Overture to William Tell (1829)
Gioachino Rossini (1792-1868)
Rossini was the most successful opera composer of his era. He composed 39 operas, 28 in a hectic eight-year period. Often running late, at times he shared the same overture between unrelated operas! In 1824 he moved to Paris at the behest of the French Government and in 1829 composed the six-hour long William Tell, his last opera before he semi-retired to the comfortable life of a gourmand.
As befits the enormous scale of the opera, which represents the trials of the Swiss fighting for independence from the Hapsburgs in the 14th century, the overture is particularly elaborate. Its four-section format mirrors that of a symphony, which was, in any case, originally derived from the Italian overture. The four sections all use music from the opera and are played without a break.
A slow prelude, written in eight parts for cellos and double basses with a prominent cello solo, represents dawn breaking. Some raindrops from the wind foretell the imminent Storm graphically portrayed by full brass. As the storm recedes, the cor anglais introduces the famous pastoral melody of the Ranz dez Vaches or Call to the Cows. This is based on an actual ranz tune from Appenzell, and was also used in operas by Grétry and Meyerbeer. The pastoral mood ends with a jolt as the trumpet plays four famous notes introducing the so-called March of the Swiss Soldiers, who are actually on horseback and travelling at breakneck speed! Instantly recognisable, this theme has been used in countless popular contexts since it became famous in the 1930’s as the theme for the TV series The Lone Ranger.
Performed: 1973, 1976, 1999, June 2013