Buzzing around

Flight of the Bumblebee

by Rimsky-Korsakov

Context:

Flight of the Bumblebee was composed in 1899-1900, for the opera The Tale of Tsar Saltan.  It is intended to portray the chaotic and dynamic flying pattern of a bumblebee.  Originally composed for orchestra, it is a hugely popular piece, and often appears as an encore, not least because it sounds very impressive.

Listen For:

  • rapid chromatic scales played by the solo violinist

What does chromatic mean?

A chromatic scale is a pattern of notes consisting of semitones. A semitone is the smallest interval between 2 notes, for example C to C# and E to F. Using semitones creates musical tension.
  • pizzicato orchestral strings give a light accompaniment, which doesn’t detract from the virtuosic melody line.
  • They also provide a steady pulse 
  • Notice how the chromatic solo melody moves up through the octaves, which increases the musical tension and excitement.
  • At 00:37 the woodwind section play a staccato broken-chord figure in imitation.
  • At the same time the clarinets take on the rapid chromatic scales

If you want to hear some extremely fast performances on different instruments, just click here.

Things To Consider:

How could you use chromatic scales and semitone movement to create tension in your composition?

Could you choose an insect or animal to portray musically?  For more examples listen to Carnival of the animals by Saint-Saens and Peter and the Wolf by Prokofiev.