Claudio Santoro

El Lissitzky, Part of the Mechanical Setting, 1920–21, published 1923


The trajectory of the classical music composer based on his songs

Claiming that Claudio Santoro is one of the greatest Brazilian composers is not surprising. However, despite the importance of his output and the international prestige he enjoyed during his lifetime, today, few of his works are in circulation. This scenario seems to be changing due to its centenary, celebrated in 2019, and also due to major projects, such as the one involving the recording of all 14 of its symphonies.[I].

I was able to participate in one of these projects, a double CD dedicated to Santoro's piano songs. The album was released in 2020 by Selo Sesc, featuring baritone Paulo Szot and pianist Nahim Marun. The composer left an expressive production in the genre, which adds up to about 60 titles, distributed throughout his entire productive period. From the songs, it is possible to follow the different creative phases that Santoro went through.

With the exception of the two cycles made in partnership with Vinícius de Moraes, however, – the two volumes of the Love songs and three popular songs – the other songs had never been recorded. The disc in question brings, in addition to the 13 songs in partnership with the poet, another 18 in the world's first recording[ii].

After a learning period strongly influenced by France – and from which some compositions survived, which Santoro chose not to include in his catalog of works – the beginning of the 1940s is marked by experiments with atonalism and twelve-tone music, reinforced by contact with with Koellreutter, with whom Santoro studies the compositional methods of Hindemith and Schoenberg, as well as aesthetics and counterpoint. He also took part in the creation of Grupo Música Viva, a movement led by Koellreutter with the intention of promoting avant-garde music.

The first songs in his catalog date from that time and are therefore part of the twelve-tone phase. They were made in partnership with Oneyda Alvarenga (1911-1984), a Brazilian journalist, essayist and folklorist. She was a student of Mário de Andrade at the Dramatic and Musical Conservatory of São Paulo, where she graduated. At his invitation, she became director of the Public Discotheque of São Paulo in 1935. Oneyda, responsible for organizing and publishing Mário's works after his death, was also a poet and in 1938 published “The silly girl”. From this book are the five poems set to music by Santoro, one of which was recorded on the disc. The exhausted girl II was composed in 1945 and, like some songs in the cycle, was revised in the 1970s[iii].

According to the musician Alessandro Santoro4, son of the composer and today responsible for the maintenance and edition of his works, from time to time Claudio Santoro redid and updated his catalogue, often with the help of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

On one of these occasions, he found some of the songs from the cycle the silly girl incomplete and, encouraged by his wife, Gisèle Santoro, ended up completing them. It is curious that, when he returned to finish these pieces so long after, he remained faithful to the aesthetics of the time they were created.

At the end of the 1940s, Claudio Santoro abandoned twelve-tone music in favor of a traditional language, seeking direct communication with the public. The aesthetic change stemmed from his political vision, linked to communist ideals – after participating in the II International Congress of Progressive Composers in Prague, in 1948, Santoro embraced the principles of socialist realism once and for all.

One of the implications of this involvement was not being able to enjoy a scholarship granted by the Guggenheim Foundation – his visa was denied by the US government. However, Santoro ends up being awarded a scholarship by the French government, on the recommendation of conductor Charles Münch. He goes to Paris on September 8, 1947, where he studies composition with Nadia Boulanger and conducting with Eugène Bigot.

It was in the same year that he composed I don't say goodbye, the first song of the so-called nationalist phase and a partnership with another notorious communist, writer Jorge Amado (1912-2001). Songs made with journalist Ary de Andrade (1950-1913) are also from that same phase, but already in the 2002s – Song of the Impossible Escape, irremediable song e you took the dawn – and with the writer and politician Celso Brant (1920-2004) – My destiny e to a woman.

All these authors shared similar ideas. According to Alessandro Santoro, his father met with artists from different areas linked to socialist ideals and the PCB. “The nationalist pieces from that period are almost conjuncture music”, he says. If during the Grupo Música Viva Claudio Santoro period he wrote few songs, now this was proving to be an ideal genre. The medium was in line with the message, making it be transmitted directly, with music allied to the text. As José Maria Neves notes, “for consistency, Santoro simplifies his language, with a view to making it more immediately intelligible and effective” (NEVES, 2008, p.152).

The theme of songs from the nationalist phase is basically divided into two: love (almost always unsuccessful, involving pain and loneliness) and, to a lesser extent, political struggle. “You carried the dawn, the bread, the rose and the fight / You were a simple comrade, like the wind on the high seas / You knew that the red star was not long in coming: there it is / The light that won the storm will guide our people”, say the opening verses of you took the dawn.

“Pour Lia”

At the end of the 1950s, Claudio Santoro would write what would become his most famous songs. Since the beginning of the same decade, he returned with some regularity to Europe, especially to the socialist countries, to conduct his works and participate in events. The composer has always paid a price for that connection. In 1953, for example, he was fired from the musical direction of Rádio Clube do Brasil, in Rio de Janeiro, after participating in the “Congresso da Paz”, in Moscow, and ended up moving to São Paulo in search of work. He would return to Rio de Janeiro a few years later, to assume the position of musical director at Rádio Ministério da Educação.

In 1957, Santoro was again in Moscow to participate in the II Congress of Composers. He also had commitments conducting his works and arranging the edition of the Symphonies No 4 and No 5. In May of that year he wrote, in what was then Leningrad (Saint Petersburg), the first two preludes for solo piano of the Second series/First notebook. Originally, the works had the subtitle of Your eyes (Your eyes) No 1 e No 2. O Prelude No.o 3 from the same series, written in Moscow in March 1958, was named after Tes yeux No 5 and even “Adieux” (goodbye) in the manuscript[iv].

The three were dedicated to Lia – the autographed score simply stated “pour Lia”. But who would be such a dedicatee? Lia (whose last name remains unknown) was Santoro's interpreter during his time in Russia. It was up to her to always be at the composer's side as a translator. From the interaction between the two, a passion was born, which, when discovered, made the Soviet authorities invite Santoro to leave the country. (Not much is known about Lia to this day, but everything indicates that she was the wife of an employee of the KGB, the Soviet secret police. Not only because of the authorities' reaction at the time, but also because Santoro was never invited to visit the Soviet Union again.[v]).

Claudio Santoro leaves the USSR for Paris, where he hopes in vain that Lia will manage to escape to join him. They exchange passionate letters, but the plan does not work out. While he anxiously awaits Lia's possible arrival, Santoro wrote the touching Love songs in partnership with the poet and diplomat Vinícius de Moraes (1913-1980), who was also in town. In addition to the ten songs, divided into two volumes, the duo would also compose the three popular songs, also dealing with love (later the composer himself would state that the division into two cycles was purely for commercial purposes).

The combination of Santoro's love anguish and the ever intense Vinícius (who at that moment was experiencing another of his passions) resulted in some of the most beautiful songs in the Brazilian chamber repertoire. Some of these songs are not only inspired by Second Series / First Notebook preludes, but are versions of the original piano pieces. This is the case, for example, of listen to the silence, version of Prelude No.o 1 e Somewhere, version of Prelude No.o 2.

All Love songs of the first volume are dedicated to Lia. Of the second, they are also “pour Lia” Lost soul (Lost soul / your plainsong / so far away, so alone / reached me) and The most painful of stories (Silence, be silent / I want to tell you my sadness, / My longing and the pain, the pain that is in my corner).

Integrating the second volume of songs, night garden uses music from a previous song by Santoro, La nuit n'est Nunca complète. It had been composed shortly before, in 1957, in Sofia, Bulgaria, on verses by the Frenchman Paul Éluard (1895-1952), author of poems against Nazism that circulated clandestinely during World War II. The original text of the song was as follows:

La nuit n'est Nunca complète.

Il ya toujours puisque je le dis,

Puisque je l'affirme, Au bout du chagrin, une fenêtre ouverte, une fenêtre éclairée.

Il ya toujours un rêve qui veille, désir à combler, faim à satisfaire, un cœur généreux,

une main tendue, une main ouverte, des yeux attentifs, une vie : la vie à se partager7.

A possible approximation, which has already been pointed out several times, can be made between these sets of songs with Bossa Nova. The most evident musical link between Santoro's songs and the movement that started in 1958 (with the simple single by João Gilberto containing the songs Chega de saudade e good good) in Rio de Janeiro is Vinícius de Moraes, but not only.

Musically, the harmony of these songs is close to the innovations of Bossa Nova, although they were composed a few years earlier.[vi]. In addition, Santoro guided his friend, the pianist Heitor Alimonda, in the sense that the preludes of the Second Series were “simple” pieces, which “should be played very comfortably, giving all the soul. Nothing square […] They must be well cantabiles […] They are small improvisations that came spontaneously from the heart” (SANTORO, 2018, p.17). In turn, the scarce indication of dynamics in most of the songs from these two cycles corroborates this characteristic, bringing them closer to the freedom of execution characteristic of popular music.

With regard to the text, however, it is interesting to note that in the lyrics of the Love songs Vinícius de Moraes uses ideas that would be explored later in some of the most famous Bossa Nova songs. In Much worse than death (first volume of the cycle) the lyrical self states: “Oh, come with me / There where there is great peace / Love in peace”. The idea of ​​"love in peace" would be the title of a famous song, The love in peace, a partnership with Antonio Carlos Jobim, from 1960, in which he develops the theme: “It was then / That from my infinite sadness / You happened / I found in you / The reason to live / And to love in peace”.

Also the text of night garden (second volume of Love songs) is similar, especially at the beginning, to a later popular song: Spring, from The Night Is Never Complete. / It always exists as long as I say it, / As long as I say it, / At the end of sadness, / an open window / a lighted window. / There's always a dream before, / a desire to fill, / a hunger to satisfy, / a generous heart, / an outstretched hand, / an open hand, / watchful eyes, / a life: a life to share.

Carlos Lyra, with a text by the same Vinícius de Moraes and composed in 1962 as one of the songs in the musical “Pobre Menina Rica”: “My love alone / It's like a garden without flowers”, begins the lament of Spring. In night garden, we have: “If my distant love / I am like a night garden”.

Despite the meeting between Claudio Santoro and Vinícius de Moraes in Paris, Alessandro Santoro believes they only worked effectively together on a minority of these pieces, and in general the composer wrote from poems sent by Vinícius. In addition, if we believe in some indications (correspondence from Santoro and material from Editora Ricordi), there would be other songs written by the duo, or at least the intention to continue with the partnership.

Regarding the cycle three popular songs, another partnership with Vinícius, it is also worth mentioning a curious affinity between song of the absent and toada for you, by Lorenzo Fernandez, written in 1928 based on a text by Mário de Andrade. The similarity is in the opening rhythm and melodic design of the piano of both songs. At tune, the figure (sixteenth-half-quaver) is a stubborn that organizes the whole piece. At song of the absent, the figure (eighth-quarter-note-semibreve) that marks the introduction to the piano returns in a few moments. Would it be a conscious quotation, a kind of tribute from Santoro? It doesn't hurt to remember that Lorenzo Fernandez was his first harmony teacher in Rio de Janeiro.

During the prolific nationalist period, several other songs were composed, which did not integrate the CD project. Are they Poem (text by Nair Batista, 1950); Elegy (text by Lila Ripoi, 1951); Chanson de la liberté (text by Claudio Santoro, composed in Berlin to commemorate the Soviet Revolution, 1957); Chanson de la melancholie (text by Claudio Santoro, 1958); Lullaby (without identified author, 1958); the hobby horse (without identified author, 1958); fly and fly (text by Nicolas Guillén, 1958); The premiere of the sable dealer (text by Françoise Jonquière, 1958); chanson du marron (text by Françoise Jonquière, 1959); On the curb of the street[vii] (text by Jeannete H. Alimonda, 1960); It is you go to sea (text by Claudio Santoro, 1961).

Self-exile and return to the forefront

It was in 1960 that Claudio Santoro met dancer Gisèle, whom he would marry three years later and who would be his companion until the end of his life. The empathy, however, seems to have been immediate, since a song by both is from the same year: My love told me goodbye. Claudio Santoro would use this same music in the opera Alma, from 1985 – as a duet in the third act and instrumentally at the end of the fourth act. Once again, the piano preludes reflect moments in the composer's life – the last four pieces of the same Second Series / First Notebook (Nos 9 to 12) are “for Gisèle”.

Musically, My love told me goodbye it is still part of the tonal universe, in what can be considered the end of its nationalist phase, which would soon give way to experiments with random and electronic music. Chronologically, the next song recorded on the disc is I do not know 1966, partnership with the jurist and writer Ribeiro da Costa (18971967-XNUMX)[viii]. But, at that moment, the composer was clearly moving in another direction, leaving this aesthetic behind.

In 1960, at the invitation of the government of the Federal Republic of Germany, Santoro spent some time in East Berlin researching electroacoustic music. The following year, he returned to the city to participate in the Congress of German Composers. And, in 1966, after leaving the University of Brasília in solidarity with the dismissal of hundreds of teachers (Santoro had assumed the positions of full professor of composition and conducting and head of the Department of Music at the University of Brasília in 1962), he accepted the invitation from the Ford Foundation and the government of Germany to act as artist-in-residence of the Küenstler Program in Berlin. From then on, he deepened his research into random and electronic music, which continued into the 1970s – in 1970 he took on the position of full professor of conducting at the Higher State School of Music in Mannheim, Germany, where he dedicated himself to experiences with electroacoustic music.

Consistent with such experiments, Santoro writes the Brecht Cycle, composed of five songs with text by Bertold Brecht, two for voice and piano and three for voice accompanied by magnetic tape. This is a part of his production that still awaits recovery so that we can get to know it, as some of the vocal parts need to be located and the tapes restored.[ix].

With the weakening of the military dictatorship, which would end in a few years, Claudio Santoro decided to return to Brazil in 1978, to resume his work at the Department of Music at the University of Brasília. This return coincides with an abandonment of electroacoustic music and a new phase, considered his last creative period, which would be a kind of sublimation of all the previous ones.

Again, songs play a prominent role – between 1980 and 89, the year of his death, around 20 songs were composed for voice and piano, including the official anthem of the state of Amazonas. They belong to this phase, in addition to the anthem, naiads (text by Camões) and the nine songs of the cycle the soldier, written in 1988 based on the homonymous book by the Greek writer Alexis Zakythinos (1934-1992)12.

A partnership dates back to 1982 with the Santos poet Cassiano Nunes (1921-2007), who studied at the University of Heidelberg, where he also taught Brazilian literature, in addition to teaching at the University of Brasília. The cycle Four Songs in the Morning consists of four brief pieces dealing with love.

A Fantasy South America it's a song without text. It is, in fact, a set of works written in 1983 by Santoro for different solo instruments, commissioned by the South America Contest of Young Instrumentalists (later, he created orchestral parts). The singing version is accompanied by piano.

Poet, diplomat and historian, Alberto da Costa e Silva was Claudio Santoro's partner in the Triptych, from 1985. The three songs – vigil, Fragment for a requiem e Or lover – deal with love and death.

Musically, all these late period songs are dense, dark, and even heavy. We are no longer in the field of tonality – it is possible to speak of a post-tonalism, a mature and highly original aesthetic. The period is marked by a certain eclecticism, mixing previously developed musical languages.

Claudio Santoro's last composition was also a song. The poem Wanderers Nachtlied, by Goethe, is one of the best known by the German author and was also set to music by Schubert. As reported by Alessandro Santoro, his father was on vacation in Germany in early 1989. Upon returning to Brazil, he stopped in different cities to visit friends – a kind of unconscious farewell. In February, he wrote a song that speaks of a comforting stillness, and tells his interlocutor that "he too will rest soon." On March 27, 1989, on the podium of the Teatro Nacional de Brasília, where he was conducting the Orquestra Nacional de Brasília (which he created) in the first rehearsal of that year's season, Claudio Santoro suffered a massive heart attack.

*Camila Fresca, journalist, holds a PhD in arts/musicology from the School of Communications and Arts at the University of São Paulo (ECA-USP).

Originally published on magazinemusic.


Jardim Noturno – Songs and Works for Piano by Claudio Santoro.

Cast: Paulo Szot (lyrical singing) and Nahim Marun (piano)

Sesc Seal



KATER, Charles. Viva Music and HJ Koellreutter: movements towards modernity. São Paulo: Musa Editora/ Atravez, 2001.

NEVES, Jose Maria. Brazilian contemporary music. 2nd ed. Rio de Janeiro: Contra Capa, 2008.

PICCHI, Achilles. The nationalist intention in the chamber song: toada for you by Oscar Lorenzo Fernandez. Theoretical Music. Salvador: TeMA, 2017, p. 95-111.

SALGADO, Michele Botelho da Silva. Love Songs by Claudio Santoro: analysis and contextualization of the work. 105p. Ronaldo Miranda (advisor). Dissertation (Master in Music). School of Communications and Arts, University of São Paulo, São Paulo, 2010.

SANTORO, Alessandro. Interview granted to the author of the text in August 2019. São Paulo, audio

SANTORO, Claudio. preludes for piano: full edition. Alessandro Santoro (editor). Brasilia: Publisher University of Brasilia, 2018.

______ . website dedicated to the composer. Available at: Accessed in August 2019.


[I] The entirety of Claudio Santoro's symphonies will be recorded for the first time by the Goiás Philharmonic, as part of the Brasil em Concerto Project, by Itamaraty (Ministry of Foreign Affairs). The CDs will be released internationally by the Naxos label.

[ii] The disc is completed by 13 pieces for solo piano, including, in the world's first recording, Country Dance, Batucada (On the Two Spouts Hill), Imitating Chopin and the Study n.2.

[iii] There is only one other song composed by Claudio Santoro around this time: Marguerite, from 1947, with a text by the French poet Louis Aragon. This piece was missing and was located in July 2019, along with five other songs, in the collection of tenor and pianist from Maranhão Hermelindo Castelo Branco (1922-1996). The discovery was due to the digitization work of this collection, carried out by the Brazilian Piano Institute.  4 Alessandro Santoro granted an interview to the author of this text in August 2019, to discuss his father's songs.

[iv] For more details, check out the recently released book edited by Alessandro Santoro, with the complete preludes for piano by Claudio Santoro (cf. bibliography).

[v] The information appears in Michele Salgado's dissertation (p.27-28) and was confirmed in a statement by Alessandro Santoro.

[vi] A more in-depth analysis of the harmonic relationship between Love songs and Bossa Nova can be found in Michele Salgado's dissertation, Love Songs by Claudio Santoro: analysis and contextualization of the work (cf. bibliography).

[vii]On the curb of the street is another of the songs that was missing and was located in the collection of Hermelindo Castelo Branco, through the work of the Instituto Piano Brasileiro.

[viii] Magistrate Álvaro Moutinho Ribeiro da Costa was Minister of the Federal Supreme Court from 1946 onwards. In October 1965, while president of the STF, he wrote an article in which he stated that, in democratic regimes, the military did not have “the role of mentors of the nation ”. The declaration was the trigger for the military government to issue Institutional Act No. 2, which increased the number of STF ministers from 11 to 16.

[ix] Part of this recovery work began with the appearance of the vocal parts of four of the cycle's songs, also located in Hermelindo Castelo Branco's collection. 12 These pieces are not part of the CD that motivated this research.

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