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"Flight of the Bumblebee" The Most Famous Music by Rimsky-Korsakov

The Music "Flight of the Bumblebee" that Became Popular World Wide

“Fantasy is the key to art, self-discipline can take a backseat” – this phrase precisely illustrates Nikolay Rimsky-Korsakov’s motto of music. This orthodox, yet renegade music composer has left a vast legacy of artistic influence for future generations – “Flight of the Bumblebee” being a testament of his works.     


Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov crafted "Flight of the Bumblebee" in the period ranging between 1899 to 1900. This famous orchestral interlude was created for his renowned opera - “The Tale of Tsar Saltan.” The composition was pieced to evoke the chaotic and rapidly interchanging flight pattern of a “bumblebee.” Although Rimsky-Korsakov intended to use it as an incidental part of his opera, the piece has grown into one of the most celebrated classical compositions, subject to its frequent usage in the popular culture.       

Swan-Bird from the opera, The Tale of Tsar Saltan


The composition imitates the insect “bumblebee,” flying and buzzing throughout – replicating its journey. The strings are played in a “lower register,” fabricating an exciting sonority. The piece offers a fast-paced race from its very first notes, compelling each player to be on guard. The tempo never experiences any slump, but simply keeps gaining momentum. It’s a total package of tension, energy, and vitality throughout the three minutes runtime. Although the original piece was specifically intended for the orchestra, it has experienced countless diverse arrangements for various instruments - both ensemble and solo.


The original instruments utilized in the piece included a symphonic orchestra. It consisted of two tubas, three trombones, three trumpets, four horns and contrabassoons, two bassoons, three clarinets, two oboes, two flutes, an English horn, and a piccolo. The string section included double bass, cellos, violas and first and second violins. All these instruments have been utilized in the Third Act of Rimsky-Korsakov’s opera “The Tale of Tsar Saltan,” namely “Flight of the Bumblebee.”   

Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov, composer


The composer has used this piece as the closing of Act 3, Tableau 1 of the opera “The Tale of Tsar Saltan.” During the act, the magic swan bird converts Prince Gvidon (the Tsar's son) into a bumblebee after learning of his sorrows. This enables the prince to fly off and catch up with a ship heading towards his father’s destination. Upon the ship, the prince/bumblebee becomes angry after becoming aware of the blatant conspiracies against his father. It stings the conspirators and flies off, creating inherent confusion and chaos.    

In the opera, the first part of the flight is registered by a song of the swan bird. However, her vocal line is unimaginative and melodically a bit sloth. The inclusion of the piece enables the scene to close decisively, with a fast-paced extraction that reflects the bumblebee’s plight.       

The “Flight” doesn’t have any distinct title in the original score of “The Tale of Tsar Saltan.” The interesting fact is, this piece is devoid of a movement of the orchestral suite that the composer crafted for the concerts. There are two leitmotifs used in the piece, both offering a strong connection to the young prince from earlier parts of the opera. The original poem of Alexander Pushkin on which the opera is based portrays Prince Gvidon going on three distinct trips to Tsar Saltan’s kingdom. The prince transformed into three separate insects on each of the trips. However, the composer only utilizes one of the animals in his scores.      

Utilization in the Popular Culture

  • In 1941, trumpeter Harry James, the band leader of Big band performed a cover of the piece.
  • In 1947, "Flight of the Bumblebee" was used in the fictional biopic song of “Scheherazade,” along with several other compositions of Rimsky-Korsakov.     
  • “The Stringers” and “B. Bumble” collaborated to recreate a piano version of "Flight of the Bumblebee.” In 1961, the number surged up to #21 on the “Billboard Hot 100” list.   
  • In 1967, the Japanese guitarist Takeshi Terauchi collaborated with “The Bunnys” to craft an “instrumental rock cover” of the tune for their album titled “Let's Go Unmei.”
  • The Muppet show utilized this song in their pilot episode. The scene portrays Gonzo attempting to devour a tire onstage with "Flight of the Bumblebee" playing in the background.     
  • "Flight of the Bumblebee" was also utilized as the theme music of the popular radio show “The Green Hornet.” The music became extremely popular and was considered an integral part of the show. It was also retained for future seasons. Lionel Newman conducted this version, Al Hirt crafted a trumpet solo while Billy May orchestrated. The whole composition was composed by incorporating a jazz style “Green Bee,” and was also used in Kill Bill, the 2003 epic by Tarantino. 
  • Rimsky-Korsakov's original also inspired “Extreme's” instrumental piece titled "Flight of the Wounded Bumblebee." It also featured the renowned guitarist Nuno Bettencourt's. The piece is a distinct work itself and not merely a rendition.
  • Joey DeMaio, the bassist of “Manowar” created a rendition known as "Sting of the Bumblebee," which was entirely based on bass guitar.
  • The piece was also used in the song “A Last Illusion,” namely a feature in the Trans-Siberian Orchestra’s album “Beethoven's Last Night.”   
  • An altered version of the composition was used in a chase sequence of the video game “Rayman.” The sequence portrays the protagonist riding a mosquito, as the tempo gradually escalates. 
  • Xavi Capellas played a version of the piece [the opening theme] in “Merlí,” a Catalan TV series. 
  • In 1990, a thrash metal version of the piece was created by “The Great Kat” for her album “Beethoven on Speed.”
  • In 1993, the popular animated series, “Adventures of Sonic the Hedgehog” used the piece in its opening theme. The tune was combined with the original score of the video game “Sonic the Hedgehog,” and “In the Hall of the Mountain King.”
  • Walt Disney used the music in a segment of “Fantasia,” that featured the sound of a bumblebee buzzing around a movie theater. However, the segment didn’t make it to the final cut of the movie. Disney instead utilized a jazz arrangement of his piece in the film “Melody Time.”   
  • A very popular piano rendition of “Flight of the Bumblebee” which was arranged by a Russian composer, Sergei Rachmaninoff was used in the film “Shine.” The scene depicts Geoffrey Rush's character wandering into a café on a rainy night and subsequently amazing the patrons present there by performing the rendition.   
  • Bob Dylan, the legendary singer-songwriter quoted the original piece in the piano intro of the song, “It’s the Flight of the Bumblebee.” Dylan wrote and played this version with “The Band” during their Basement Tape sessions. 
  • The Coventry Bees Speedway team has used the tune as their theme music and plays it at their every home fixture.
  • Tetris 99, a Japanese video game uses a D&B remix of the piece.     


"Flight of the Bumblebee" runs at a frantic pace, with uninterrupted runs of chromatic notes. The range of notes and pitch on display doesn’t pose much of a challenge for musicians, although moving them quickly enough to match the pace can prove to be a daunting task. So, a great deal of skill is required to perform this complex bit, which has been more evident in various renditions throughout the popular culture.   

It also ended up being a popular piece for guitarists, who use it to display their technical prowess. The original version was meant to utilize violins, although various guitar versions have surfaced throughout the years. However, there isn’t any master version singlehandedly for guitar. Its popularity is down to the fact that few players can resist the challenge to delve into fast-paced music. The composer wanted to create a musical picture portraying of a bee buzzing around at break-neck speed, which he successfully achieved. Most renditions are performed at “lightning-fast speeds,” playing right into the hands of Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov.   


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