When I was 7, I learned this piece in my Teaching Little Fingers to Play piano book:
The lesson introduced A-sharp, a black key, so that I could create chromatic buzzing. If you play a key on the piano, then play the key directly next to it (up or down, black or white), you’ve moved chromatically—one half-step in pitch. Do that quickly, back and forth, and it sounds a bit like the hum of a bee.
That little beginner’s song helped prepare me to play this a few years later:
That’s a page from “The Flight of the Bumblebee,” composed around 1900 by Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov for his opera The Tale of Tsar Saltan. The music occurs at the point when a magical swan turns Prince Saltanovich (the Tsar’s son) into an insect, so he can fly away to visit his father.
I was around 10 years old when I tackled this piece—I can tell from the handwriting on the sheet music. Of course, I didn’t do justice to the composition at that age. Presto was a speed my fingers could not yet manage. But I was pretty pleased with myself for even giving it a try.
“The Flight of the Bumblebee” has been arranged for a wide variety of instruments. I’ve heard it performed on violin and flute. And on piano of course. But YouTube also offers versions played on tuba, euphonium, alto sax, trumpet, trombone, clarinet, even guitar (impressive).
The piece served as theme music for the radio program The Green Hornet. When the show moved to television in the 1960s, a bumblebee trumpet solo by Al Hirt was added.
Jack Fina’s swing arrangement of “The Flight of the Bumblebee,” which he called “Bumble Boogie,” was a hit in 1946. The tune climbed the charts again in 1961 with a rock rendition by B. Bumble and the Stingers.
Here’s Fina. Watch him fly.
Copyright © 2015 by Paulette Bochnig Sharkey
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