Symphony No. 1 (Villa-Lobos)

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Symphony No. 1
O Imprevisto
by Heitor Villa-Lobos
Heitor Vila-Lobos (c. 1922).jpg
Heitor Villa-Lobos
EnglishThe Unforeseen (subtitle)
CatalogueW114 (Op. 112)
Composed1916 (1916):
Published1997 (1997): Paris
PublisherMax Eschig
Duration22 mins.
Date30 August 1920 (1920-08-30):
ConductorHeitor Villa-Lobos
PerformersOrquestra da Sociedade de Concertos Sinfônicos do Rio de Janeiro

Symphony No. 1, "O Imprevisto" (The Unforeseen) is a composition by the Brazilian composer Heitor Villa-Lobos, written in 1916. A performance lasts about twenty-five minutes.


Villa-Lobos composed his First Symphony in 1916, to a philosophical argument written by himself under the pseudonym "Epaminondas Villalba Filho". It is the first in a cycle of five symphonies written in the style of Vincent d'Indy. It was given a partial performance (the second and third movements, according to Peppercorn 1991, 80 and Villa-Lobos, sua obra 2009, 41; the first and fourth movements according to Enyart 1984, 47) on 20 September 1919 in the Theatro Municipal in Rio de Janeiro by the Grande Companhia Italiana, conducted by Gino Marinuzzi. The complete symphony was first performed on 30 August 1920, again in the Theatro Municipal, by the Orquestra da Sociedade de Concertos Sinfônicos do Rio de Janeiro, conducted by the composer. At some later date, Villa-Lobos revised the score, adding tam-tam, glockenspiel, and side drum to the percussion section (Villa-Lobos, sua obra 2009, 41).

Villa-Lobos had written the romantic-symbolic programme text for this symphony already in 1907. It concerns the mystic relationship of the artist's soul with fate and the universe, but these philosophically effusive ideas are both difficult to understand and virtually imperceptible in the music (Peppercorn 1991, 81). According to the text, the soul of the artist

watches the painful fall of the constellations of other worlds, the reverberation of transitory matter, the transfusion of mortal tears into trembling drops of undulating dew. He sees coils of halos that limply sprawl, baring surprises of falling stars, and he will thus ascend, with his gaze, slowly, to the vast curve of the sunset ...

By uniting, slowly, with the silent harmony of nature, with its joy and its suffering, letting fall tears of Pleasure and Pain, to the rising changes of the enraptured senses ...

So Consciousness, awakening to this sweet and terrible lethargy, shows him the level line, telling him: It is condemned by Fate to suffer the doom of monotony. It is humanity itself! ...

It does not bend nor does it adapt, it does not vibrate and will not move ...

And the soul of the artist, with the blaze of his own light that emanates from him – glimpses, through a subtle and ethereal crystal a vast landscape. Figures, masses, and things that are balanced in a mutual attraction of their own gravity (claimants perhaps to being images, beings, and souls) move in the distressing rhythm of ridiculous puppets, unable to rise up to the cosmic level, where the souls wander ... (Villa-Lobos 1972, 237)


The symphony is scored for a large orchestra consisting of 2 piccolos, 2 flutes, 2 oboes, cor anglais, 2 clarinets, bass clarinet, 2 bassoons, contrabassoon, 4 horns, 4 trumpets, 3 trombones, tuba, timpani, tam-tam, bass drum, cymbals, triangle, side drum, glockenspiel, celesta, 2 harps, and strings.


The symphony has four movements:

  1. Allegro assai moderato
  2. Adagio
  3. Scherzo (Allegro vivace)
  4. Allegro con brio


  • 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.
  • Enyart, John William. 1984. "The Symphonies of Heitor Villa-Lobos". PhD diss. Cincinnati: University of Cincinnati.
  • Peppercorn, Lisa M. 1980. "A Villa-Lobos Autograph Letter at the Bibliothèque Nationale (Paris)". Latin American Music Review / Revista de Música Latinoamericana 1, no. 2 (Autumn–Winter): 253–64.
  • 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. 2009. Villa-Lobos: processos composicionais. Campinas, SP: Editora da Unicamp. ISBN 978-85-268-0853-9.
  • Villa-Lobos, Heitor ["E. Villalba Filho"]. 1972. "1a Sinfonia (O Imprevisto): Argumento". In Villa-Lobos, sua obra, second edition, 236–37. Rio de Janeiro: MEC/DAC/Museu Villa-Lobos.
  • Villa-Lobos, sua obra. 2009. Version 1.0. MinC / IBRAM, and the Museu Villa-Lobos. Based on the third edition, 1989.