Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov: Flight of the Bumblebee


Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov is known for a range of his orchestral works, however perhaps one of the most iconic is his orchestral interlude Flight of the Bumblebee. As the title suggests, the work intends to evoke the chaotic and ever-changing flying pattern of a bumblebee. The work was used for his opera The Tale of Tsar Saltan, which was composed between 1899-1900. Although just used as an orchestral interlude in the opera, Flight of the Bumblebee has earned its place in popular culture. 


The Music

Comprising of cascading chromatic semiquaver patterns, the chaotic direction of the bee is often unknown. After the loud opening the interlude quickly drops in dynamic as the strings begin to accentuate bars using pizzicato notes. The chromatic runs are handed over to the flutes and clarinets as the strings begin a swirling motif. 

The quick pulsating dynamics sounds like a bee is near you, which adds to the comedy of the piece. The tempo doesn’t falter at all during the piece. The strings lead for a majority of the piece, with swirling motifs, tremolo patterns and pizzicato sections being the driving force of the tempo and melody. A single flute has the last ascending scale before the final note, accentuated by pizzicato strings pops out of the texture.


Final Thoughts

At only 1.5 minutes in duration, Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov’s Flight of the Bumblebee sure does fit a lot of notes in! The fluttering strings and constant cascading chromatic scales adds to the character of the bee and the direction it’s going to buzz to next. Many covers have been made over the years, including for soloists, big bands, singers and more. People are even trying to see who can play it the fastest! A thoroughly exciting work.


Ⓒ Alex Burns

Happy Reading!

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