Date of Award

Fall 12-2017

Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Musical Arts (DMA)



Committee Chair

Elizabeth Moak

Committee Chair Department


Committee Member 2

Douglas Rust

Committee Member 2 Department


Committee Member 3

Ellen Price Elder

Committee Member 3 Department


Committee Member 4

Edward Hafer

Committee Member 4 Department



Despite his significance as the most important Latin American composer of the twentieth century, serious analytical studies on the music of the Brazilian composer Heitor Villa-Lobos are still few and far between. Recent scholarship has started to demystify the figure of Villa-Lobos as an intuitive composer with no technique, revealing an artist that strove to develop an idiosyncratic musical language. The present document aims to contribute to this new trend in Villa-Lobos’s scholarship by analyzing pieces from the piano cycle Cirandas, W220, considered one of the most important works from the composer’s mature style. Each of the sixteen pieces from the set is based on a different ciranda or round song, therefore sharing similar backgrounds and compositional goals. By comparing the settings of folk songs from some of these pieces, it was possible to identify and analyze recurring compositional practices used by Villa-Lobos to manipulate the folk material.

Overviews of the evolution of Villa-Lobos’s writing for piano and his relationship with Brazilian folk music are followed by an account of the genesis of Cirandas as well as of Cirandinhas, a set of round songs of easier execution by the same composer. A study of the general characteristics of Cirandas leads to a detailed examination of the compositional techniques identified in the set. Each technique is illustrated by excerpts from several movements, showing its development through structures of different complexity. Comparisons with settings of the same folk tunes found in two other works (Cirandinhas and Guia prático) by the composer reveal the extent to which Villa-Lobos often molded the round songs to become an organic element of the musical texture. Analytical models used include theories of voice-leading parsimony by Adrian Childs and Richard Cohn, Jay Rahn’s concept of scale heterophormism in incomplete collections, Tymoczko’s scale networks, theories of pitch-class symmetry by Antokoletz and Straus, Solomon’s expanded table of pitch-class sets, as well as models inferred from Villa-Lobos’s music by Duarte, Oliveira, Salles, Souza Lima, Tygel, Vetromilla, and Gustavo Schafaschek. Appendixes include an annotated bibliography of scholarship on Cirandas available in English and Portuguese.