A rhapsody in music is a one-movement work that is episodic yet integrated, free-flowing in structure, featuring a range of highly contrasted moods, colour and tonality. An air of spontaneous inspiration and a sense of improvisation make it freer in form than a set of variations. Sergei Rachmaninoff's set of variations on a theme by Niccolò Paganini are so free in structure that the composer called them a Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini.
Rhapsodies particularly appealed to Romantic composers, as they aspired to embody in permanent musical form "the first fine careless rapture" of the thrush's song described by Robert Browning in "Home Thoughts, from Abroad" (1845). The heroine's mad scene in Donizetti's opera Lucia di Lammermoor is rhapsodic in form.
Some familiar examples will give an idea of the character of a rhapsody:
- Sergei Rachmaninoff, Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini
- Claude Debussy, Première Rhapsodie
- Franz Liszt, Hungarian Rhapsodies
- Johannes Brahms, Rhapsodies for solo pianoforte, Second Rhapsody
- Ernő Dohnányi, Four Rhapsodies Op.11 for solo pianoforte
- Emmanuel Chabrier, España, rapsodie pour orchestre
- George Gershwin, Rhapsody in Blue, Second Rhapsody
- George Enescu, Romanian Rhapsodies nos. 1 and 2
- Edward German, Welsh Rhapsody
- Ralph Vaughan Williams, Norfolk Rhapsody No.1
- Maurice Ravel, Rapsodie espagnole
- Queen, Bohemian Rhapsody
- David Popper, Hungarian Rhapsody
- Hugo Alfven, Swedish Rhapsody No. 1 (Midsommarvaka)
- Rink, John. 2001. "Rhapsody". The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians, ed. S. Sadie and J. Tyrrell. London: Macmillan.
- Salmen, Walter. 1966. Geschichte der Rhapsodie. Atlantis-Musikbücherei. Zürich and Freiburg im Breisgau: Atlantis.
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