Mikis Theodorakis was born in Chios, Greece and wrote his first compositions at the age of 13. During the occupation of Greece by the German, Italian and Bulgarian troops, he fought in the Resistance and from 1945 to 1949 he took part in the civil war which took place following the seizure of power in Greece by the counter-revolutionary forces. Theodorakis was arrested many times by the police, and was deported to Macronissos where he underwent serious torture and persecution.
In 1950 he managed to obtain a diploma in the Conservatory (harmony, counterpoint and fugue) and composed Assi Gonia. In 1953 he married Myrto Altinoglou and together they obtained a scholarship for Paris. In the French capital he enrolled at the Conservatory and in 1957 his Suite No. 1 for piano and orchestra received a gold medal at the Moscow Festival. His music accompanied three famous ballets: Antigone (choreography by John Cranko), Les amants de Téruel and Le Feu aux poudres (ballets by Ludmilla Tchérina) presented in Paris and London.
Introducing himself slowly into the world of the international young composers, Theodorakis started to discover Greek popular music: the opera Epitaphios was in fact composed during this time, and this piece of work contributed to a true rebirth of music in his country. He never ceased to become involved in politics: he decided to become head of the democratic organization "Lambrakis", and he was elected for Parliament and with the "Lambrakidès" he founded more than two hundred cultural centres in country.
He wrote numerous compositions often using the most beautiful texts from the Greek literature of the 1800s and 1900s. He wrote the music for Zorba the Greek by Michalis Cacoyannis and for the oratorio Axion Esti, taken from the Open Papers by Odysseas Elytis, winner of the Nobel Prize in 1979.
The coup d'état of colonel Papadopoulos and his accomplices forced Theodorakis to become a clandestine. In 1967 he was arrested and confined with his family in Zatouna, a little village in the mountains. He was deported to a concentration camp, but was finally released following many solidarity campaigns carried out by famous artists like Harry Belafonte, Arthur Miller and Leonard Bernstein. In this period he composed the music for the film by Costa Gavras, Z. In 1970 he arrived in Paris and met Neruda. He went on tour to many European and non-European countries and became a symbol of resistance against dictatorship. In his years of exile he composed the music for Neruda's Canto General and for the film Serpico by Sidney Lumet and The Trojan Women by Cacoyannis.
On July 24th, 1974 he finally returned to Greece but this time it was the left wing party that accused him of taking sides with Karamanlis, who was centre liberal: many friends turned their backs on him. In 1980 he took refuge in Paris and finished the Canto General that, like Zorba the Greek and Axion Esti, expanded the composer's fame.
After a brief political break (he became a delegate in Parliament from 1981 to 1986), he dedicated himself exclusively to musical composition. In 1987 he composed Kostas Karyotakis and in 1988 his ballet Zorba was very successful first at the Arena di Verona and subsequently in Varsavia and in Lodz. After the 1990 elections Theodorakis joined the government on the side of Constantine Mitsotakis as Minister of the State without portfolio: he combated most of all against drugs and in favour of teaching and culture. He left the government in 1992.
In 1991 he created Medea in Bilbao, in 1992 he wrote the Olympic tune for the Olympic Games in Barcelona and in 1995 he presented Elettra in Luxembourg, nominated the European city of culture. The same year he finished the composition by Antigone, his fourth musical piece and also completed his first Concert for cello and orchestra.