Gioachino Rossini (pronounced JOH-ah-KEE-no roh-SEE-nee) was born in 1792 in Pesaro, Italy. He wrote a lot of music, and quite a bit of it was for operas. In 1829, he wrote an opera about the legend of William Tell.
William Tell was a man who lived in Switzerland in the late 1200s. Austria was controlling Switzerland at this time. The legend goes that an Austrian leader named Gessler put his hat on top of a pole in this Swiss village, and demanded that everyone bow to this hat as they passed by it. William Tell did not bow, and was arrested. Gessler heard that William Tell (and his son) were expert archers (particularly with the crossbow). Gessler demanded that William Tell use his crossbow to shoot an apple off the head of his son, or William and his son would be executed. If he succeeded, he would be freed. He succeeded, and through a series of events, eventually assassinated Gessler. This led to the formation of the Swiss Confederation and eventually it's independence from Austria.
The opera was never really that popular, but the overture is one of the most well-known pieces of classical music in existence. The overture is about 12 minutes long and is actually broken up into four parts. It's almost a mini-symphony. But in a symphony, there's usually a pause or silent break between movements. In the overture, one part leads into the next with no break.
The first part is called "Dawn", and is probably the least well-known. It's quiet, but slowly builds to indicate that it's about to storm. Listen for flutes and other instruments representing initial drops of rain toward the end of the part.
The second part is called "Storm". This is better known and is used in movies and cartoons to represent a dangerous excitement or a mounting problem (or sometimes even an actual storm).
The third part might actually be the most well-known part, though few people recognize it as being associated with the William Tell Overture. It's called "Ranz des Vaches" or "Call to the Cows". This piece is used very frequently in movies and cartoons. It almost always represents a sunrise or dawn breaking.
Peaceful though the third part is, it breaks unexpectedly into the fourth part: the "Finale". This part is the part that most people think about when they think of the William Tell Overture. This is used heavily in movies, radio, TV, and especially, cartoons. Whenever a gallopping horse or a "ride to the rescue" needs to be represented, you will often hear this piece. Your parents and grandparents will know this piece as the Theme to The Lone Ranger. The Lone Ranger was a show about a masked Western hero. It was first a radio show in 1933, but then moved to television and even movies over the next few decades. The Finale from the William Tell Overture was almost universally recognized as the Lone Ranger's theme, due to the popularity of the show.
This is a tough one. I'd certainly heard parts of the overture through cartoons at a very early age (the primary source was probably Looney Tunes). I remember knowing that the Finale was the Theme to the Lone Ranger, though I hadn't seen a lot of the show.
It probably wasn't until I was in Junior High School (early to mid teens) that I recognized that the Finale was a smaller portion of a larger piece, and that the other pieces were also well-known. By the time I was on my mission, I made sure (among my classical collection) that I had a recording of the overture, but if I remember correctly, the recording I had was just of the "Call to the Cows" and the "Finale", not the full overture.
The recording that I'm providing for you today represents the first recording of the full overture that I've owned. Sadly, this was purchased just a few days ago, but it's a good one. Worth the wait.
As I mentioned, the overture is about 12 minutes long, but it will be well worth your listen. I would encourage smaller children to listen for the beginning of the rain storm at the beginning, then see if they can see (in their mind) the storm breaking, and then the calm after the storm ("Call to the Cows"), and then, the Finale's just fun.