Composed by

Gioachino Rossini (Feb 1792 – Nov 1868) in 1829

Duration

Approx. 11 mins

Instrumentation

Piccolo, flute, 2 oboes (1 doubling a cor anglais), 2 clarinets, 2 bassoons, 2 French horns, 2 trumpets, 3 trombones, timpani, triangle, bass drum, triangle and strings

From Disney cartoons to masked heroes, Gioachino Rossini’s William Tell Overture remains as one of the most recognisable classical tunes ever known, even to this day. The overture premiered in Paris on 3 August 1829 and was the introduction to the composer’s last opera, William Tell. While the high-energy Finale: March of the Swiss Soldiers is the most famous section, the Overture from Rossini’s epic opera William Tell contains 4 parts and goes for 12 minutes. From “Dawn” to “Storm” to “Call of the Cows”, this overture portrays a musical picture of the Swiss Alps and concludes with the victory of the Swiss freedom fighters over their oppressors from Austria. The piece catapulted to fame in modern culture when Disney adopted it as one of the soundtracks for the animated short film, The Band Concert, where Mickey Mouse conducts the orchestra albeit the various distractions and the mishaps of musical instruments. Disney is not the only one that features this overture. Many other cartoons, including Looney Tunes and Popeye, also feature this famous overture.

The overture was composed to reflect the daily life of the rebellion in Switzerland. The prelude, Dawn, opens with a slow, mournful solo passage for cello. Gradually, the theme introduced by the cello builds and expands, accelerating restlessly to suggest a brewing storm. Soon, torrents of winds and strings, as well as thunderous percussion, move the piece into the second part, implying a furious “Storm”.

The third part, The Call of the Dairy Cows, starts as English horns and flutes call to each other, depicting the shepherds’ call across the field. It paints a picture of a pastoral countryside scene, the calm after the storm. It is a gentle interlude that is broken with a bold trumpet solo, quickly joined by horns, signifying the overture’s finale, March of the Swiss Soldiers. In this maniac finale, the full orchestra performs a galloping pace that brings to mind images of soldiers riding to the rescue.

Gioachino Rossini

  1. Nicknamed Monsieur Crescendo due to his perceived overuse of crescendo for dramatic effects
  2. He achieved greater success compared with Mozart and Beethoven, who struggled in making a living through their music.
  3. When composing the opera Signor Bruschino (1813) on his bed, a score sheet fell onto the floor. Instead of picking it up, he rewrote the entire page, and thus, creating a new passage.
  4. His premiere of The Barber of Seville was a disaster, with a player’s guitar falling out of tune continuously. There was even a cat walking across the stage.
  5. At the early age of 37, Rossini put an abrupt end to his career and settled into retirement because he was done with operas.
Gioachino Rossini
photo credit: Wikipedia

RECOMMENDED RECORDING

ORCHESTRA DEL TEATRO LA FENICE 
Conductor: Georges Prêtre

Recorded during Concerto di Capodanno in 2009