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Where have I heard the William Tell Overture before?

12 October 2018

William Tell premiered in 1829 and was the last of Rossini's 39 operas, after which he went into semi-retirement. WNO Orchestra will be performing the well known overture as part of our opening concert at this year’s International Concert Seriesat St David’s Hall on Sun 4 Nov (3pm). There has been repeated use (and often parody) of parts of this overture in popular media, most famously as the theme music for The Lone Ranger in radio, television and film. But, where else may you have heard it?

Cartoon fans may recognise the piece from a number of different scenes: the overture features prominently in Walt Disney's Mickey Mouse cartoon The Band Concert. It has also been used in animations parodying classical music (eg Bugs Bunny's Overtures to Disaster in which the finale section is performed by Daffy Duck and Porky Pig) or Westerns like Bugs Bunny Rides Again. The finale has also been sung with specially written lyrics by Daffy Duck in Yankee Doodle Daffy and by a quartet of singing policemen in The Flintstones episode The Hot Piano!

The overture is also one of the most frequently used pieces of classical music in American advertising – with a psychologist suggesting it is particularly suitable for those targeting male customers. Among others, it was used in a hip-hop version by DJ Shadow to accompany a 2001 campaign for Reebok and in an electronic version for a 2008 Honda Civic campaign.

Films which feature the overture prominently include Stanley Kubrick's A Clockwork Orange, where an electronic rearrangement of the finale is played during a fast motion orgy scene. The opening phrase of the finale was also used in The Princess Diaries when Security Chief Joe rescued Mia Thermopolis after her Mustang stalled out in a driving rainstorm. It also features in the score of the Marx Brothers Duck Soup and disaster film Armageddon.

The overture, especially its finale, is also played at certain sporting fixtures in America – during the third television time-out of every second half at Indiana University basketball games, the Indiana pep band and cheerleading squad perform the overture with cheerleaders racing around the court carrying eighteen flags – a tradition that has been in place since the late 1970s.

Most recently you may have heard the tune on an advertisement for the sandwich chain Subway – in an electric guitar remix. 

Welsh National Opera last performed the full opera in 2014.