"An intellectual snob is someone who can listen to the William Tell Overture and not think of The Lone Ranger." -Dan Rather
"I think Lone Ranger." - Audrey J. Szychulski, OSFL Executive Director
Overture to William Tell
Rossini wrote 38 operas, all of them by the time he was 37 years old. His mastery of the opera buffa—opera based on real people who could be subjects of spoofs—was incomparable. His most famous of this genre is The Barber of Seville. In contrast, William Tell, his last and grandest operatic work, is far more serious and profound than anything else he composed and was his only attempt at French grand opera. Less ornate than his Italian operas, Rossini sticks to French traditions of lyricism, patriotic songs, ballets, and recitatives. The opera is seldom performed because it lasts nearly 5 hours and requires an exceptionally rare voice to sing the difficult tenor role. Yet, the overture remains with its well-known melody, the theme brought into homes by the Lone Ranger and “Heigh-ho Silver.”
First performed in Paris in 1829, William Tell is based on a play by Schiller. The opera recounts the story of Tell, the tyrant-killer in Switzerland and leader of his country’s revolution against the hated Austrian foreigners. It contains the famous trial of marksmanship when Tell was forced to shoot an apple placed on his son’s head.
The overture is in four sections, with the first three depicting Swiss mountain scenes that form the opera’s background. They foretell the dramatic progression of the opera, from innocence through the storm and strife to the dawn of liberty. The quiet opening using five solo cellos suggests a mountain sunrise. The second section portrays a mountain storm, using the trombones in full force. In the third portion, a Swiss cattleman’s call to the flocks is played by the solo English horn. Then, the final section begins with a fiery trumpet fanfare, a call to revolt, with the magnificent concluding gallop that merges into a revolutionary march for the Swiss patriots.