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Composed: 1917

Length: c. 18 minutes

Orchestration: piccolo, 2 flutes, 2 oboes, English horn, 3 clarinets (3rd=bass clarinet), 2 bassoons, contrabassoon, 4 horns, 3 trumpets, 3 trombones, tuba, soprano saxophone, violinophone, timpani, percussion (xylophone, glockenspiel, chimes, coco, tambourine, tambor surdo, cymbals, bass drum, tam-tam, reco-reco), 2 harps, celesta, piano, and strings

About this Piece

The ballet/tone poem Uirapuru was composed in 1917, in some form. The work shares themes with at least two earlier works and was not orchestrated until 1934. It premiered as a ballet at a gala at the Teatro Colón in Buenos Aires in May 1935 and as a tone poem in Rio de Janeiro a few months later; both performances were conducted by the composer. It is also unclear how much inspiration is owed to Stravinsky’s Firebird. The stories are somewhat similar (the Uirapuru is a Brazilian songbird that is supposed to bring good luck in love) and the Ballets Russes toured South America in 1917 with a program that included The Firebird. But some Villa-Lobos biographers say that the Brazilian composer did not know the Russian’s music until his first trip to Paris, in 1923.

In the composer’s scenario, a group of local girls go into the jungle in search of the bird. An ugly man tries to join them, but they reject him. Eventually the uirapuru appears to them in the form of a handsome man whom all admire, but the spurned man takes revenge on them by killing him. The uirapuru returns to its bird form and disappears into the jungle. Villa-Lobos gives individuals clear thematic identity (including actual birdsong for the uirapuru), in a colorful score for large orchestra that does suggest early Stravinsky but is also filled with authentic Brazilianisms, all transformed in Villa-Lobos’ characteristic personal style. —John Henken