Artur Santos was a student at Lisbon’s Conservatory, where he studied Piano with Marcos Garin, Harmony with Venceslau Pinto and Counterpoint and Fugue with Costa Ferreira. He was a brilliant piano and composition student at the Higher School and also studied with Luís de Freitas Branco. In the 1930s he won two composition prizes awarded by the Music Conservatory (the Conservatory First Prize and the Beethoven Award). In 1941/42 that same institution would welcome him as a Composition, Harmony and Fugue teacher. In 1937 he married pianist Túlia Santos, who from then on helped him in his research.
He was invited to be a programme assistant at the National Radio Broadcast Company but his effective participation would be as a composer, a field in which in 1943 he won the Rey Colaço Composition Award from the National Radio Broadcast Company’s Musical Studies Cabinet.
Although he started a promising career as a composer, Artur Santos dedicated himself mostly to Ethnomusicology. The more or less 100 pieces he harmonized were the result of his activity as an ethnographic collector. The few pieces fully composed by Artur Santos were generally dedicated to artists and family friends. The piece Oito Canções Populares Portuguesas (Eight Portuguese Popular Songs), composed for soprano and orchestra, deserved international promotion by conductor Pedro de Freitas Branco.
As a Higher Culture Institute scholarship holder, Artur Santos left for London and later for Paris. Between 1945 and 1948 he developed and promoted issues concerning the harmonization of traditional melodies. He participated in international conferences and congresses on national music traditions. He taught at the Taylor Institution of Oxford University, at the English Dance and Sony Society, at the Anglo-Portuguese Society and at the International Folklore-Music Council, where he was a member of the executive commission. However, he did not stop developing composition skills. In London he had classes with Alan Bush and Lloyd Webber, and in Paris with Charles Koechlin and Oliver Messiaen, among others.
In 1949 he took part in a team researching African folklore (Luanda and the Higher Zambezi), directed by the Angola Diamond Company. Up until the 1960s he carried out many other musical collection works in continental Portugal, the Azores and the Madeira Islands. That allowed the edition of phonographic samples and the gathering of countless documents of ethnographic and musical research.