“William Tell” Overture

By Giaocchino Rossini
Composed in 1829

Rossini composed this overture for his 1829 tragic opera William Tell (his last opera before a 40-year retirement). The opera is based on the story of William Tell, the Swiss crossbowman who shot an apple off of his son’s head, and sparked an uprising against Austria that led to Swiss independence in the 14th century.

The overture is one of the most recognizable classical works ever composed, due to its use in many non-classical contexts in television and film. The work is in four sections, and can be viewed as almost a mini-tone poem.

It starts with a sunrise scene, played by solo ‘cellos and basses. The second section depicts a sudden Alpine storm (reminiscent of the storm on the lake which enabled Tell to escape his Austrian captors). The third section evokes a bucolic Swiss mountain scene, complete with birds and lyricism. The concluding section is a quick march – the return of the victorious Swiss from their campaign against the Austrians – but modern popular culture has attached a quite different type of hero to it.