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Uirapuru (Villa-Lobos)

Uirapuru (subtitled O passarinho encantado, “The Enchanted Little Bird”) is a symphonic poem or ballet by the Brazilian composer Heitor Villa-Lobos, begun as a revision of an earlier work in 1917 and completed in 1934. A recording conducted by the composer lasts 20 minutes and 33 seconds.

O passarinho encantado
by Heitor Villa-Lobos
Heitor Vila-Lobos (c. 1922).jpg
Heitor Villa-Lobos
English(subtitle) The Enchanted Little Bird
CatalogueW 133
Composed1917 (1917) – 1934 (1934): Rio de Janeiro
DedicationSerge Lifar
Published1948 (1948): New York
PublisherAssociated Music Publishers
Duration20 mins.
Date25 May 1935 (1935-05-25):
LocationTeatro Colón, Buenos Aires
ConductorHeitor Villa-Lobos
PerformersMichel Borovsky, Dora del Grande, orchestra and corps de ballet of the Teatro Colón


Uirapuru originated as a fifteen-minute symphonic poem titled Tédio de alvorada (Boredom at Dawn), composed in Rio de Janeiro in 1916 and first performed there on a concert sponsored by the Associação Brasileira de Imprensa [pt] for the benefit of retired journalists, at the Theatro Municipal on 15 May 1918 by an orchestra made up of 85 music teachers, conducted by Soriano Robert. Villa-Lobos extensively reworked and expanded this composition into the score retitled Uirapuru, beginning in 1917. However, it was not until Serge Lifar and his ensemble danced the ballets Jurupari (to the music of Chôros No. 10) and Amazonas in 1934 that Villa-Lobos completed Uirapuru and dedicated the score to Lifar. In the end, however, Lifar was not involved in the ballet's premiere. The newly finished score was performed for the first time on Argentina's Día de la Revolución de Mayo, 25 May 1935, as a ballet choreographed by Ricardo Nemanoff and with stage design by Héctor Balsadúa [es], at the Teatro Colón in Buenos Aires. The occasion was a gala in honour of the Brazilian President Getúlio Vargas during a visit to Argentina for the Fifth Pan-American Commercial Conference which started the next day. The ballet was danced on this occasion by Michel Borovsky and Dora del Grande, with the orchestra and corps de ballet of the Teatro Colón, conducted by the composer. The first concert performance as a symphonic poem took place a few months later, on 6 November 1935 in the Theatro Municipal in Rio de Janeiro, by the Orquestra Sinfônica do Theatro Municipal conducted by the composer. Uirapuru was also included on the programme of the last concert conducted by Villa-Lobos, on 12 July 1959, at the Empire State Music Festival in New York (Peppercorn 1991, 85; Villa-Lobos, sua obra 2009, 38–39).

A 1935 gala at the Teatro Colón, possibly the one at which Uirapuru was premiered

The title page of the autograph manuscript reads “Uirapuru / (O passaro encantado)/ Bailado brasileiro"// "H. Villa-Lobos/ Rio, 1917"// "A Serge Lifar"// "(Le petit oiseau enchanté)” (Volpe 2001, 129), but bears on its last page the inscription "Fim, Rio 1917, reformado em 1934" (Lago 2015, 91n16). The completion date of 1917, also given in the official catalogue of works, is improbable in view of two facts: the subsequent 1918 premiere of Tédio de alvorada, and the fact that the new score was not first performed until 18 years later, in 1935. It has been suggested that the composer gave the earlier date in order not to be thought under the influence of Igor Stravinsky, whose music he came to know at first hand only during his first European visit in 1923 (Salles 2005, 2–3).

On the other hand, a sketch page for the earlier composition almost certainly dating from 1916 includes drafts of material only incorporated later in Uirapuru, in particular the octatonic "handsome indian theme", which suggests that such a scale was indeed already familiar to Villa-Lobos before his earliest contact with the music of Stravinsky (Volpe 2011, 300–01).



Uirapuru is scored for an orchestra consisting of: piccolo, 2 flutes, 2 oboes, cor anglais, 2 clarinets, bass clarinet, 2 bassoons, contrabassoon, soprano saxophone, 4 horns, 3 trumpets, 3 trombones, tuba, timpani, percussion (tam-tam, tubular bells, reco-reco, coco, floor-tom, tamborim, cymbals, bass drum, xylophone, celesta, glockenspiel), 2 harps, piano, violinophone, and strings.


The Uirapuru

"Uirapuru" is a name, derived from the Tupi language, applied to various members of the Pipridae family of birds found in Brazil. The bird whose song Villa-Lobos used as a compositional theme is Cyphorhinus arada, the uirapuru-verdadeiro or musician wren, also known as the organ wren or quadrille wren, a bird with an astonishing variety of song patterns. Villa-Lobos likely based his uirapuru theme on a transcription made during an expedition in 1849–50 by the British botanist Richard Spruce, and published in 1908 (Volpe 2001, 305–06).

The work falls into two large parts (b. 1–134 and 134–382), suggesting a binary form (especially with the repeat of the entire section A) but the form is created cumulatively from a succession of fifteen thematically based smaller sections (four in the first part and eleven in the second) in a non-functional harmonic context (Volpe 2001, 316–18).


  • Anon. 1935. "Buenos Aires Gay for Vargas's Visit". The New York Times (22 May): 10.
  • Béhague, Gerard. 1994. Villa-Lobos: The Search for Brazil's Musical Soul. Austin: Institute of Latin American Studies, University of Texas at Austin, 1994. ISBN 0-292-70823-8.
  • DeVoto, Mark. 1995. "The Strategic Half-diminished Seventh Chord and The Emblematic Tristan Chord: A Survey from Beethoven to Berg". International Journal of Musicology 4 (A Birthday Offering for George Perle): 139–53.
  • Doolittle, Emily, and Henrik Brumm. 2012. "O Canto do Uirapuru: Consonant Intervals and Patterns in the Song of the Musician Wren". Journal of Interdisciplinary Music Studies 6, no. 1 (Spring): 55–85.
  • Lago, Manoel Aranha Corrêa do. 2015. "Villa-Lobos nos anos 1930 e 1940: Transcrições e 'work in progress'". Revista brasileira de música 28, no. 1 (January–June): 87–106.
  • Peppercorn, Lisa M. 1991. Villa-Lobos: The Music: An Analysis of His Style, translated by Stefan de Haan. London: Kahn & Averill; White Plains, NY: Pro/Am Music Resources Inc. ISBN 1-871082-15-3 (Kahn & Averill); ISBN 0-912483-36-9.
  • Salles, Paulo de Tarso. 2005. "Tédio de alvorada e Uirapuru: um estudo comparativo de duas partituras de Heitor Villa-Lobos". Brasiliana, no. 20 (May): 2–9.
  • Salles, Paulo de Tarso. 2009. Villa-Lobos: processos composicionais. Campinas, SP: Editora da Unicamp. ISBN 978-85-268-0853-9.
  • Santos, Daniel Zanella dos. 2014. "A voz do passarinho encantado: considerações sobre o uso de leitmotiv em Uirapurú (1917) de Heitor Villa-Lobos". Art Music Review, no. 27 (December). ISSN 2317-6059.
  • Santos, Daniel Zanella dos. 2015. "Narratividade e tópicas em Uirapuru (1917) de Heitor Villa-Lobos". M.M. diss. Florianópolis: Universidade do Estado de Santa Catarina.
  • Spruce, Richard. 1908. Notes of a Botanist on the Amazon and Andes: Being Records of Travel on the Amazon and Its Tributaries, the Trombetas, Rio Negro, Uaupés, Casiquiari, Pacimoni, Huallaga, and Pastasa; as also to the Cataracts of the Orinoco, along the Eastern Side of the Andes of Peru and Ecuador, and the Shores of the Pacific, During the Years 1849–1864, edited and condensed by Alfred Russel Wallace. 2 vols. London: MacMillan and Co., Limited.
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  • Villa-Lobos, sua obra. 2009. Version 1.0. MinC / IBRAM, and the Museu Villa-Lobos. Based on the third edition, 1989.
  • Volpe, Maria Alice. 2001. '"Indianismo and Landscape in the Brazilian Age of Progress: Art Music from Carlos Gomes to Villa-Lobos, 1870s–1930s'". PhD diss. Austin: University of Texas at Austin.
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