16 Waltzes by Francisco Mignone (1897-1986)

The Modinha that Villa Didn’t Write (1981)
Improvised Waltz (1981)
Macunaíma (Waltz Without Character) (1979)

Francisco Mignone was born in São Paulo, Brazil in 1897.  His father, Alferio Mignone, was an accomplished flutist who emigrated from Italy.  Mignone started his musical studies, with his father presiding, on flute and piano.  In 1917 he graduated from the São Paulo Conservatory with a concentration in flute, piano, and composition.  In 1920 he went to Europe to conduct and study at the Milan Conservatory.  Returning to Brazil in 1933 he became a sought after conductor and composer.1

Mignone’s compositions can be divided into five periods.  The compositions from the first period (1910-1920) were composed under the pseudonym Chico Bororô.  The young Mignone was composing popular music and improvisations on the streets of São Paulo and did not use his name because he said “to write popular music was something disqualifying and vile.”2  After graduating from the Conservatory, Mignone entered his second period (1920-1930) and began using his name.  This period was strongly influenced by his Italian heritage, Italian teachers, and travels around Europe.  The third period (1930-1960) was initiated by Mário de Andrade, a friend of Mignone.  After a performance of Mignone’s opera L’innocente Andrade wrote a scathing review that criticized Mignone’s work for being too Italian and not Brazilian.3  Mignone took the review to heart and refined his style to become a “nationalistic” composer, utilizing Brazilian folk and popular music.  During this period many of his vocal songs and solo piano pieces successfully illustrated the national style.  The fourth period (1960-1970) was marked by an eclectic compositional style that included serialism and atonality and did not stress Brazilian nationalism.  But at the end of his life (1970-1986) Mignone returned to favoring Brazilian material and composed with a nationalistic flair.1

Mignone wrote many works that featured the bassoon including: Sexteto No. 1 in 1935, two Sonata for two bassoon written in 1960 and 1965, a quartet for four bassoons in 1967, and wind chamber works in 1968 and 1969.  Mignone also wrote two unaccompanied solo works for the bassoon.  The Sonatina for solo bassoon was published in 1961 and is not performed as frequently as the 16 Waltzes for solo bassoon, composed between 1979-1981.  The Waltzes are standard repertoire for the bassoon and are some of the best solo material written for the instrument in the 20th century.

The Waltzes were composed during Mignone’s last compositional period and are excellent examples of the composer’s return to a nationalistic preference at the end of his life.  Each of the 16 Waltzes has a style indicative of popular Brazilian styles or pays homage to an aspect of Brazilian culture.  For example, Valsa Chôro (Chôro – Waltz) and 6a valsa brasileria (6th Brazilian Waltz), two of the 16 Waltzes, are based on styles that were utilized extensively during his “nationalistic” period.  Some of the titles for the Waltzes credit famous Brazilian’s, such as Pattapiada (Pattapiada -Homage to the flutist Pattápio Silva).  While other titles illustrate the humor of the composer, such as Apanhei-te meu fagotinho (Valsa paródia) (I Got You, My Little Bassoon (Parody Waltz)).

The manuscripts from the composer were recently used to publish a new addition of the Waltzes.4  This detailed version once again clarifies that no instructions regarding performance practice for these works has been found.  It is unknown if the composer intended all 16 Waltzes to be performed at one time or if he had specific groups in mind for live performance.  The 16 Waltzes were not numerically numbered in the manuscript nor were they published in chronological order.  Therefore, the decision as to which Waltzes to perform, and in what order, is entirely up to the performer.

Aquela Modinha que o Villa não Escreveu (The Modinha that Villa Didn’t Write) was completed on 9 April 1981.  A Modinha is a sentimental love song from Portugal and Brazil.  This particular Modinha pays homage to Heitor Villa-Lobos (1887-1959).  Villa-Lobos is described as “the single most significant creative figure in 20th-century Brazilian art music.”1  He wrote in a Bachianas brasileiras style (Brazilian Bach-pieces) and produced numerous Chôros.5  Villa-Lobos strongly influenced Mignone.  Not only does Mignone pay homage to him with the title of this waltz, the remaining waltzes (and all of his other works) follow Villa-Lobos’ precedent to utilize descriptive titles that reflect the style or attitude of the composition instead of opus numbers.6  The Modinha Mignone wrote for the bassoon has an imploring and melancholy feel.  The opening falling three-note motive is expanded upon through the waltz.  The entire range of the bassoon is utilized to express the turmoil of a great love.

Valsa Improvisada (Improvised Waltz) was completed in 1981.  The waltz is in a rondo form, ABACDA, and is introspective in nature.  The A section returns three times and this repetition allows for the exploration of improvisation indicated by the title.  Each time the A theme returns, though the notes are the same, the phrasing and dynamics will vary based on the performer’s whim.  The B section diverges from the opening with a higher range and a more singing melody.  The C section contrasts with the A section by creating a simple and definite waltz feel, while the D section continues the obvious waltz, only now with a playful character.

Macunaíma (A Valsa sem caráter) (Macunaíma (Waltz Without Character)) was completed on 10 October 1979 and was the first waltz written chronologically.  This waltz pays homage to the novel by Mario de Andrade, the friend and critic who encouraged Mignone’s compositional change to a nationalistic style.  Andrade wrote the novel Macunaíma in 1928.  The story follows a “hero without character” from São Paulo to Rio de Janeiro and back again while incorporating numerous dialects, culture, folklore, and music.7  The waltz takes the listener on a similar journey through numerous musical styles within Brazil.  Unlike the other waltzes that have a cohesive feel, Macunaíma is comprised of many small sections that seem disjointed because of changes in tonality, articulation, and phrase which differentiate between the stops on the hero’s journey.


1.    Béhague G. Mignone, Francisco. In: Sadie S, Levy M, eds. The new Grove dictionary of music and musician. Vol 16. Second ed. London; New York: Macmillan; Grove; 2001:644-646.

2.    Kiefer B. Mignone Vida e Obra. Porto Alegre, Brasil: Editora Movimento; 1983.

3.    Coelho B. Francisco Mignone and the Sixteen Waltzes for Solo Bassoon The Double Reed. 2003;26(2):43-54.

4.    Mignone F. 16 Valses Para Fagote & Sonatina. New Jersey: LRO; 2006.

5.    Appleby DP. Heitor Villa-Lobos : a life (1887-1959). Lanham, Md.: Scarecrow Press; 2002.

6.    Wright S. Villa-Lobos. Oxford ; New York: Oxford University Press; 1992.

7.    Andrade Md. Macunaíma. New York: Random House; 1984.

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