Composer John Corigliano has been renowned in the classical music field since his 1964 "Sonata for Violin and Piano" (written for his father) thrust him into the public eye. He followed up with numerous acclaimed original works before a successful entry into film music with his experimental score for Ken Russell's "Altered States" (1980). His eerie and hauntingly evocative music was a non-melodic, octave-jumping collection of sounds that perfectly captured the unsettling feel of the film and earned the composer his first Oscar nomination. This victory was followed by his scoring of Hugh Hudson's Revolutionary War epic "Revolution" (1985). While Corigliano's score was acclaimed, earning BAFTA's Anthony Asquith Award for Distinguished Achievement in Film Composition, the critical and popular failure of the film led to the score album going unreleased, and consequently, the disappointed Corigliano disappeared from film for well over a decade.
A prolific composer with two Grammy Awards, countless other music industry honors and a slew of commissioned pieces to his credit, Corigliano kept busy with remarkable work as an orchestral, chamber and operatic composer while he was away from cinema scoring. A well-respected and decorated member of the contemporary classical community, he never lacked for creative outlets, with dozens of albums worth of his compositions performed by the industry's top names, including James Galway ("Pied Piper Fantasy") and the New York Philharmonic. In 1991, he fulfilled a commission for the first new work to premiere at NYC's Metropolitan Opera House in over 25 years with "The Ghost of Versailles". As with much of his best work, the composer employed a variety of styles ranging from modern atonality to classical stylings that recalled Rossini and Mozart.
The composer's triumphant return to film with 1998's "The Red Violin" (released in the USA in 1999) was preceded by a 1997 concert presentation of the music. Working with Francois Girard on "The Red Violin", Corigliano convinced the director that using a whole new score for the film rather than depend on existing pieces would be beneficial to the film's structure and movement. Drawn from a seven-note main melody, Corigliano's score adapts and changes for the five different historical and geographical settings that comprise the film. The violin spans the globe over four centuries, and his score follows suit, incorporating baroque, classical, romantic and contemporary touches. In addition to evincing time and place, the score also brings out important plot points. The 20th-century Shanghai segment of the score has an appropriate Eastern flavor, and also as this portion of the film is concerned with China's revolution, Corigliano employs a folk-inspired sound. More traditional and accessible than his impressionistic score for "Altered States" but just as moving and evocative, Corigliano's score for "The Red Violin" earned the composer his first Academy Award.