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Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov wrote ‘Flight of the Bumblebee’ as an orchestral interlude for the opera ‘The Tale of Tsar Saltan’ which he composed in 1899 to 1900. This piece of music closes Tableau 1, Act III and takes place when the Swan-Bird magically transforms Prince Saltanovich, the Tsar’s son into an flying-insect allowing him to fly away to visit his father who believes him to be dead.
In the score of the opera the ‘flight’ does not have an official title but has been translated from Russian into English and given the name it is now known by. If you are familiar with Tsar Saltan you would know that the two leitmotifs that are used in Flight of the Bumble Bee have also been associated with Prince Gvidon earlier in the score.
The opera is based upon a poem by Aleksandr Puskin and is meant to send Gvidon on three trips to the kingdom of Saltan. This requires him to transform into different insects.
The frantic pace of ‘Flight of the Bumblebee’ makes it recognizable if played to tempo. Chromatic sixteenth notes that are played almost uninterrupted are the challenge of the piece and not the range or the pitch of the notes. It is a complex piece that takes a good deal of skill to pull off.
Thankfully the original score portions the sixteenth-note runs to different instruments in tandem. One hundred years have passed since the piece was composed and over time the standard has been to showcase the soloist’s virtuosity. This piece has been played by a variety of artists on a variety of instruments.
You can hear ‘Flight of the Bumblebee’ by Nikolai Rimsky-Lorsakov as the theme music of The Green Hornet radio program. It was also featured in the movie Kill Bill in 2003. Another movie to have featured this song was Drum Line.
Tiago Della Vega, a Brazilian rock guitarist, established a world records playing it at 320 beats per minute in 2008. This record was broken in 2011 by John Taylor of Colorado who played it at 600 bpm.
Oliver Lewis and Eric Speed both violinists also broke records for playing the music ‘Flight of the BumbleBee’ .Oliver did it on a live broadcast on a BBC show and Eric at the festival ‘Just For Laughs’ in Montreal.
Heavy metal bands from the Canada ( Anvil) and USA ( Manowar and Dream Theater ) have also played this piece of music as well as Michael Jackson who used a part of ‘Breaking News’.
Johann Sebastian Bach’s “Air on a G String” for the violin is from his Orchestral Suite No. 3 (BWV 1068) which he wrote for Prince Leopold of Anhalt. Leopold was a patron of Bach and wrote the piece between 1717 and 1723.
Prince Leopold, himself a musician, appreciated Bach’s talents and gave him freedom in composing and performing which is richly reflected in the Orchestral Suites and most of the other music Bach composed during this period including the Brandenburg Concertos and cello suites.
In 1871 is when the piece was assigned the name ‘Air on the G String’ when August Wilhelmi, a German violinist, made an arrangement of it for piano and violin. Wilhelmi changed the piece transposing the melody down an octave into the C major key allowing him to play it using only one string of the violin – the G String.
Jacques Loussier transformed the piece into a jazz trio arrangement. This version was used in Hamlet cigar television commercials as background music. The international hit ‘A Whiter Shade of Pale’ also uses the melody as well. This combination of classical and rock music was noted by Gary Brooker from Procol Harum in the magazine Uncut. In 1998 the number five hit ‘Everything’s Gonna Be Alright’ by Sweetbox is also based on Bach’s composition.
Bach was different to the other well-known composers since his career was confined to a more limited geographical area. He was born in the then Thuringia ( Eisenach, Saxe-Eisenach, central Germany) and never travelled further north than Lubeck and Hamburg or further south than Carlsbad and only traveled to Kassel in the west and Dresden in the east.
You will often hear Bach’s “Air on a G String” played at weddings, parties and receptions. Even after over two hundred eighty years this piece by Johann Sebastian Bach has stood the test of time and remains a true classic.
Habanera is a music genre that originated in Cuba, around the 19th century. It later spread to the Spanish colonies and subsequently landed in Europe.
The Habanera is one of the most popular soprano arias from the opera Carmen. This arias by distinguished French composer Georges Bizet when translated to English mean ‘Love is a rebellious bird’ and in the original French version it is ‘L ‘amour est un oiseau rebelle’ The origin of the song was unknown to Bizet since it was belief that it was a folk song. Later Bizet added a note to the original song and gave full credit to the original composer of the song. Bizet had unknowingly taken the song from a popular cabaret habanera ‘El Arreglito’ by Sebastian Yradier (Sebastian Iradier Salaverri) a Basque Composer also known for the song La Paloma. The composer had died ten years prior to Bizet using the piece of song.
In Georges Bizet’s Habanera, the arias, has lyrics expressing love through a scale that descends chromatically along with phrases in both the minor and major keys.
It is said that the aria Habanera is the sexiest music ever composed.
This aria not only required a singer who can sing mezzo-soprano but who also has the temperament of the character Carmen. She shall be able to put fear into the minds of even the most daring seducers!
Sadly enough Bizet did not enjoy the success of the opera Carmen as he died three months after the opening of the opera on June 3rd 1875.
When Carmen was staged in London Habanera then sung by Ms. Trebelli captivated the audience there. In fact the English had not heard about Bizet before and was an unknown composer.
This aria has even been performed on Sesame Street bringing it to children as well.
Featured in a film in 1985, which was nominated for Best Foreign Film at the Golden Globes, it stared Placido Domingo and Julia Migenes.
‘The Odd Couple’ a popular serial also featured this aria.
Maria Callas has sung Habanera and given perhaps the best performance of the Habanera in modern times along with Angela Gheorghiu.