Flight of the Bumblebee

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This article is about a musical piece. For the actual flight of a bumblebee, see Bumblebee#Flight.
Flight of the Bumblebee performed by the US Army Band

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"Flight of the Bumblebee" is an orchestral interlude written by Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov for his opera The Tale of Tsar Saltan, composed in 1899–1900. The piece closes Act III, Tableau 1, during which the magic Swan-Bird changes Prince Gvidon Saltanovich (the Tsar's son) into an insect so that he can fly away to visit his father (who does not know that he is alive). Although in the opera the Swan-Bird sings during the first part of the "Flight", her vocal line is melodically uninvolved and easily omitted; this feature, combined with the fact that the number decisively closes the scene, made easy extraction as an orchestral concerto piece possible.


Here is the text of the scene where the Swan-Bird sings during this music:

Russian English translation
(Гвидон спускается с берега в море. Из моря вылетает шмель, кружась около Лебедь-Птицы.)

Ну, теперь, мой шмель, гуляй,
судно в море догоняй,
потихоньку опускайся,
в щель подальше забивайся.
Будь здоров, Гвидон, лети,
только долго не гости!
(Шмель улетает.)

(Gvidon goes down from the shore into the sea. Out from the sea flies a bumblebee, whirling around the Swan-Bird.)

Well, now, my bumblebee, go on a spree,
catch up with the ship on the sea,
go down secretly,
get deep into a crack.
Good luck, Gvidon, fly,
only do not stay long!
(The bumblebee flies away.)

Although the "Flight" does not have a title in the score of the opera, its common English title translates like the Russian one (Полёт шмеля = Polyot shmelya). Incidentally, this piece does NOT constitute one of the movements of the orchestral suite that Rimsky-Korsakov derived from the opera for concerts.

Those familiar with the opera Tsar Saltan may recognize two leitmotifs used in the Flight, both of which are associated with Prince Gvidon from earlier in the opera. These are illustrated here in musical notation:


The music of this number recurs in modified form during the ensuing tableau (Act III, Tableau 2), at the points when the Bumblebee appears during the scene: it stings the two evil sisters on the brow, blinds Babarikha (the instigator of the plot to trick Saltan at the beginning into sending his wife away), and in general causes havoc at the end of the tableau. The readers of Aleksandr Pushkin's original poem, upon which this opera is based, will note that Gvidon is supposed to go on three separate trips to Saltan's kingdom, each of which requires a transformation into a different insect.

"Flight of the Bumblebee" is recognizable for its frantic pace when played up to tempo, with nearly uninterrupted runs of chromatic sixteenth notes. It is not so much the pitch or range of the notes that are played that challenges the musician, but simply the musician's ability to move to them quickly enough. Because of this and its complexity, it requires a great deal of skill to perform.

In the "Tsar Saltan" suite, the short version is commonly played, taking less than two minutes. In the Opera version, the three minute fifty-five second version is performed.

Although the original orchestral version assigns portions of the sixteenth-note runs to various instruments in tandem, in the century since its composition the piece has become a standard showcase for solo instrumental virtuosity, whether on the original violin or on practically any other melodic instrument. Sergei Rachmaninov's transcription for piano features in the film Shine and is interpreted by David Helfgott.

In popular culture[edit]

  • "Flight of the Bumblebee" was featured, along with other compositions by Rimsky-Korsakov, in the fictional 1947 biopic Song of Scheherazade.
  • The radio program The Green Hornet used "Flight of the Bumblebee" as its theme music, blended with a hornet buzz created on a theremin. The music became so strongly identified with the show and the character that it was retained as the theme for the later TV series. This version was orchestrated by Billy May and conducted by Lionel Newman, with trumpet solo by Al Hirt, in a jazz style nicknamed "Green Bee". This particular version was later featured in the 2003 film Kill Bill.
  • Comedian Spike Jones did a "Laughing Record" in the late 1940s, where the 'Flight of the Bumblebee is interrupted repeatedly by wild laughter and a sneeze by the Spike Jones and his City Slickers band.
  • The instrumental rock band B Bumble and the Stingers had a top 40 hit, hitting No.21 on the Billboard charts, with "Bumble Boogie", based on "Flight of the Bumblebee", in 1961.
  • Jennifer Batten´s 1992 record "Above Below and Beyond" includes a 1:03 min approx. "tapping only" version.
  • Brazilian rock guitarist Tiago Della Vega established the world record as the fastest guitar player in 2008 playing a 320 beats per minute rendition of "Flight of the Bumblebee".[1][2] This was subsequently broken by John Taylor of Colorado in 2011 playing this piece at 600 beats per minute.[3]
  • Violinist Oliver Lewis broke the record for the fastest performance of the "Flight of the Bumblebee", during a live broadcast of the BBC children's television programme Blue Peter, on 18 October 2010, playing the piece in one minute and 3.356 seconds.[4]
  • Canadian violinist Eric Speed broke the record for the fastest performance of the "Flight of the Bumblebee" again at the Just For Laughs festival in Montreal on July 22, 2011, playing the piece in 53 seconds.[5]
  • The music inspired Walt Disney to have a bumblebee featured in a segment of Fantasia that would sound as if it was flying in all parts of the theatre. It was an experiment that ended up on the cutting room floor but anticipated the eventual invention of surround sound.[6] However, in his film Melody Time, Disney included an animated segment using Freddy Martin's "Bumble Boogie", a jazz arrangement of the piece.[7]
  • Pianist Lang Lang played "Flight of the Bumblebee" in an encore at Davies Symphony Hall in San Francisco using an iPad and an app set to no fail tap mode.[8]
  • A segment of the song was used in the Michael Jackson song, "Breaking News".
  • During their The Final Countdown world tour, the guitarist of Europe, Kee Marcello performed "Flight of the Bumblebee" as the climax of his guitar solo spot.
  • The Canadian heavy metal band Anvil covered this song on their 1987 album Strength of Steel under the name of "Flight of the Bumble Beast".
  • The American heavy metal band Manowar covered this song on a bass guitar on their 1988 album Kings of Metal under the name of "Sting of the Bumblebee".
  • Another metal band from the US, Dream Theater, features this piece in the 1998 live album Once in a LIVEtime at the end of a guitar solo by John Petrucci.
  • Acclaimed Indian violin exponent L. Subramaniam did an Indianized cover of the song, titled "Flight of the Humblebee" for his album Indian Express/Mani & Co.[9]
  • Hong Kong Cantopop singer, Hacken Lee has this song as a backbone of "阿李爸爸",which is transliterated as Ali Baba, but the song is about Hacken being a father in his own family,[10] of which erhu and piano both play the melody.
  • The song is featured in the 2002 film Drumline starring Nick Cannon and Zoe Saldana. After hearing a rival marching band playing crowd-pleasing (but musically simplistic) hip-hop, the opposing band director instructs his band to respond with the song as an example of true musicianship.
  • On the 1990 album Pornograffitti by American rock band Extreme (band), Nuno Bettencourt performs a version entitled Flight of the Wounded Bumble Bee.
  • The song was featured in the 8th season episode "Nannies" of TV show "How I Met Your Mother".
  • This song is used as the music for the final boss in Bubble Bobble.
  • In the Sims, the computer game, characters play among others this piece, when their musical skill is at the top.
  • In the 1996 film Shine, a piano version of the song is featured when Geoffrey Rush's character David (based on the real life piano player David Helfgott) goes into a restaurant and plays just after being heckled by an alcoholic patron.
  • The 2002 movie Snow Dogs featured the tune during the scene where Ted Brooks and a pilot attempt to exit their helicopter just as a snowstorm is occurring.
  • In the 1995 TV movie adaptation of Judy Blume's Fudge-a-Mania, the song plays during a scene when Fudge's pet myna bird Uncle Feather is flying around loose in their house and Mrs. Tubman panics, mistaking it for a bat.
  • In Ned's Declassified School Survival Guide, a version of this song plays during scenes involving a group of students known as the Killer Bees.
  • The television show The Big Bang Theory featured the song when Sheldon Cooper, as the Flash, ran to the Grand Canyon to "scream in frustration."
  • The television show Unfabulous used the piece in the episode "The Guilt Trip."
  • The television show Little Einsteins features a different classical piece, with lyrics set to it, in every episode. This piece was used in the episode "Rocket Safari" as well as incidental music as several other episodes.


  1. ^ Guinness World Records website on the world's fastest guitar player
  2. ^ "Video of Della Vega's record". Community.guinnessworldrecords.com. 2008-05-07. Retrieved 2012-04-21. 
  3. ^ "Video: World's Fastest Guitar Player Plays "Flight of the Bumblebee" at 600 BPM". Guitar World. 2011-07-20. Retrieved 2012-04-21. 
  4. ^ "Flight of the Bumblebee played in record time". BBC News website (London: BBC). 18 October 2010. Retrieved 31 January 2011. 
  5. ^ "Eric Speed, Violinist, Flight of the Bumblebee, Nikon S9100, Montreal, 22 July 2011". Youtube.com. Retrieved 2012-04-21. 
  6. ^ Holman, Tomlinson (2007). Surround sound: up and running. Focal Press. p. 240. ISBN 978-0-240-80829-1. Retrieved 2010-04-03. 
  7. ^ "(Italian version)". Youtube.com. 2009-02-27. Retrieved 2012-04-21. 
  8. ^ Matyszczyk, Chris (2010-04-23). "Concert pianist plays iPad onstage / Technically Incorrect". CNET News (CBS Interactive). Retrieved 2011-03-15. 
  9. ^ Music Aloud. Oct 7, 2009 http://www.musicaloud.com/2009/10/07/quiz-7/ |url= missing title (help). Retrieved 16 August 2012. 
  10. ^ 03:22 (2011-07-25). "Hacken Lee - Father Lees". Tudou.com. Retrieved 2012-04-21. 

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