Happy birthday, Gioachino Rossini. The Italian composer would have turned 220 on Wednesday. Music buffs know him well, but for many people, Rossini's name has faded into history. Yet his music remains.
Rossini's work plays an enormous role in movie and TV culture – from Seinfeld and Family Guy to Looney Tunes and the Lone Ranger. In many cases, his songs are so well known that they've come to define major characters and even symbolize things as broad as the morning sun. Don't believe it? Let's try a little exercise:
Take a moment and imagine a cartoon sunrise. Butterflies flutter. Birds flit. And, most likely, a certain song is playing.
Recognize this moment from Saturday morning cartoons?
Originally, it was the beginning of Rossini's opera "William Tell." Before any singers take the stage, the opera kicks off with an orchestral opening. In many ways, this "Overture" outshines the four-act opera that follows – at least among TV music directors. The 12-minute song provides both this famous beginning and a stirring ending, which also stands as a cartoon staple (but more on that in a moment).
"Basically, you know a lot of Rossini overtures. But you don't know anything about what goes after," jokes TVTropes.org, an online catalog of trends that regularly litter television shows.
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Even though the composer lived nearly forty years after its completion, "William Tell" was Rossini's final opera. This semi-retirement led to many stories of his laziness. He reportedly wrote in bed, and if a page slipped out of his reach, he would rather start that section over again than get up to retrieve it. Goofy as the method may be, it clearly worked for him.
But this is just the first of five moments when you've heard his music and possibly not realized it. Click onward to learn how the second half of this song inspired a completely different kind of TV show.