Gioachino Rossini: Overture to “William Tell”

Okay. This is the last Rossini piece–for a while at least.  The “William Tell Overture” is another one of those pieces that has been used so much in the popular culture that all you have to do is hum a few bars of it and you get instant recognition. Unfortunately, this usually comes in the form of someone shouting “Hi Ho Silver. Away!” You know why:  the last part of this overture was used as the theme from the Lone Ranger television series. That’s where I first heard it at least.

Mad Magazine once had a funny cartoon which showed a school teacher trying to teach a music appreciation class. She tells her young charges that she is going to put on Overture to “William Tell”, and though it was used for The Lone Ranger she wanted them to try extra hard not to think about that show while they listened. Instead she wanted them to concentrate on the beautiful music. She puts it on and they kids all close their eyes and squint very hard to block out all the mental images. Suddenly the principal opens the door to the classroom and shouts: “Hi Ho Silver. Away!”

I had the same reaction when discussing the piece with my friend, Paul M***, in high school. He told me that that tune was only one part of the entire overture and that he actually preferred the other melodies in it. So I went to my copy of the Rossini overtures and gave it a more thorough listen.

Rossini is not known for his other, non-operatic, works. I think he wrote a piece called Stabat Mater and maybe even a Requiem, but these too would be vocal works. What the overtures show, however, is that he was a master of melody, orchestration, and also could write for solo instruments as well. For example, the overture to William Tell starts with a beautiful cello solo. This gives way to Rossini’s “storm” section, in which the strings and flutes give the impression of a wind and rain drops. This eventually develops into a huge cataclysm, which I think is supposed to depict a storm at sea. I’ve heard this storm used many times on TV and film, especially in the Bugs Bunny cartoons. After the storm dies away, there follows a beautiful pastoral interlude. I believe this represents the hero, his ship having been wrecked, waking up in the sunlight on the shore of an island. Flutes dance around representing butterflies flitting from flower to flower. Finally, we get the famous horn blasts that then give way to the famous theme that takes us to the end.

This piece still reminds me of Lone Ranger, but so what? I don’t like it any less for the association. The Lone Ranger was a good guy who was a shining upright example of heroism. Wasn’t William Tell supposed to be the same? There are so few positive male role models on television, in the movies, in politics, on the world stage. Though I might start sounding like an old fogy in a minute, it makes me long for the times when there were shining examples whom we’d like to emulate.

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About kurtnemes
Writer and Education Professional. Specialties include Ethics, Personal Memoir, Classical music, Tai Chi, Stress Reduction, Meditation, Coping, Classical Music, Aging, Love, Joy, Compassion and Equanimity (& what interests me.)

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