Moacir Santos’s Film Scores: Research in Progress

Lucas Zangirolami Bonetti is a PhD candidate at the State University of Campinas (UNICAMP) in São Paulo, Brazil. He is currently a Visiting Graduate Researcher in the Department of Spanish & Portuguese at the University of California, Los Angeles where he is conducting field research on the work of Brazilian composer Moacir Santos. His website is Bonetti has presented at conferences throughout Brazil, Argentina and in the United States and has performed as a guitarist in the Orquestra Jovem Tom Jobim  the Big Band da Santa, the Lucas Bonetti Octet, and the Lucas Bonetti Quartet. His research is supported by the São Paulo Research Foundation (FAPESP): grant #2012/11195-4, grant #2013/23992-9, and grant #2015/03111-3.

In 2001 two extremely prolific Brazilian musicians, Mario Adnet and Zé Nogueira, initiated the rediscovery of the work of one of Brazil’s most important maestros: Moacir Santos (1926-2006). Due to their efforts, musicians and the general public gained access to an incredible body of material. Since then, a number of performers have started including Santos’s music in their repertoire and academic researchers have begun to focus their resources on investigating this breathtaking music. Some of the most important contributions during these years have come from Andrea Ernest Dias, who released the book Moacir Santos or the Paths of a Brazilian Musician and organized two editions of the Moacir Santos Festival (2013 and 2014), held in several cities across Brazil.

I began my research on Santos’s film music in 2012 at UNICAMP (State University of Campinas - Brazil), investigating his work for the Brazilian market in the early 1960s. This was published in 2014 as my master’s dissertation. In the same year, I started my doctoral studies at the same university, extending my research to include Santos’s film work from his time in the United States. This ongoing research is due to finish within in the next couple of years. Professor Ney Carrasco, who runs the Research Group on Music Applied to the Dramaturgical and Audiovisual, is supervising the project.

My research has received support from the São Paulo Research Foundation (FAPESP) as well as a 2014 grant from RUMOS Itaú Cultural to develop an interactive website showcasing the materials I have found and produced so far. I am fortunate to be one of 104 selected projects out of 15,120 candidates. In 2014, the application process was vastly de-bureaucratized, impelling many artists to apply for the prize. The Itaú Cultural Foundation was extremely flexible and committed to the work during the first year of the site, offering fresh ideas and suggestions that aided the project’s growth and development.

Website logo

Over the last four years, I have been able to transcribe the cues from some of the films on which Santos worked. All of my musical transcriptions as well as the corresponding video excerpts, extracted from the movies, are available on the website. During the transcription process, Dias, the most important scholar on Moacir Santos’s music, gave me access to an old personal notebook that she had found during her field research in California. Among all the sketches and compositional ideas, I found crucial material, including melodic profiles of his film cues, some orchestration directions, and a bullet point list of his ideas for the music for Os Fuzis.

Example of Santos’s sketches for his Brazilian film music productions.

After almost eight months of intense and lonely transcribing activities, I was able to hire several specialized musical editors with the support of Itaú Cultural. These editors are some of the best active Brazilian musicians, including Nailor Proveta and André Mehmari. After six more months of careful revision, I was able to publish the scores in their final version.

Excerpt from my musical transcriptions. For complete scores, click image above.

In September 2015, I conducted several events celebrating and advertising the website’s launch in Brazil. Talks were held at universities and music conservatories, such as the State University of Campinas (Campinas, SP), Santa Marcelina College (São Paulo, SP), Souza Lima College (São Paulo, SP), and the São Paulo State School of Music (São Paulo, SP), as well as at a screening of Ganga Zumba (dir., Carlos Diegues, 1964) at the Campinas Image and Sound Museum (Campinas, SP). The English language version of the site will receive its first launch on December 9, in Department of Spanish & Portuguese at UCLA. It is particularly special to have this event for the Los Angeles community, an area where Santos lived for almost 40 years.

Between 1963 and 1966 Santos scored six Brazilian films: Seara Vermelha (dir., Alberto d'Aversa, 1963), O Santo Módico (dir., Robert Mazoyer, 1964), Ganga Zumba (dir., Carlos Diegues, 1964), Os Fuzis (dir., Ruy Guerra, 1965), O Beijo (dir., Flávio Tambellini, 1965), and A Grande Cidade (dir., Carlos Diegues, 1966). For the most part his film scores were written in as the Brazilian cinema industry transitioned from a wealthier, studio-driven period in the 1940s and 1950s (led by companies like Atlântida and Vera Cruz, who mimicked Hollywood productions of the time) to a more modest, auteur-driven period in the 1960s. This movement became known as Cinema Novo, when the directors, producers, actors and crew members worked for little to no money. In the early years of the 1960s, big budget productions became rarer over time, and film music reflected this path. In his first scores from 1963, Santos was artistically attuned with the Cinema Novo concepts, but was paid and had funds to pay for an orchestral recording. The films Santos scored between 1964 and 1965 had dramatically reduced instrumentations due to budget issues, but he was still paid to compose original music. For his last Brazilian production, in 1966, he performed the role of Musical Director, merely selecting the most appropriate pre-recorded songs and concert pieces. At that time copyrights payments were not as strict as they are today, and using pre-recorded material meant saving a great amount of money.

Santos ended up working for cinema after many years in Brazilian radio, following the path of several older musicians, including Radamés Gnattali (1906-1988), Guerra-Peixe (1914-1993), and Leo Peracchi (1911-1993). People who worked in radio during its “golden age” were the most qualified for film scoring responsibilities. Those composers worked mostly in the late 1930s, 1940s and early 1950s, with Santos following approximately a decade after (between the 1950s and early 1960s). Santos’s path was not easy. He was the first Afro-Brazilian musician to become a maestro at Rádio Nacional, after a series of Euro-Brazilian maestros. His music has strong ties with Afro-Brazilian culture, and his first album released in Brazil, Coisas, is considered a landmark example of Afro-Brazilian music. Despite the reputation of this important album, Santos’s music and life remain little known both in Brazil and in the United States. By making this website an open resource in both English and Portuguese, I hope to contribute to the spread of knowledge of this important musician outside of the small circle that currently celebrates him.

For more on Santos's work and all of my transcriptions, see

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