Although primarily a
classical composer (best known for his opera The Ghosts of Versailles), John Corigliano
received an Oscar nomination in 1980 for his trippy score to Altered States. His second stab—for the bomb Revolution—was less successful; his music was buried in sound effects, he says, leaving him reluctant to pursue his movie career any further. It took 12 years and a project where music takes center stage to change his mind.
“I took The Red Violin because a violin is the main star of the film,” Corigliano says. “The music that’s played, therefore, is something that people will listen to. And you listen differently than if it were just background music”—especially since the violinist on the soundtrack is young virtuoso Joshua Bell.
Corigliano says he wasn’t interested in filling in the blanks between authentic pieces by Bach and Mozart.
He wanted instead to create
a score integral to the storytelling. “Since the violin
personifies the woman who
dies at the beginning of the film, I wanted to have a theme associated with her, which then undergoes variations—whether it’s Bachian, Mozartian, or Paganini-like to reflect the different eras. Even gypsies play the theme in their style, although it’s harder to recognize. The film needed this musical glue to pull it together. When you take five disparate stories told over 300 years, if you don’t have a really strong thread,
it can seem like a bunch of anecdotes.”