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Meet the 19th Century Composer Behind ‘The Lone Ranger’ Theme Song
By Cillea Houghton,
There have been multiple iterations of The Lone Ranger, most notably the black-and-white ABC series with Clayton Moore in the title role that debuted in 1949, followed by the animated series that ran from 1966 to 1969 on CBS. But its theme song, “William Tell Overture,” premiered 120 years prior to when the show first aired, written at the hands of a famous composer. Find out below who wrote the theme song to The Lone Ranger.
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“William Tell Overture” was penned by Gioachino Rossini, a 19th century Italian composer most known for his 39 operas, with “Overture” being his last before he went into semi-retirement. Born in Pesaro, Italy, in 1792, music was in Rossini’s blood as both his parents were musicians, his mother Anna Guidarini a singer, and his father Giuseppe Rossini, a trumpeter. The future famous composer was a student at the Bologna Academy of Music where he learned to write music. He started composing at the age of 12 and by 18, his first opera debuted with the one-act comedy, The Marriage Contract (La cambiale di matrimonio) that premiered in Venice in 1810. This started a highly successful career in the arts, with his most famous operas being The Barber of Seville, Cinderella and Semiramide.
As for his favorite composers, Rossini is often quoted as once saying, “I take Beethoven twice a week, Haydn four times, but Mozart every day… Mozart is always adorable.”
Rossini produced “William Tell” in Paris in 1829 and was based on an 1804 play by German writer Friedrich von Schiller. The song made its way to the U.S. in 1933 when a Detroit, Michigan station broadcasted the radio show, The Lone Ranger, using “William Tell” as the theme song. This rang true for both the 1949 and 1966 TV series to follow.
“Because of the very familiar deeds of the Lone Ranger and his faithful Indian companion Tonto, the lively rhythms of the ‘William Tell Overture,’ which resemble rapid horseback riding, are likewise very familiar to generations of Americans,” writes author William Emmett Studwell in his 1997 book, The American Song Reader.
Rossini’s legendary overture was arranged by Vic Schoen, who also created the other music used throughout the 1966 edition of The Lone Ranger.
“Today, Rossini is considered by many to be the first great Italian composer of the 19th century,” according to Opera Philadelphia. “For much of the first half of the century, Rossini was the most influential composer in the world.”
Among Rossini’s last works was Petite messe solennelle written in 1863, where he allegedly wrote at the end, “dear God, here it is finished, this poor little Mass. Is it sacred music I have written, or damned music? I was born for opera buffa, as you know well. A little technique, a little heart, that’s all. Be blessed then, and grant me Paradise.” Rossini passed away in 1868 in Paris. His life’s work is still being celebrated with the annual Rossini Opera Festival in his hometown of Pesaro.
“Its aim is to revive, to perform on stage and to study the musical heritage connected with the composer, who, by leaving all his considerable fortune to the town council of Pesaro, gave birth to the Conservatory of Music and the Foundation that bear his name today,” as explained on the festival’s website. The festival launched in 1980 with an emphasis on musicological research and theatrical performances.