Gioachino Rossini, procrastinator extraordinaire

Gioachino Rossini, whom Google honors today with a doodle on his 220th birthday, composed the William Tell Overture, whose finale has since become the official soundtrack for doing things at the last possible minute. 

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Had William Tell been listening to Gioachino Rossini's William Tell Overture, he probably would have rushed through shooting the apple off his son's head.

It's fitting that the man who wrote the William Tell Overture – the official soundtrack of People Rushing to Get Something Done – was himself a chronic procrastinator.

Gioachino Rossini, the Italian opera composer whose 220th birthday is marked with a leap-day-themed Google Doodle, did some of his best work at the last minute. He famously boasted to fellow tunesmith Richard Wagner that he had written "The Barber of Seville," widely considered the greatest comic opera ever, in just 13 days. 

According to another well-known anecdote, the overture for "The Thieving Magpie" was composed on the day it opened. The theater manager locked Rossini and four stagehands in the theater's attic. Rossini was instructed to drop the completed pages out the window for the copyists to pick up and transcribe; in the absence of pages, the stagehands were ordered to throw Rossini out the window instead. 

"Wait until the evening before opening night," wrote the composer in an undated letter. "Nothing primes inspiration more than necessity, whether it be the presence of a copyist waiting for your work or the prodding of an impresario tearing his hair."

When inspiration wasn't forthcoming, Rossini would freely plagiarize from himself. The same cabalettas, arias, and even entire overtures appear again and again throughout Rossini's music. After all, when you're working on deadline, it's always easier to dredge up earlier work that it is to compose something original.

In a story that ran earlier today, the Monitor's Schuyler Velasco quotes former Boston Symphony Orchestra musicologist Steven Ledbetter.

"For one, [Rossini] was unbelievably lazy. He liked to compose while lying in bed or chatting with his friends."

According to one legend, Rossini once dropped a piece he was working on, and in lieu of getting out of bed to retrieve it, started over. When a friend fetched the dropped music for him, he turned that into a completely different piece.

Despite this, he completed an average of four operas a year during his formative composing years, some in as little as two weeks. "Writing opera was really like writing sitcoms in television today," Ledbetter says. 

But back to the William Tell Overture, particularly its most famous bit, the three-minute finale, which has been put into service for everything from introducing the Lone Ranger to selling Reebok shoes

It's hard not to listen to the finale – which is called "The March of the Swiss Soldiers," but may as well be titled "And they're off!" – without feeling a desire to hastily complete whatever it is you're doing. One suspects that, if this had been playing on that fateful day in medieval Switzerland, even Mr. Tell himself would have been a little less deliberate in shooting the apple off his son's head.

So, if there's a short minute task that you've been putting off, what better way to mark Gioachino Rossini's birthday that by cranking up his most famous piece and getting down to it. Or better still, do it later.

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