Bossa Nova Daydreams

New English version of “O Grande Amor”

“O Grande Amor” is one of the most hauntingly beautiful fruits of the famous collaboration between A.C. Jobim and Vinicius de Moraes. The lyrics convey a cognitive dissonance between the ideal of monogamous love and the painful reality of romantic indiscretion. This tension is supported and amplified musically on at least two levels.

Vinicius de Moraes (l.) and Tom Jobim (r.) arm wrestling

Vinicius de Moraes (l.) and Tom Jobim (r.) arm wrestling

There is the tension created by alternating between minor and major modalities in the melody and there is the tension created by setting the descending modal trajectory of the melody against the descending chromatic trajectory of the harmony. The end result is a mixed message about romantic love that mirrors the reality of life in a captivating way.

For those who have never heard this song, I recommend the recording by Stan Getz and João Gilberto found on the classic album “Getz/Gilberto”.
I’ve been holding on to this one for some time now. It’s just such a great song that I wanted to be sure to get it right. If I end up tweaking it and making further changes in the future, please don’t be surprised.

Love’s Greatness
(O Grande Amor)

Come what may, my friends, there’s always a man for every woman.
There will always be a false love you must forget,
because it makes you feel like dying.
Be that as it may,
love’s greatness will surely prevail,
and when it wins over the heart
the one who cried will then forgive.

— English version by Matthew Marth,
based on the original Portuguese version,
entitled “O Grande Amor” by A.C. Jobim and Vinicius de Moraes



10 Comments so far
Leave a comment

I know it’s a bit late into the discussion but here’s my take on it:

Ever true this rule
There is a guy for
Every lonely girl

Let false love pass by
Forget them all
They’ll only make you cry
And feel you want to die

Anyway I’ll prove
That you can win
Your one great love
That will complete
Your longing heart
For those who wept
Forgiveness starts

It’s far from exact but it’s singable – I suppose. I’d like to know what people think.


Comment by Leonard

Nice work! I found this one very challenging in terms of trying to understand what is really meant in the Portuguese. Not being a native speaker, I have to make a lot of guesses based on context. Did you have that problem?

Comment by Matthew

Very much so! I guess that’s what makes it so fun. Instead of sudoku this serves as my mental puzzle. The best thing about it that the end result can be enjoyed over and over again.

I’ve posted a few more at your site and I would like to share a few more with you if you don’t mind.

Comment by Leonard

I recommend the Morelenbaum(2) and Sakamoto version recorded on the Album “Casa”.

Comment by Jose

That’s a really nice arrangement. I really like how the cello fits in. Apparently, Sakamoto played Jobim’s own piano on this album (Casa). Thanks for the tip, Jose.

Comment by Matthew

Thanks Matthew! I tried to translate this several times over the last 40 or so years with disappointing results. Just gave up and sang Joao’s words. This works!

Comment by larrie veith

You’re welcome, Larrie! I’m glad it works for you. Thanks for letting me know.

Comment by Matthew

Hi Matthew,

I enjoy your work immensely; I believe they are the most poetic English language versions of classic bossa tunes that I have ever come across.

I hope to see more of your work in the future.

Richard from Los Angeles

Comment by rkjong

Thanks for your kind compliments. It’s a labor of love. I do have many more translations on the back burner–just need to find a little more time to finesse them.

Comment by Matthew

Hi! I enjoyed your beautiful translation; so faithful to the philosophical feeling of the original lyrics. I’ve actually also tried to make a singable translation of O Grande Amor but didn’t get too far. It will be interesting to see what changes you make, if any.
My perception is that the theme of moving from loss to a new love seems much more common in Brazilian popular music than it is here: e.g. Meditacao, Amor em Paz, Corcovado (eu eu que era triste…ao encontrar voce etc.) and O Grande Amor. Not sure whether this is accurate or just my usual optimism asserting itself.

Comment by julie

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