The Bohemian Rhapsody of Classical Music


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

9) Carnival

10) Birds

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*

14 thoughts on “The Bohemian Rhapsody of Classical Music

  1. This was fun! I had pulled up this my own youtube video of it before I realized you included one in your post, and so I watched it during my second listen. First, I agree with all your descriptors about the piece! I love the “Appalachia” bits. They are so much fun! I actually said “Oh wow” when the music suddenly changed halfway through, and I did giggle a few times on my first listen.
    One thing I thought the ENTIRE time though, was Fiddler on the Roof. At first I thought I was only making a connection because of the violin. But as the piece progressed I realized it was because of the Russian/Eastern sounding vibes that shine through it.
    In the youtube video I had pulled up ( only a violinist and pianist were featured but I swear I heard other instruments in the version you posted. So I watched the video to see if there were any major differences. OH MAN! You have to watch this video! Or another one with live musicians. It adds SO MUCH to be able to watch how they strike their instruments and move or dance with the music! It made it so much more enjoyable. I really like this piece!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Pingback: Unique Music Associations (Plus Bacon and Cotton Eye Joe) | If Mermaids Wore Suspenders

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