Critical Notes Series: Rossini's William Tell Overture

Rossini's overtures are arguably some of the audiences' favorite concert openers. But for the orchestra conductor and especially the librarian the task of obtaining the parts is not as straightforward as it might seem. If you look at catalogs, you will quickly find that some of Rossini's overtures exist in Italian and German versions. What is the difference? The difference in the Barber of Seville is not as slight as the number of pick-up notes in the main theme. In the late 1800s, the music publisher Breitkopf & Hartel produced several editions of Rossini's overtures that matched the German taste at the time. If your orchestra library owns one of the original Breitkopf publications, you might have noticed that the composer is "J. Rossini" instead of "G. Rossini."

Many orchestras have gone back to Rossini's original orchestrations in Barber of Seville and Thieving Magpie overtures, but William Tell is still most often being performed from the late-1800s German orchestration. 

The earliest publication of the opera William Tell was published by the French firm E. Troupenas in 1829, being Rossini's only grand opera. This would make Rossini's intentions best reflected in the French version, not the German. While there is an Italian (Ricordi) version of the overture, there are still some differences between that and the French (Troupenas) version.

Because the William Overture is one of the "bread and butter" cello excerpts, I decided to produce an edition of the cello/bass part based on the Troupenas edition. I inserted the rehearsal letters from the Breitkopf edition so it could still be played with other parts from that set.

Some things are immediately noticeable in the French (Urtext) version: in m. 8, the first note of cello 2 is an F#, not a D#. In the same measure, cello 5 plays A-G, not F#-E. These are not mistakes. The same notes are found in the vocal score published by Schott in the same year. The next difference is that the pizzicato is distributed between the tutti cellos and basses, not two solo basses. The cello 1 part does not have all of the editorial articulations and slurs; everything is kept simple. The final note of the cello 1 solo goes back to E5 in m. 48, instead of staying on E6. Overall, the dynamics are used sparingly in the introduction (mm. 1-47).

The second section, the stormy Allegro, is originally in 4/4 time instead of 2/2. The last difference in the cello/bass part I would like to point out is the fortissimo in the bass part in m. 154, instead of the piano in the German version. The fortissimo makes sense as the final crash of thunder.

I am offering the cello/bass part free of charge so orchestras can have the opportunity to try out Rossini's original intentions.

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