Bohemian Rhapsody

This Song, released by the band Queen in 1975, has enjoyed something of a renaissance in recent years. Regarded by many as one of the most progressive rock songs of all time, its popularity has continued to the present day.

“Bohemian Rhapsody” Composer: Freddie Mercury Piano Solo: John McGuinness
“Freddie” A Tribute to Freddie Mercury by John McGuinness

Bohemian Rhapsody is a six-minute suite, consisting of several sections without a chorus. It has an intro, a ballad segment, an operatic passage, a hard rock part and a reflective coda. It was written by the band’s lead singer, Freddie Mercury.

It is still one of the best-selling rock singles of all time, was voted “The Song of the Millennium” in 2000, and was recorded in the Guinness Book of Records as the No. 1 song of all time.

The lyrics of the song are strange but fit the music beautifully. There has been much speculation as to the meaning of the words. Most people accept that the lyrics are largely self-referential, reflecting something of the intensity of Mercury’s life and personality. Mercury was very close emotionally to his parents. They were of the Parsi religion which sees homosexuality as an abomination. It is, therefore, possible that the lyrics reflect internal conflicts and issues relating to Mercury’s identity. Mercury was always evasive about the meaning of the lyrics. He said simply that the song was “about social relationships”.

In the seventies, I had mixed feelings about the song. I was never a great fan of Queen, but I was aware the group was different. I loved sections of the Bohemian Rhapsody, admiring the harmonies and the musicianship. However, I found the words a bit pretentious and the musical structure somewhat disjointed. I always liked the energy of the piece and I was touched by the underlying sense of melancholy, particularly in the closing passages.

More recently I have grown to appreciate this piece of music. Rick Wakeman, on BBC’s Desert Island Discs, tells a lovely story about his dad. Rick said that he and his dad happened to hear an old song on the radio and Rick, being a young arrogant music student, said “ How can people like that rubbish?”. His dad, who was a bit of a musician himself, said kindly, “try not to dismiss any music as unworthy until you have taken the time to learn and then play it. By doing this, I find that I nearly always come to understand why people like it”.

I have followed Mr Wakeman’s advice and, as a consequence, have grown to love and admire the vitality and complexity of this wonderful piece of music. I have recorded “Bohemian Rhapsody” and wish to share it with you. This version for piano solo is quite complex and I hope it conveys some of the energy of the piece. As is typical of me, I have attempted to make it somewhat “classical” in style although, unlike many versions, it is fairly close to the original. I do hope you enjoy it.

As well as growing to love Bohemian Rhapsody, I also came slowly to admire its composer, Freddie Mercury. I decided to write my own little tribute to him. I chose one or two chord progressions from the beginning of the rhapsody and developed them into this little piece to celebrate his life and works.

Bird of Paradise

Bird of Paradise (photo: John McGuinness)

The “Bird of Paradise” is a remarkably dynamic flower that, viewed from a certain angle, resembles a flying bird. It originates from South Africa, where it is also nicknamed the “Crane Flower”. The Bird of Paradise has three bright orange petals and three blue petals which are fused together into a single bud.

Bird of Paradise, John McGuinness

This Bird of Paradise has become, for me, a powerful metaphor for loved ones who have died. Indeed, I dedicated my songs, “Bird of Paradise” to Michèle and “Birds of Paradise” to my parents. It is a great pleasure to me that they have become the two most streamed pieces of my music!

Birds of Paradise, John McGuinness

Recently, on a visit to Bath, Carol and I went to the Tivoli cinema. The bar and foyer of the cinema were full of “Bird of Paradise” flowers. It proved to be a lovely experience, the kind that sticks in one’s memory forever.

Music has always been a friend and constant companion to me. It speaks so freely and beautifully to the soul and connects me deeply to the people, places and events in the world around me.

To listen to music is a joy and to play it is like life itself. However, to create music, no matter how simple, is to be lost in a world where time and space cease to exist. Perhaps that is why I am so attracted to the image of the “Bird of Paradise”. It speaks of a world beyond where, like birds, we are able to fly freely.

Recently, I have written a little composition dedicated to all “Bird of Paradise” lovers. It is called, yep, you’ve guessed it – “Flower of Paradise”.

Flower of Paradise, John McGuinness

You can find “Bird of Paradise” on the album “Kissed by Light” and “ Birds of Paradise” on the album “Reflections”. “Flower of Paradise” is soon to be released. To listen to these on Spotify, click on the images below.

Aurelie

I am looking forward to a visit from my adorable little grand-daughter. Aurelie is six years old and is a gorgeous, energetic wee girl who fills the room with sunshine.

Before she started school, we used to spend every Wednesday together. We would go by bus to Burton, eat cheesy baked potatoes, play on the swings, visit our friends in the library and then fall asleep on the bus home. We would finish the day off by watching “Peppa Pig” or “Paw Patrol” on the telly. Lovely memories.

I am very nostalgic about our lovely times together and, as a musical memory, I wrote an entire album called “Wednesdays with Aurelie”. I thought you might like to hear some of the pieces I wrote for her.

The first piece dates back to when she was a little infant, about 18 months old. As is typical of me, I wrote her a lullaby “Song for Aurelie”

Song for Aurelie from the album Reflections by John McGuinness

The second piece is an orchestral piece called “Dance of the Teddy Bears”. Aurelie loved it because the two of us would enact the scene of the teddies waking up from sleep and yawning. We then had Teddy porridge and put our “carnival” suits on. At the march bit we would dance and play trumpets. At the end we would yawn and go back to sleep. Lovely moments! All pretend, of course.

Dance of the Teddy Bears; Music by John McGuinness

“All of these Reasons” expresses the sense of immense pleasure she displayed when we wandered down to the river to feed the ducks. The sad bit towards the end of the piece represents the feelings of sadness/ disappointment that would come over her when the bread ran out and it was time to leave. Incidentally, on my YouTube page, there is a video of “The Greedy Duckling” the music of which also dates back to this period.

All of these Reasons by John McGuinness, from the album From the Heart

The fourth piece is “Do you Dream of the Swans on the River”. On the way home, Aurelie would invariably fall asleep on the bus. Soooooo cute. I often wondered what she was dreaming about.

Swans on the River from Among the Willows by John McGuinness

Finally, I wrote her a nostalgic piece called “Aurelie” when I knew she would be going to school and these halcyon days would soon come to an end. It is a favourite of mine because it is unashamedly sentimental.

Aurelie from Papy Cool by John McGuinness

I hope you enjoy sharing some of these musical memories of my lovely little “Peppa”

The Trove Cambridge

Delighted to support The Trove Cambridge with their Crowdfunding campaign and Treasures Box Launch! Love the video and the fact that Steph used my music – Yiruma’s ‘River Flows in You’ from ‘The Wedding Album’.

You can find out more about the Trove Cambridge and the Crowdfunding page HERE . Please donate if you can and take a look at the Rewards!

Click the image to listen to
The Wedding Album by John McGuinness

Bolero

Maurice Ravel (1875 – 1937)

Boléro is an orchestral piece of music by the French composer Maurice Ravel (1875–1937). It premiered in 1928 and is widely regarded as his most famous composition. It was originally written as a ballet piece.

Florin Baluta – YouTube

The music consists largely of a theme repeated over and over again. With each repeat, he simply adds more instruments! In this way, he gradually increases the volume of the music and enriches its melodic texture. It has been suggested that Ravel’s unusual interest in repetition was caused by the onset of progressive aphasia brought on by a stroke.

The tune is highly erotic and has a strong percussion section. With its driving rhythm, repetitive melody, gradual build up and gloriously exciting climax, it has much in common with contemporary popular music. It is a piece which has been loved by people of all ages. Although written by a classical composer, it is adored by people of all musical tastes.

At the Sarajevo Winter Olympics in 1984, Torvill and Dean won gold and became the highest scoring figure skaters of all time (for a single programme) after skating to Ravel’s Boléro. That day, twenty-four million people fell in love with the skaters, the choreography and, of course, Ravel’s Boléro.

I love the rhythm of the Boléro and for years wanted to write a piece of music that used this rhythmic form. But how do you follow Ravel’s majestic piece? The answer is simple – you can’t. However, after a visit to The Alhambra, in Granada, I decided to put together a little bolero of my own, an extract of which can be found below.

It is called “El Castillo”. Just for fun I tried it out with the original Torvill & Dean olympics video -see what you think – and you can also listen to the full track below.

El Castillo – John McGuinness

This piece comes from my album “ Memories of Andalusia”, which is a musical diary of my visit to Southern Spain. I hope you find it interesting.

Click image for John McGuinness – YouTube

The Waltz

I have never met anyone who does not know what a waltz is. This dance is renowned for its elegance, charm and romanticism. Even as a young lad I can remember my dad or an aunt telling me to stand on their feet and they would move around the kitchen in time to some awful tune on the radio, step by cumbersome step, shouting “ One, two, three -One, two, three.. ad Infinitum”. I loved it! It’s easy to please a four-year-old.

But where did this dance form come from? And why has it had such enduring popularity? Television programmes such as “Strictly Come Dancing” or New Year concerts from Vienna testify to the Waltz’s grand legacy of delight.

The Waltz almost certainly derived from the old German “Ländler“. It grew in prominence at the end of the 18th century, being the vogue in Vienna. It arrived in Britain around 1791. Popular composers such as Mozart regularly wrote waltz pieces for balls and public events in Vienna.

It is hard to imagine now, but the waltz was once regarded as quite improper and was almost universally disapproved of. An English chap called Burney in 1805 wrote, “ the verb ‘waltzen’… implies to roll, wallow, welter, tumble down, or roll in the dirt or more. What analogy there may be between these acceptations and the dance, we pretend not to say; but having seen it performed by a select party of foreigners, we could not help reflecting how uneasy an English mother would be to see her daughter so familiarly treated, and still more to witness the obliging manner in which the freedom is returned by the females”. I don’t know who this guy was but he must have been a wee bit of a kill-joy.

Johann Strauss Statue, Vienna

The great waltz composers of the early part of the 19th century were Joseph Lanner and the Strauss family. There are many celebrated waltz melodies that emerged in Vienna at this time but probably the best known today is “The Blue Danube Waltz” by Johann Strauss. It is smooth, elegant, and beautiful.

Even Andre Rieu, in a typically lavish performance of the waltz, leaves aside a proportion of his cheesy smile in order to give us a flavour of the grandness of the waltz as it may have been experienced in early 19th century Vienna.

A particular feature of the Viennese Waltz is worthy of note. Compared to the classic waltz, in the Viennese Waltz the second beat of the accompaniment is played a trifle before its legal moment. This is what adds to the vitality and energy of this particular form of waltz. It is the reason why some, but clearly not all, of the celebrities in “Strictly…” come a cropper in the Viennese Waltz section.


Mozart, Beethoven, Schubert, Weber, Chopin, Schumann, Brahms and many other classical composers wrote wonderful waltz tunes. The piano waltzes of Chopin and Brahms are of particular importance in the history of music.

Chopin’s Waltz in B minor, Opus 69, No.2 (Op. posth.)

A personal favourite of mine is Chopin’s Waltz in A Minor, Opus 34, No.2. A friend gave me a book of Chopin Waltzes when I was at Glasgow University in the early 70’s and I was delighted that this particular waltz was in it. I recorded it a few years ago. I hope you enjoy listening to this. I have also recently recorded Chopin’s much loved Waltz in B minor, Opus 69, No.2 (Op. posth.)

Chopin’s Waltz in A Minor, Opus 34, No.2.
Chopin’s Waltz in B minor, Opus 69, No.2 (Op. posth.)

The waltz as an instrumental form continued to be popular throughout the 19th and 20th centuries. However, it has been less favoured in more recent times. A lot of contemporary rock music tends to have 2 or 4 beats to the bar, but this is not a universal phenomenon. Much jazz, classical and contemporary music genres use mixed beat set-ups so that the rhythm of the piece changes, creating variety and novelty.

As far as the contemporary piano is concerned, there are some beautifully evocative waltz compositions. One of my favourite compositions is by Alexis Ffrench. Born in 1970, Ffrench has been improvising on the piano since the age of four. He received scholarships to study at The Purcell School for Young Musicians, the Royal Academy of Music and the Guildhall School of Music and Drama. He is known for his unique style of combining his classical training with a love of roots music and Rhythm and Blues.

Bluebird (Solo Piano Version) by Alexis Ffrench is a smooth, melodic composition for solo piano. It is an elegant waltz and is quite beautiful. In my opinion, this contemporary piece demonstrates why rock artists are missing a trick or two by ignoring the waltz form.


A couple of my own little pieces are in waltz time. When I visited Italy some years ago, I made some new friends, including three amazing ladies in their eighties. Carol and I, being younger and more able-bodied (when not tipsy), would often walk holding arms with them in order to negotiate steep and busy pathways in places like Verona and Venice. Sometimes it must have looked to other tourists as if we were doing some crazy, unsychronised dance. When I got home I wrote a little waltz to celebrate those lovely moments. I called it “The Dance of Youth”!

Another little waltz I wrote is quite different. I was walking along the canal at Willington to get some exercise. I was in a sombre mood when I noticed some Willow trees hanging over the water. The weather was wintry, grey and bleak and the trees also seemed a bit sad. Of course, I know a tree cannot be sad but I sensed the pathos of the moment. Then a little bit of magic happened. The branches hanging over the water began to dance about in the wind – here, there and everywhere. They made my heart leap a little and I smiled for the first time that day. It is funny how the littlest things in life can give so much pleasure!

Later that day, I returned to my music diary and decided that my experience could best be encapsulated in a small piano solo. I decided it would have a sad opening. Then a little waltz melody would be introduced to describe the fluttering of the branches and leaves over the water. Then the piece would finish with the sad feeling again. I called this piece “The Willow Trees”.

Extracts from The Dance of Youth & The Willow Trees by John McGuinness

I hope you like my little waltzes and that they illustrate how the waltz rhythm can be varied in order to change the feeling of a piece of music. Vive la valse!

You can find full versions of my waltzes on Riversongs and Among the Willows by clicking on the images above.

Happy Burns’ Night 2020

Robert (Rabbie) Burns, the Scottish poet and lyricist, was born on 25 January. 1759. Generally regarded as one of the most influential Scots of all time, his literary work is celebrated throughout the world.

Portrait of Robert Burns, 1787

Burns is regarded as a pioneer of the Romantic Movement and, after his death in 1796, he became a great source of inspiration to the founders of both Liberalism and Socialism. Indeed, it would be true to say that, throughout the 19th, 20th and 21st centuries, his work and life have achieved charismatic proportions. Translations of his work are particularly held in high regard in France and Russia.

When I was at school, we studied Burns’ poetry as part of the national school curriculum and, to me, he was as famous as Shakespeare, Keats, Shelley and Wordsworth.

In 2009, he was chosen as the greatest Scot by the Scottish public in a vote run by Scottish Television (STV)

As well as writing original compositions, Burns also collected folk songs from across Scotland, often revising or adapting them. His poem (and song) “Auld Lang Syne” is often sung at Hogmanay (the last day of the year), and “Scots wha hae” served for a long time as an unofficial national anthem of the country.

Other poems and songs of Burns that remain well known across the world today include “A Red, Red Rose”, “ A Man’s a Man for a’ That”, “To a Louse”, “To a Mouse”, “Tam O’Shanter” and the very sad but beautiful “Ae Fond Kiss”

I have chosen my piano solo version of “A Red, Red Rose” to celebrate the life of one of the finest British poets ever to have lived. It is regarded by many to be one of the most charming love songs ever written, full of glorious hyperbole.

A Red Red Rose🌹, Piano Solo by John McGuinness

A Red, Red Rose.

“ O my Luve is like a red, red rose
That’s newly sprung in june;
O my Luve is like the melodie
That’s sweetly play’d in tune:

As fair art thou, my bonnie lass,
So deep in luve am I:
And I will luve thee still, my dear,
Till a’ the seas gang dry:

Till a’ the seas gang dry, my dear
And the rocks melt wi’ the sun:
I will luve thee still, my dear,
While the sands o’ life shall run.

And fare thee weel, my only Luve
And fare thee weel, a while!
And I will come again, my Luve,
Tho’ it were ten thousand mile.”

Robert Burns

Max Richter Ticks All The Boxes

My first musical thrill of the New Year in 2020 was to listen to Max Richter’s re-imagining of Vivaldi’s “Four Seasons”, a Christmas gift from my son, Julien. Richter refers to his work as a re-composition and in many ways it is. Although one recognises the more familiar melodies of Vivaldi, it is no mere re-arrangement.

For me, he navigates a difficult pathway between the splendour of the past and the beauty of the modern, in a piece dripping with exhilarating musicality. Right from the beginning, one is flying with the birds in the sky and soaring over an ever-changing landscape of musical images and sounds. Whatever your musical tastes, you will most probably find this a thrilling and fulfilling experience. Richter really does tick all the boxes. Although written some time ago, it is fresh and new and has amazing sound quality.

I highly recommend this Deutsche Grammophon recording (2012) which features Daniel Hope on violin, Raphael Alpermann on harpsichord and the Konserthaus Kammerorchester Berlin, conductor Andre de Ridder. The composer himself is on moog synthesiser.

So why not sit back in a comfortable chair with your favourite drink and be transported, in your imagination, to a world beyond your dreams. Enjoy!

Listen here on Spotify

Christmas Greetings

I have always loved Christmas. I remember one magical Christmas Eve walking with my older brother, Jim, through the deep snow to serve at midnight mass. It was my debut. I was so excited! I can still hear the distant church bells as we scrunched for a long way through the thick snow. All around, the silence of the night, the piercing chill wind, the distant lights surrounded us. After mass, we met our family and friends, wishing one to the other a wonderful Christmas.

I was not disinterested by presents but, for me, the lasting beauty of Christmas has always been the way in which it transforms people’s lives and creates a deep sense of mutual affection and love. Even today I get that lovely warm feeling when I see my grandchildren’s eyes light up with wonder at all things tinselly and sparkly. It makes the world a better place.

For me, it is a time of deep nostalgia too because most of the people who inhabited those places when I was a child and, indeed, most of the places themselves, are long since gone. It still manages to stir something of profound meaning and deep gratitude in my heart.

One particular Christmas Carol never fails to bring a tear to my eye. Consequently, I went to the piano and recorded it as a way of expressing my warmest Christmas wishes to each and every one of you. Now, which Carol could it be?

Thanks very much Anne for your guest article. Lovely to hear about your choir days and about your and Tony’s favourite Carols xx❤️