The Bee's Knees: Music With A Definite Buzz : Deceptive Cadence Catch the buzz: Commentator Miles Hoffman finds gorgeous musical evocations of the lowly bumblebee.

The Bee's Knees: Music With A Definite Buzz

Listen Now

  • Download
  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript

A bee at work. Andreas./Flickr hide caption

toggle caption

A bee at work.


It's the dog days of summer, but the sound of the season belongs to the bees. Fortunately, buzzing bees have inspired some lovely music. Morning Edition commentator Miles Hoffman has some suggestions.

The Bee's Knees: Music With A Definite Buzz

Rimsky-Korsakov, "Flight of the Bumblebee"

First of all, we can't get around this one. It was originally written as an orchestral interlude for Rimsky-Korsakov's opera The Tale of Tsar Saltan.

Zubin Mehta conducts.

Darklugia434 YouTube

Tuba solo version of "Flight of the Bumblebee"

However, there have been versions for just about every instrument imaginable — including the tuba.

Chuck Daellenbach plays "Flight of the Bumblebee" on solo tuba — fast..

Canadian Brass YouTube

"Flight of the Bumblebee," accordion style

But I've discovered a new favorite: a woman named Annie Gong, playing it at the speed of light on the accordion.

Accordionist Annie Gong lets loose on Rimsky-Korsakov.

anniegong1 YouTube

Vaughan Williams' "The Wasps"

You may remember that "Flight of the Bumblebee" was used as the theme music for the TV show (and, previous to that, the radio series) The Green Hornet, in a troubling show of disrespect for entomological accuracy. A hornet isn't a bee; it's a wasp. And hornets sometimes eat bees.

Speaking of wasps, there's a very well-known piece by the English composer Ralph Vaughan Williams. In 1909, he wrote very buzzy incidental music for Aristophanes' play The Wasps.

The Royal Philharmonic Orchestra and Christopher Seaman perform the overture to Vaughan Williams' music for "The Wasps."

StratobachRS81 YouTube

Schubert's "The Bee"

Here's a piece by a composer named Franz Schubert — no, not the Franz Schubert, but another composer by the same name who preferred to be called François Schubert. And it's the only piece of his that anybody knows.

Joseph Szigeti rips through "The Bee."

Speedbid744 YouTube

Dowland's "Silly Bees"

There's nice, calm bee music, too, like a lovely song by the English Renaissance composer John Dowland called "It Was a Time When Silly Bees Could Speak."

A performance of Dowland's "Silly Bees."

Columbia Baroque YouTube

John Duke's "Bee, I'm Expecting You"

There's also a 20th-century piece by the American composer John Duke, who set an Emily Dickinson poem called "Bee, I'm Expecting You." It's written from the viewpoint of a fly. It's very charming, but it has a bit of buzzing-bee personality in the piano part.

A charming setting of an Emily Dickinson poem.

jimnist07 YouTube

Arne's "Where the Bee Sucks"

The 18th-century English composer Thomas Arne set one of Ariel's speeches from Shakespeare's The Tempest: "Where the bee sucks, there suck I." It's inspired perhaps by the charm of the bee and the flowers.

Soprano Elisabeth Schwarzkopf takes on this deceivingly simple tune.

lalagonegaga YouTube