Rossini asks "Who was that masked man?"
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
On This Day
1884 - Russian-born American composer Louis Gruenberg, near Brest-Litovsk (Julian date: July 22);
1896 - Russian inventor Lev Sergeivitch Termen (anglicized to Leon Theremin) in St. Petersburg (Gregorian date: August 15)
1784 - Italian composer and teacher Giovanni Battista Martini, age 78, in Bologna; His students included Gluck, Mozart, Grétry, and Jommelli;
1829 - Rossini: opera, "Guillaume Tell" (William Tell), at the Paris Opéra;
1941 - Robert Russell Bennett: Symphony in D ("For the Dodgers"), in New York;
1961 - John Cage: "Atlas Eclipticalis," at the "International Week of Today's Music," in Montréal;
1967 - Lalo Schifrin: cantata, "The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich" (adapted from the composer's filmscore) by the Los Angeles Philharmonic at the Hollywood Bowl, with Lawrence Foster conducting;
1668 - German composer Dietrich Buxtehude marries the daughter of Franz Tunder, retiring organist at St. Mary's Church in Lübeck, as a condition to succeed Tunder in his position at St. Mary's; It is thought that both Handel and J.S. Bach were both interested in the position - but not in Tunder's daughter;
1778 - Milan’s famous Teatro alla Scala (La Scala) opens with a performance of “L’Europa riconosciuta” by Italian opera composer Antonio Salieri, a work written specially for the occasion; The theater took its name from the site previously occupied by the church of Santa Maria della Scala (named after Bernabo Visconti’s wife, Beatrice della Scala); This same opera, conducted by Riccardo Muti, was performed on Dec. 7, 2004 at the Gala reopening of La Scala after three years of major renovation;
1779 - Mozart finishes in Salzburg his "Posthorn" Serenade;
1795 - The Paris Conservatory of Music is founded by the National Revolutionary Convention.
Links and Resources
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