Emperor Jones

Appleby Catalogue W number: 
Year Composed: 


In 1956 Villa-Lobos wrote a ballet score based on the Eugene O'Neill play The Emperor Jones.  The ballet was commissioned by The Empire Music Festival of New York, and danced by José Limón's company.

'For his EMPEROR JONES in 1956, Limón and his collaborator, the composer Heitor Villa-Lobos, attempted "a symbolic synthesis of a man's disintegration through terror." Limón told an interviewer, "We concentrated on the psychological possibilities Jones presented. The human body can be more powerfully expressive, because the expression is not specific. A chain gang, a ship, and other scenes are suggested. But these things are in the mind of Jones, which is tortured by phantasmagoria of his recent deeds.'

 - from the Limón Journal, Spring 1997, p. 8.

See this post at Tumbling Villa-Lobos for more on José Limón's dance production.


Contralto & baritone solos
Large orchestra


Villa-Lobos, Heitor, and Eugene O'Neill. 1956. The Emperor Jones.

  • Material Type: Manuscript
  • Document Type: Musical Score, Archival Material
  • Notes: Holograph (photocopy) of manuscript score in the Museu Villa-Lobos. Caption title. Ballet after Eugene O'Neill's play The Emperor Jones.
  • Description: 1 ms. score (121 p.) ; 52 cm.
  • Other Titles: To the Empire State Music Festival
  • Responsibility: H. Villa-Lobos.

The autograph scores (full score, 121 pp., and piano reduction, 46 pp.) are in the Museu Villa-Lobos.


The premiere was on 12/07/56 at the Empire State Music Festival in Elenville NY.  José Limón's company danced, and Villa-Lobos conducted the Symphony of the Air.

The summer 2011 revival by the Limon company is the only record in the Villa-Lobos Concerts database.

Stage Works