum.

Hadjidakis' most interesting composition for the cinema was composed for a little-known and unsuccessful film directed by Silvio Narizzano in 1968, Blue. Starring Karl Malden and featuring Terence Stamp, the film tells of a Mexican-American who is distrustful of all around him until a bullet-wound forces him to be cared for by a woman. Possibly seeking to capitalise on the current chart hit of the soundtrack to The Good, the Bad and the Ugly (composed by Ennio Morricone), a soundtrack album was released in both the United States and Britain, but it failed to sell as successfully. The score features a classical guitar, with arrangements which draw on the traditional American western soundtrack, but with an unusual use of strings - in particular the cello. It is one of his major accomplishments but sadly unremembered.

Known for his association with the multilingual ballad singer Nana Mouskouri, Hadjidakis first met the star with 'the voice of longing' in the late Fifties, when she was featured on Greek radio. He wrote hundreds of tunes for many of Greece's popular singers, including Mouskouri's million- selling 1962 hit 'The White Rose of Athens', composed for the film Dreamland of Desire. The song drew from folk roots, being based on a popular tune 'The Water and the Wine'.

Hadjidakis was an outspoken commentator on his society and in later years was particularly active as an organiser of festivals, radio programmes and numerous cultural magazines. A passionate declaimer of the rise of racism in Europe, towards the end of his life he regularly held concerts at which he proclaimed his views. Greece has lost one of its best-loved composers of popular music.

Laurence Staig