Lyrics from “Corcovado” by Antônio Carlos Jobim (1960)
Good Audio Version (João Gilberto)
A little nook, a guitar
This love, a song
To make the loved one happy
Plenty of calm to think, and to have time to dream
Through the window I see Corcovado, Redentor, how lovely
I want life like this always, with you near me,
Until the old flame dies out
And I who was sad, disbelieving in this world,
Upon finding you I found out what happiness is, my love.
This song is an icon of the bossa nova genre, which was both adored and derided for its focus on superficialities of life in Rio: beaches, breezes, beers, beautiful views, music and love.
Tom Jobim wrote both the melody and the lyrics. Initially the song began, “A cigarette, a guitar,” but the mention of a cigarette made João Gilberto uncomfortable when he was recording the song for the album O amor, o sorriso e a flor. He told Tom a cigarette was something rotten, and convinced him to change the verse to “A little nook, a guitar”; it became one of the best known and most sung verses of bossa nova.
Corcovado, the mountain where Rio’s Christ the Redeemer statue stands, could be seen from the window of Tom Jobim’s apartment at Rua Nascimento Silva 107, where he lived with his wife Tereza from 1953 – 1962. The line in Portuguese about the window would translate more literally to, “From the window one sees Corcovado – Redentor …” Shortly after Tom wrote the song a new building blocked the view.
The English version of the song (sung here by Frank Sinatra) was written by Gene Lees, and represents one of the best English-language versions of the bossa-nova repertoire.
Lyrics in Portuguese
Um cantinho um violão
Este amor, uma canção
Pra fazer feliz a quem se ama
Muita calma pra pensar
E ter tempo pra sonhar
Da janela vê-se o Corcovado
O Redentor que lindo
Quero a vida sempre assim com você perto de mim
Até o apagar da velha chama
E eu que era triste
Descrente deste mundo
Ao encontrar você eu conheci
O que é felicidade meu amor
Main sources for this post: Chega de Saudade: A História e as Histórias de Bossa Nova, by Ruy Castro; Histórias de Canções: Tom Jobim by Wagner Homem; and A Canção no Tempo: 85 Anos de Músicas Brasileiras, vol 2 by Jairo Severiano and Zuza Homem de Mello
10 thoughts on “Corcovado”
This is awesome work! The added context to go along with the translations is particularly helpful. And you even include sources – impressive.
I love Brazilian music but usually have no idea what the songs are about. I really admire your site and appreciate all of the hard work you must put into it.
Thanks so much, Mtume!!!
Thank you for a thorough piece of research on this Bossa nova song.
Thanks for your faithful translation of the Portuguese lyrics. I knew that the English version deviated from them, but did not trust my reading of the original enough to gauge by how much.
Thank you, Mary! Glad this was useful for you!
This is wonderful information Victoria. You know, I’ve been trying for around fifteen years or so to figure out the meaning of the lyrics to “Corcovado”. Finally, I came across your website and I am utterly pleased. I play the drum set in a jazz ensemble and occasionally we perform Afro-Brazilian, Afro-Cuban, and Latin-Caribbean tunes.
I love foreign languages, have studied Spanish quite a bit, and recently took the first semester of Brazilian Portuguese at a community college in Maryland. Also, I have been studying the Afro-Brazilian rhythms with a native of Rio, Alejandro Lucini, who is a professor of Afro-Brazilian, Afro-Cuban, and Latin-Caribbean percussion at George Washington University.
When I go to The Jazz Workshop at Tysons Corner in Virginia this Wednesday, I’ll share the information that your website makes available with the musicians in my group.
Let me acknowledge that I take pride in your personal journey that has lead you to be able to clarify the beautiful lyrics of Bossa Nova, Samba, and the other styles of the Afro-Brazilian music.
Finally, the example that you give of Elis e Tom performing Corcovado is very useful in that one is able to look at the lips of Elis and her facial expressions as she sings the lyrics (of Corcovado) ever so distinctly and ever so understandably. Scanning You Tube for versions of various tunes in order to view a Brazilian Portuguese singer who pronounces Brazilian Portuguese lyrics deliberately and with precision can at times be quite a challenge. But Elis sings the lyrics quite slowly and her pronunciation sounds of the language that she sings emerge intelligibly. .
Again, great work!
Thanks so much, Robert! 🙂
Another great article, Victoria . . .
You’ve provided so much delightful insight into a song some of my elder Portuguese jazz musician friends made a staple in their repertoire. I, too, had struggled with getting the true translation right and understanding the actual lyrics. Now, a great song has an even deeper meaning to me. Thanks.
Thank you Rich!