José Calvário

Born: January 8th, 1951, Porto (Portugal)
Died: June 17th, 2009, Oeiras, Lisbon (Portugal)
Nationality: Portuguese

Eurovision record
José Calvário, composer, arranger, conductor, and record producer, is one of the more important figures in Portugal’s Eurovision history. During the 1970s and 1980s, he composed and arranged many songs for the so-called Festival RTP da Canção, the Portuguese preliminaries. Three of his compositions reached the international final: ‘A festa da vida’ (1972), ‘E depois do adeus’ (1974) and ‘Voltarei’ (1988). The last two of those were conducted by him as well. In addition to this, he conducted his country’s entries in 1977, ‘Portugal, no coração’, and 1985, ‘Penso em ti, eu sei’, the latter with an orchestration of his own hand.

Calvário, born in the northern Portuguese metropole of Porto in 1951, started practicing the piano at a very early age, and quite successfully so, judging by the fact that, aged six, he gave his first recital. By 1961, he performed as a piano soloist with the Philharmonic Orchestra of Porto. Later in the 1960s, he studied Economy at a Swiss university, meanwhile discovering the world of jazz and pop by playing in different ensembles both in Switzerland and in Portugal, most notably Toni Moura’s group Psico.

In 1971, Calvário finally returned to his native country and settled in Lisbon to work as a composer, arranger, and record producer in the popular music industry, a business that he was to remain faithful to until the very end. He wrote his first arrangement for Adriano Correia de Oliveira. Thanks mainly to his successful participations in the Portuguese Eurovision preliminaries from 1971 onwards (see below) his star in the music business in his country rose fast. He regularly worked with some of Portugal’s most acclaimed artists, such as Duarte Mendes, Tonicha, Paulo de Carvalho, and Samuel. He had the ability to write in very different genres, ranging from avant-garde to commercial pop. During the 1970s, he released several albums with self-penned orchestrations to existing songs. Amongst these, ‘Eurovisão - 10 Canções’, with cover versions of ten participants in the 1973 Eurovision Song Contest; and ‘The Best Disco in Sound’ (1977), containing daring adaptations of fado classics such as ‘Canção do mar’ and ‘Coimbra’.

José Calvário worked with singer-songwriter Fernando Tordo on several albums in the 1980s and 1990s. Perhaps the most noteworthy of these collaborations was on the album ‘Menino Ary dos Santos’, a tribute to the deceased poet and songwriter José Carlos Ary dos Santos. Three of these Tordo albums were recorded in the Abbey Road Studios, London. Between 1985 and 1993, Calvário recorded the albums ‘Saudades’ I, II and III with the London Philharmonic Orchestra, again containing new instrumental versions to well-known Portuguese repertoire, as well as a tribute to film music, ‘Cinema português’.

In 1991, for the first time, Calvário tried his hand at composing a concerto for a classical orchestra. He conducted the Hungarian State Symphony Orchestra during the recordings for the album ‘Mapas’. He again turned to the London Philharmonic for a recording project with Portuguese guitar virtuoso António Chaínho. Moreover, Calvário composed the soundtrack to the movie picture ‘Kiss me’.

In November 2008, José Calvário suffered a severe heart attack, after which he never regained consciousness. He died in a Lisbon hospital seven months later, aged 58.

José Calvário in the Eurovision Song Contest
Immediately upon his return in Portugal in 1971, José Calvário entered the Festival RTP da Canção, or, as it was then called, Grande Prémio TV da Canção, for the first time. His composition ‘Flor sem tempo’, a strong melody with words by José Sottomayor, was performed by Paulo de Carvalho, a former youth football player of Benfica and an artist that was to play a major role in Calvário’s career. He did not write the arrangement to this entry himself, leaving that job to Pedro Osório. ‘Flor sem tempo’ song finished second behind Tonicha’s ‘Menina’, but became an instant hit and has become part of the trademark repertoire of Paulo de Carvalho.

Until 1981, Calvário would be involved in every edition of the Portuguese Eurovision heats, albeit in different roles. In 1972 he submitted a self-composed song to the competition, ‘A festa da vida’. In the rendition of Carlos Mendes, this lively, upbeat entry stormed to victory in the Grande Prémio and subsequently finished a respectable seventh position in the Eurovision Song Contest final in Edinburgh. Portugal had never done better before, and it would take until 1996 before, finally, Lúcia Moniz was able to improve on this result. Most probably, Calvário made the arrangement for the original demo version of the song, after which Richard Hill, a Scottish musician, wrote the orchestration that was used for the record version and the performance in both the Portuguese final and the subsequent Eurovision final in Edinburgh.

One of the most long-lasting working-relationships in the career of Calvário was with lyricist José Niza. ‘A festa da vida’ was penned by him, and they teamed up again in 1973, writing songs performed by Tonicha and Duarte Mendes in the national final. Both ‘A rapariga e o poeta’ and ‘Gente’, which came third, were arranged and conducted by José Calvário himself.

The 1974 effort of the Calvário/Niza partnership, a melodious love ballad by the title of ‘E depois do adeus’, is a remarkable song in more than one way. First of all, with it, singer Paulo de Carvalho won the Grande Prémio and a ticket to the Eurovision Song Contest in Brighton. José Calvário made his first of four appearances as a conductor in the contest, aged 23 and thereby one of the youngest ever to conduct in this competition. During the performance in Brighton, he can be seen agitatedly walking about in front of the orchestra. The song did not do well, picking up three meagre points and tying for last place with the West German and Swiss entries. The studio recording of the song that was released shortly after the contest has a much lower tempo, which does the composition more justice. A couple of weeks after the contest, in Portugal, the Carnation Revolution broke out, a coup by lower military with left-wing sympathies which ousted the dictatorial Caetano regime from power. The airing of ‘E depois do adeus’ on the Emissores Associados de Lisboa radio station on April 24th, was the preconcerted signal for the revolutionaries to start their planned action. Needless to say, ‘E depois do adeus’ has gone on to become one of the most well-known songs in Portuguese popular music of all times. Numerous artists recorded their own versions of it.

Calvário would not enter the Portuguese heats with one of his own compositions until 1983; instead, he concentrated on arranging songs by other writers. The 1975 preliminaries were dominated by songs celebrating the successful military coup of the preceding year. Paulo de Carvalho participated again, with two entries. The first one was entirely written by José Niza, ‘Com uma arma com uma flor’ (With a weapon with a flower), the second one by Fernando Guerra. Both pieces were orchestrated and conducted by José Calvário, coming third and fourth respectively. In 1976, he wrote the arrangements to two songs written by José Luis Tinoco for Carlos do Carmo to sing in the preliminaries.

In 1977, Calvário was musical director of the Festival da Canção, conducting all fourteen entries, but arranging none of them. Among the participants that year were Gemini, Green Windows, Paco Bandeira, Bric-à-Brac, and Conjunto Maria Albertina. The competition was won by Os Amigos, a group especially formed for the occasions and with Paulo de Carvalho and Fernando Tordo among its members. Their song ‘Portugal no coração’ was yet another celebration of the Carnation Revolution. José Calvário joined the group as its conductor in the Eurovision Song Contest, which was held in Wembley, London. For both the national final and the record version of the song, a score by José Luis Simões was used. However, for the performance in the 1977 contest, the arrangement was radically changed, sounding more up-beat and more resembling the one which Mike Sergeant had written for Gemini, the other group which performed ‘Portugal no coração’ in the Festival da Canção. It ranks among the most spectacular orchestrations ever written for a Eurovision song. Unfortunately, ‘Portugal no coração’ was not very much appreciated by the Eurovision juries, finishing 14th.

In the years to come (1978-1985), Calvário wrote many more arrangements for the Festival RTP da Canção, for artists from very different corners of the music spectrum, such as Tonicha, Samuel, and the girl group Doce. He came close to winning the competition as an arranger in 1984 with ‘Pelo fim da tarde’, but the song, composed by Pedro Calvário and performed by Samuel, came second to Maria Guinot. In 1985, Adelaide Ferreira won the Festival da Canção with ‘Penso em ti, eu sei’, a song by Tó Zé Brito arranged by Calvário, who accompanied her as a conductor to the Eurovision Song Contest in Gothenburg, where she came second-last.

In 1981, Calvário was musical director of the Festival RTP for the second time, conducting six of twelve entries. During the 1980s, he composed three more songs for the Eurovision Song Contest. His efforts ‘E afinal quem és tu’ (1983) and ‘Meia de conversa’ (1985) both came third in the Festival da Canção. In 1988, for the first time, the RTP did not organize a televised selection for its Eurovision entry, instead opting for an internal procedure. José Calvário’s work ‘Voltarei’, once again with lyrics by José Niza and performed by Dora, was deigned to be the most suitable Portuguese representative for the Eurovision Song Contest in Dublin. The song, a ballad, has an unusual build-up, and offered Dora the opportunity to sport her powerful voice. Calvário himself conducted the song. The international juries awarded ‘Voltarei’ with only five points and a position near the bottom of the table.

Other artists on José Calvário
Paulo de Carvalho was the artist with whom Calvário worked most extensively during the 1970s, amongst which on the Portuguese Eurovision entries of 1974 and 1977: “Our first contact was when he invited me to perform ‘Flor sem tempo’ for the Portuguese Song Contest. He produced more than ten single recordings for me from 1973 to 1975. Years later, in 1993, we recorded an album together, ‘Alma’, with the London Philharmonic Orchestra in the Abbey Road Studios. In the 1970s, José was a very innovating composer and producer who made a big impact on the arid Portuguese music panorama. He had a very rigorous character and, at times, could be quite harsh, but he was an extremely talented professional nevertheless”. (2009)

José Calvário on the piano accompanying three of the artists he extensively worked with during the 1970s: (from left to right) Paulo de Carvalho, Fernando Tordo, and Duarte Mendes

Richard Hill conducted Calvário’s first Eurovision entry, ‘A festa da vida’, which came seventh in the contest in Edinburgh in 1972: “I’m sorry to hear of José’s passing away at such a young age. I only worked with him once, on the Eurovision project in ’72. A publishing company for which I worked at that time, ATV Music, acquired publishing on ‘A festa da vida’ and asked me to write the arrangement. There must have been a demo of some sort from which I did the orchestration; it is quite probable that José wrote the original arrangement, but I cannot be sure. I conducted the song in the Portuguese national selection and it won. My recollections of José are that he was an extremely nice guy and not at all a rock ‘n’ roll icon. He seemed well-educated, polite and extremely professional – in other words: a delight to work with, both in Lisbon and in Edinburgh. In fact, the whole of the Portuguese delegation treated me with great courtesy throughout the experience.” (2009)

Carlos do Carmo, the Portuguese contestant in the 1976 Eurovision Song Contest, giving a reaction upon the news of Calvário’s passing away: “It is so striking that José’s arrangements still sound modern and up-to-date. His orchestrations to the two songs composed by José Luís Tinoco that I performed in the 1976 Portuguese final, are testimony to that. Remarkable arrangements for two remarkable songs. Usually, my song arranger was Thilo Krassman, and later Bernardo Sassetti; I find it quite regrettable that José and I never had a further opportunity to work together”. (2009)

Links & sources


Songs conducted
1974: E depois do adeus
1977: Portugal no coração
1985: Penso em ti, eu sei
1988: Voltarei