I have discovered…drumroll please…the classical music equivalent of Queen’s Bohemian Rhapsody. And it’s so exciting.
“Tzigane (rapsodie de concert)” is a piece for violin and orchestra, written by Maurice Ravel in the 1920s, and it uses this hilarious back-and-forth between musical styles in a really similar way to Bohemian Rhapsody.
In Queen, of course, you get the sections of heavy rock, the “Galileo” chorus, etc. etc. In Ravel? These are how I would go about labeling the sections:
[Intro that takes half the piece…more on this later]
1) Sherlock Holmes, Robert Downey Jr. style (the whole thing is VERY Sherlock Holmes to my ear, actually—another perk in my book)
2) Appalachian flair
3) Formal ball (Pride-and-Prejudice-esque)
4) Ballet-like (dreamy, dainty)
5) Nightmare (trying to escape the monster)
6) Slightly more intense version of Mr. Banks going to work in Mary Poppins*
7) Night at the symphony
8) Animated cartoon
11) White Rabbit running (from Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland)/cartoonish
The first time I listened to it I didn’t get the humor. I just heard the same theme being repeated in a bunch of different styles. But then I put it on for a second time and the similarities to Queen started beckoning. And then I was literally cracking up because of how hilarious Ravel really is
Another interesting similarity between the two is how both start in basically one style and don’t start switching things up until halfway through the song. For Ravel, this is pretty obvious since half the song = about 4 ½ minutes long. In Bohemian Rhapsody I never really thought about it, maybe because it’s only about 3 minutes long (although now that I type that out it’s really not that much shorter…).
Maybe the longer, “normal” introduction is to create more surprise and humor when things start going nuts in the second half. If they had made the opening too short we might not have been as secure in our assumption that the rest of the song/piece would be equally normal.
Overall, this is the single funniest piece of classical music—actually funniest music in general—that I’ve heard in a long time. And how interesting is it that the back-and-forth structure of Bohemian Rhapsody, a rock song from the 1970s, has such striking (and hilarious) similarities to the back-and-forth structure of a 1920s piece of classical music?? I’m realizing more and more now that popular and classical music might have more in common than I tend to give them credit for.
So what do you think about these similarities? Did you like the piece?
P.S. If you liked how the theme was constantly being reinterpreted, you should check out “theme and variations” pieces in general. A ton of composers have written them and they do basically the same thing, just sometimes more seriously than Ravel.
You might also like the blog series Classical Music Stories, where I suggest how to imagine your favorite book characters and stories (Harry Potter, Romeo and Juliet, Peter Pan) in the music.
*While typing this, I literally just had the epiphany that his last name is Banks and he works at a bank…*facepalm*