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Composers Datebook®

with host John Birge

Saturday, August 3

Rossini asks "Who was that masked man?"

Synopsis

A fiery horse with the speed of light, a cloud of dust, and a hearty “Hi-yo, Silver!”

Generations of American baby boomers first heard Rossini’s “William Tell” Overture as the opening credits of the old Lone Ranger TV western, but we suspect only a few of them ever realized the overture by an Italian composer was written for a French opera about a Swiss archer, which was adapted from a German play by Friedrich Schiller. Like a Facebook relationship, “It’s complicated.”

Anyway, Rossini’s “William Tell” was first heard in Paris on today’s date in 1829. Rossini hoped “William Tell” would be considered his masterpiece. Ironically, the complete opera is only rarely staged these days, but the “William Tell” overture became a familiar concert hall showpiece – SO familiar, in fact, as to become something of a musical cliché.

The Russian composer Dimitri Shostakovich gave a dark 20th-century spin to Rossini’s overly familiar theme, when he quoted the “William Tell” overture in the opening movement of his Symphony No. 15. In the context of Shostakovich’s enigmatic final symphony, Rossini’s jaunty little theme comes off like a forced smile, and audiences are free to read whatever political subtext they wish into its rather sinister context.

Music Played in Today's Program

Gioacchino Rossini (1792-1868) William Tell Overture Philharmonia Orchestra; Carlo Maria Giulini, cond. EMI 69042

Dimitri Shostakovich (1906-1975) Symphony No. 15 in A, Op. 141 London Philharmonic; Mariss Jansons, cond. EMI 56591

Additional Information

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