Born: May 14, 1924; Lisbon, Portugal
Died: July 18, 1988; Lisbon, Portugal
Joly Braga Santos was one of the most significant and prolific Portuguese composers of the twentieth-century. Santos began his studies at the Lisbon Conservatory in 1934, starting out primarily as a violinist; in time he would devote increasing attention to composition. Santos left the Lisbon Conservatory in 1943 just shy of earning his certificate, and instead entered into two years of private study with the most prominent Portuguese composer ofRead more the day, Luís de Freitas Branco. Branco imparted to Santos a great deal of his personal approach to orchestration, which was vivid and colorful in the manner of Respighi. That influence is clearly audible in Santos' Symphony No. 1, Op. 1, of 1947. That same year, Santos also joined the staff of Portuguese radio as a musical director.
On a scholarship from the Portuguese government, Santos traveled to Venice in 1948 to study conducting with Hermann Scherchen. Santos managed to complete his Symphony No. 4 in 1950, but by this time conducting had taken over as his principle activity. As a result, Santos' original works are relatively few in number during the years between 1951 - 1966. During this time, Santos was chief conductor of the Oporto Symphony Orchestra and an assistant conductor of the Portuguese Radio Symphony Orchestra. Santos retired from the latter position in 1968 in order to devote more time to composition. To support himself in his latter years, Santos worked as a part-time instructor at the Lisbon Conservatory and wrote music criticism for variety of publications, including a regular column for a Lisbon daily.
Altogether, Santos composed six symphonies, which are considered the core of his output. The four early symphonies, written between 1947 - 1950, are neo-Classical works that are modal in nature and to some extent derived from folk music. Although Santos never espoused serialism, he was keenly aware of developments in greater Europe during the 1950s and adopted non-tonal elements in his work, starting with the opera Mérope (1958). From 1966, Santos began to move away from this approach into a style that combined elements of both his folk-oriented early music and what he had learned from mid-century continental composition. The works in Santos' last period are his most distinctive and least derivative; during this time, Santos also increased his work in the milieu of chamber music.
Joly Braga Santos produced an impressive amount of work in his 64 years, despite the long break in his middle period; in addition to the six symphonies already mentioned, he wrote three operas, three ballets, numerous concerti and other orchestral pieces, five cantatas and a Requiem, and two string quartets, plus other chamber music, film music, and songs. Read less