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William Tell Overture, The

(Giaochino Rossini)

This overture was written by Giaochino Rossini as part of his opera William Tell which is based on the story of the legendary 14th century archer and set in the Swiss Alps.  It was premiered in 1829 and known by its French title Guillaume Tell but was not a major success, with only the overture later gaining major attention.  This was the 39th and final opera by Rossini, after which he concentrated on composing vocal and sacred music and cantatas.

This immensely popular piece of music, which is about 12 minutes long, was written in four parts that flow into each other without a break.  These parts are:

  1. Prelude (Dawn) – an impending storm is depicted by cellos and double basses.
  2. Storm – the whole orchestra portrays the full force of the weather and lessens as it abates
  3. Ranz de Vaches (Call to the Cows) – a pastorale of the calm after the storm
  4. Finale (March of the Swiss Soldiers) – a lively galop which features heralding trumpets and celebrates the Swiss army beating the Austrians in battle and freeing their homeland.

Catching the eye of other composers, there was a piano transcription written by Franz Liszt in 1838 which performed regularly in his concert appearances and Louis Gottschalk also transcribed the piece as a piano and violin duet as well as another version for two and four pianos.  Dmitri Shostakovich also quotes the overture in his Symphony No. 15.  Many other transcriptions have been made and it has become a staple piece for many brass bands and ensembles.

Ranz de Vaches (Call to the Cows) was used in the Disney animation The Old Mill.  The overture has also featured heavily in many other animations including Mickey Mouse’s The Band Concert, Bugs Bunny Rides Again and Bugs Bunny’s Overture to Disaster, Daffy Duck’s Yankee Doodle Daffy and an episode of The Flintstones. The Finale has been used for TV shows such as The Adventures of William Tell in the UK but is probably best known worldwide as the theme for the popular American TV and radio character The Lone Ranger.

It is regularly used in advertising campaigns and sporting events and has appeared in movies such as A Clockwork Orange.

It appears on countless classical recordings and in popular music it has been used by the guitarist Randy Rhoads as a solo with Quiet Riot on their song “Laughing Gas” and with Ozzy Osbourne on “RR” which appears on the 2011 issue of his Blizzard of Ozz.  Spike Jones and His City Slickers recorded an adapted version of it in 1948, when it reached No. 6 on the chart.  It as also been covered by the country artist Glen Campbell and released as the B-side of his No, 1 hit “Southern Nights” in 1977 and released as a single in the UK by Mike Oldfield also in 1977.

Glen Campbell recordings
Capital 4376 (S93526) (US 45)