Tuesday 30 March 1971


The following article is an overview of the career of Italian pianist, composer, arranger, and conductor Gianfranco Intra. The main sources of information are short mail exchanges with Intra's daugher Anita; and with his brother Enrico in December 2010 and January 2011. The article is subdivided into two main parts; a general career overview (part 3) and a part dedicated to Gianfranco Intra's Eurovision involvement (part 4).

All material below: © Bas Tukker / 2011

  1. Passport
  2. Short Eurovision record
  3. Biography
  4. Eurovision Song Contest
  5. Other artists about Gianfranco Intra
  6. Eurovision involvement year by year
  7. Sources & links

Born: August 13th, 1929, Milan (Italy)
Died: February 23rd, 2017, Milan (Italy)
Nationality: Italian


Gianfranco Intra participated in the Eurovision Song Contest once, being the arranger and conductor of the Italian entry to the 1961 festival, ‘Al di là’. It was performed by Betty Curtis. Prior to this contest, held in Cannes (France), Intra had been one of two musical directors of that same year’s San Remo Festival in Italy, where ‘Al di là’ was picked as the winning song. In the Eurovision Song Contest, Betty Curtis finished fifth in a field of sixteen contestants.


For eight years, Gianfranco Intra studied the piano. Moreover, he successfully finished the conducting course at the Milan Conservatoire. Although he had been already the piano player in an amateur orchestra at age 15, he effectively started his career as a professional musician in 1951, when he joined the Menestrelli del Jazz, where he replaced Giampiero Boneschi. Among the other group members included Fausto Papetti (saxophone) and Ezio Leoni (accordion). The Menestrelli del Jazz earned themselves a record deal with the Music label of Swiss producer Walter Guertler and toured Italy with considerable success. Intra finally left the Menestrelli after nine years, in 1960.

Already in the 1950s, Intra started working in the recording studio. He recorded instrumental works, which were released under his own name; these include the piano track ‘Ebb Tide’, published on the Durium label in 1954, as well as some jazz records with small ensembles led by Intra himself. 

At the start of his professional career in the early 1950s

In the late 1950s, he formed a duo pianistico with his younger brother Enrico, with whom he made studio recordings and performed on stage – most prominently at the 1959 edition of the San Remo Festival, where the brothers presented themselves with a piano potpourri of all songs which had reached the final of the competition. Just like Gianfranco, Enrico Intra went on to become a successful arranger for popular Italian singers, regularly appearing as a conductor in the San Remo Festival. Later, Enrico was one of Italy’s most sought-after jazz pianists and became a teacher at the Civica Scuola di Musica, Milan.

In 1957, Gianfranco Intra joined RAI, Italy’s public broadcasting company, as a pianist and served in the orchestras of successful maestros Cinico Angelini and William Galassini. Later onwards, he became a radio and television conductor himself, working with well-known presenters such as Pippo Baudo and Mike Bongiorno. Intra participated in many radio and television programmes which were recorded in the Milanese RAI studios, including Studio L chiama X, a long-running radio show with a live orchestra, presented by Mike Bongiorno. 

For the 1961 San Remo Festival, working with colleague Bruno Canfora, Intra was chosen as the musical director of the event, arranging or re-arranging half of the performances; and conducting his orchestra of 32 musicians, who were 'his' squad of session players from the Fonit studio in Milan, in the live show. Intra continued to work for RAI on a regular basis until 1986, one of the highlights being the radio concert with the Paolo Orlandi Quartet and his own Orchestra Ritmica di Milano della RAI in 1977.

Gianfranco Intra (top of the picture) with the Menestrelli del Jazz in 1960 - right below him are the Swedish football player Lennart 'Nacka' Skoglund, who played in Italy at the time, and (to Skoglund's right) RAI's TV host Nunzio Filogamo. The others, from left to right: Sergio Renda, Pupo De Luca, Fausto Papetti, Ernesto Villa, and Ezio Leoni

In the 1960s, Gianfranco Intra was one of Italy’s single-most sought-after arrangers and conductors in the recording studio. He was the artistic director for several Milan-based record labels, such as Fonit, La Voce del Padrone, and Philips. Songs with his arrangements were recorded by many different artists from Italy and abroad, including Orietta Berti, Patty Pravo, Milva, Fausto Leali, Claudio Villa, Nuccia Bongiovanni, Giuliano e i Notturni, and Henry Wright. Intra’s trademark was the abundant use of strings in his orchestrations.

Occasionally, Intra composed songs himself, amongst others for Umberto Bindi. The 1969 San Remo success ‘Un’ora fa’ (performed by both Fausto Leali and Tony Del Monaco) was written by Intra as well in collaboration with lyricists Luciano Beretta and Ermanno Parazzini. For that same San Remo edition, he submitted two more songs, a samba called ‘Dove andranno le nuvole’ and the more rock-oriented ‘E mi trovo a parlare con te’; both songs, however, were rejected by the selection committee, but were later successfully recorded by other artists – the former composition by Mario Zelinotti, who participated in the popular TV contest Disco per l’Estate with it in 1970. His version of ‘Dove andranno le nuvole’ went on to become a major hit in both Italy and Spain that same year. On top of all this, Intra made his mark as a composer of advertisement jingles as well as film soundtracks, most prominently that of Un uomo da bruciare (1962).

After his first participation as a conductor in San Remo in 1961, Gianfranco Intra regularly returned to arrange and conduct songs which participated in the San Remo Festival. Intra appeared as a conductor in all editions of this important song festival between 1964 and 1970, leading the orchestra for multiple entrants. Most prominently, he conducted ‘Je suis à toi’, which, sung by French Patricia Carli, was the first prize winner of the 1964 San Remo Festival; the other version of this song, ‘Non ho l’età’, was performed by Gigliola Cinquetti, who won the Eurovision Song Contest of that same year with it. 

Intra conducting the orchestra for one of the participants in the 1961 San Remo Festival, Umberto Bindi

Other artists for whom Intra conducted the San Remo orchestra, include Gene Pitney (‘Amici miei’, ‘Quando vedrai la mia ragazza’), The Fraternity Brothers (‘Sabato sera’, ‘La prima che incontro’), Yukari Ito (‘L’amore ha i tuoi occhi’), Bobby Rydell (‘Un bacio piccolissimo’), Les Surf (‘Si vedrà’), Connie Francis (‘Ho bisogno di vederti’), and Audrey (‘Prima o poi’).

In the 1980s, Intra continued to work in the recording studio. He arranged and produced the EP ‘A L’ for French singer Amanda Lear in 1985. One year later, he left RAI to join the commercial Mediaset network, for which he collaborated on several TV shows; these included the nostalgic contest C’era una volta il festival, in which former participants of San Remo and other Italian music festival competed against each other, performing their original song accompanied by Intra’s orchestra consisting of 32 musicians. This show, which was broadcast by Canale 5, ran for two seasons (1989-90) and was presented by Mike Bongiorno. Winners were Bobby Solo with ‘Una lacrima sul viso’ (1989) and Camaleonti with ‘Perché ti amo’ (1990).

In the following years, Gianfranco Intra withdrew from the world of professional music.

Patricia Carli's winning San Remo performance of 'Je suis à toi' in 1964 was arranged and conducted by Gianfranco Intra


For the 1961 edition of the San Remo Song Festival, Gianfranco Intra was one of the musical directors - along with another young conductor, Bruno Canfora, with each maestro conducting his own orchestra. The style of arrangements for Intra's 32-piece orchestra, partly written by the maestro himself, was markedly more string-laden than the slightly jazz-oriented sound of Bruno CanforaThe 1961 edition was won by ‘Al di là’, performed by Betty Curtis (with Canfora's orchestra) and Luciano Tajoli, who performed it accompanied by Intra. The biggest hit was the song which came second in the festival, ‘Ventiquattromila baci’, performed by fledgling rock stars  Adriano Celentano (with Intra's orchestra) and Little Tony (with Canfora).

A newspaper interview with Gianfranco Intra, which was published a couple of days before the 1961 San Remo Festival, gives an idea of his ideas about the role of a musical director and arranger in a live music spectacle in the 1960s. 

“The TV audience isn't keen on complicated stuff and intricate arrangements; it simply wants to hear a song. So a good instrumental fundament is what is needed, which at no point should dominate the song itself. It is the melody that should be in the foreground and the arrangement is there to accentuate it – nothing more. For a live contest such as San Remo, it is important to take the acoustics of the hall, the Casino Theatre, into account. I discovered that, in the theatre, the result of the clapping of hands is a halo of sound in which the melody and even the voice of the singer are drowned. Details such as this make it necessary to adapt the live arrangements. These have to be fundamentally different from the studio versions. Moreover, in the studio, it is possible to produce extraordinary sound effects with technical tricks. For example, one can multiply the sound of one piano to such an extent that it seems as if there are six pianos. San Remo, on the other hand, is a live show in which all songs are presented ‘naturally’, without any of those tricks.”

Luciano Tajoli and Betty Curtis after winning the 1961 San Remo Festival with 'Al di là'

Until 1966, Italian broadcaster RAI always sent the San Remo winner to represent the country in the Eurovision Song Contest, usually held one or two months after 'San Remo'. In 1961, the choice to sing 'Al di là' in the international festival, to be held in Cannes, fell on urlatrice Betty Curtis, but, oddly, her conductor in Eurovision was Gianfranco Intra rather than Bruno Canfora. Intra wrote a new arrangement for the song, more heavily laden with strings than either the studio version recorded with Gianni Ferrio and the San Remo version with Bruno Canfora's orchestra.

As the arranger of Betty Curtis’ version of ‘Al di là’ and the musical director of the 1961 San Remo Festival, Gianfranco Intra was the natural choice to be the conductor of the Italian delegation in that year’s Eurovision Song Contest in Cannes, France. Intra remembers the rehearsals with Franck Pourcel’s orchestra in Cannes well.

“After we had rehearsed my arrangement of ‘Al di là’ with the French orchestra and Betty Curtis, the first violinist invited the whole string section to hit the top of their music stands with their bows as a recognition for, what they thought, was a good and functional arrangement. It goes without saying that I took great pride in that.” 

In spite of its role as a favourite, the Italian song managed to score no more than twelve points and a slightly disappointing fifth place in a field of entries from sixteen competing countries. Nevertheless, Betty Curtis had an international hit with the song, which was later covered by countless artists in many different countries.

Betty Curtis in 1961; picture taken from the official 1961 Eurovision Song Contest programme booklet


So far, it has not been possible to gather memories of other artists who worked with Gianfranco Intra.


Country – Italy
Song title – "Al di là"
Rendition – Betty Curtis 
Lyrics – Giulio Rapetti "Mogol"
Composition – Carlo Donida
Studio arrangement – Gianni Ferrio 
(studio orchestra conducted by Gianni Ferrio)
Live orchestration – Gianfranco Intra
Conductor – Gianfranco Intra
Score – 5th place (12 votes)

  • Thanks to Gianfranco’s daughter Anita and his brother Enrico Intra for providing us with information about his career, including newspaper articles and photos
  • Thanks to Italian music expert Eddy Anselmi for providing us with some important information regarding the history of the San Remo Festival
  • A book offering a chronological survey of the history of the San Remo Festival: Adriano Aragozzini, “Enciclopedia del Festival di Sanremo. Quarant’anni di Musica e Costume”, ed. Rusconi: Milan 1990
  • Another highly informative book on the San Remo Festival: Dario Salvatori, “Sanremo50. La vicenda e i protagonisti di mezzo secolo di Festival della Canzone”, ed. RAI: Rome 2000

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