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John Corigliano

Publisher: G. Schirmer

Concerto for Violin and Orchestra (“The Red Violin”) (2003),
G Schirmer Inc
Soloists and Orchestra
Year Composed
35 Minutes
Solo Instrument(s)
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Programme Note
John Corigliano Concerto for Violin and Orchestra (“The Red Violin”) (2003),
First Performance:
September 19 2003
Joshua Bell
Baltimore Symphony
Marin Alsop, conductor
Baltimore, MD

Composer Note:

My third film score (The Red Violin) gave me an opportunity to visit my own past, for my father, John Corigliano (I was a "jr. ") was a great solo violinist and the concertmaster of the New York Philharmonic for more than a quarter of a century. My childhood years were punctuated by snatches of the great concertos being practiced by my father, as well as scales and technical exercises he used to keep in shape. Every year, he played a concerto with the Philharmonic (and in other venues), and I vividly remember the solo preparation, violin and piano rehearsals, orchestral rehearsals, and the final tension-filled concetrs (where I would sit backstage in the Carnegie Hall green room, listening to my father over a small speaker while breathlessly playing the work in my head and listening to make sure everything came our all right).

It is no wonder that the concerto form, and the violin concerto in particular, has a deep place in my heart. I have written a half-dozen concerti, but this is my first one for my first love, the violin. It is an 'in the great tradition' kind of concerto, because I wrote it in an attempt to write the piece my father would love to play. Because he inspired it, it is dedicated to his memory.

The event that galvanized my energies into composing this concerto was, of course, the scoring of the film The Red Violin, directed by François Girard and featuring the sublime young virtuoso Joshua Bell as the voice of the violin. Josh's playing resembles that of my father; he is an artist in the grand tradition. No cold, clinical dissection of a work would flow from his bow.

The story of The Red Violin is perfect for a lover of the repertoire and the instrument. It spans three centuries in the life of a magnificent but haunted violin in its travels through time and space.

A story this episodic needed to be tied together with a single musical idea. For this purpose I used the Baroque device of a chaconne: a repeated pattern of [seven rising] chords upon which the music is built. Against the chaconne chords I juxtaposed Anna's theme, a lyrical yet intense melody representing the [17th-century Italian violin] builder's doomed wife, {whose soul seemingly enters the Red Violin]. Then, from those elements, I wove a series of virtuosic etudes for the solo violin that followed the instrument from country to country, century to century. I composed these elements before the' actual filming, because the actors needed to mime to a recording of these works so that their hand motions would synchronize with the music. "Then during the summer of 1997 while the film was being shot all over the world, I remained at home and composed the 7-minute "Red Violin Chaconne." But, as a moderate-length, single-movement work, it fell into a category of works that must be paired with others to complete a soloist's guest appearance with an orchestra. Great works like Ravel's Tzigane or Chausson's Poème have this same problem.

More importantly for me, the Chaconne had given me the opportunity to strip away any inhibitions and write a passionate and romantic essay that I probably would not have written had it not been accompanying a film. It bypassed my 'censor button,' I liked what I heard, and it came very naturally.

The second movement is a fleet 'Pianissimo Scherzo' in which the dynamics are soft, but the action is wild and colorful. I wanted to break the romantic mood of the first movement with sonoric and timbral effects that create a sparkling, effervescent energy. A central trio is distantly related to 'Anna's theme,' here heard in knuckle-breaking double harmonics by the soloist—high, ethereal, and dance-like.

The third movement ('Andante Flautando') Starts with an intense recitativo that is more closely related to the film's main theme, but soon gives way to a gentle rocking melody played by the soloist in an unusual manner that results in his sound changing to that of a time (hence 'flautando '). He and the alto flute pair up as a complementary duo in this theme.

The final movement ('Accelerando Finale')…is a rollicking race in which I the opposed forces of soloist and orchestra vie with each other. They each accelerate at different times and speeds, providing a virtuoso climate befitting a last movement. Some other unusual techniques are used here: the violin (and orchestral strings) are asked to press so hard on their strings that there is not a pitch at all, just a crunch. This percussive and unusual sound provides energy, especially during the races. A major theme from the film that was not used in the Chaconne was that given to Morritz, the contemporary violin expert who discovers the mystery of the Red Violin. [Winding and twisting], it is a sadly romantic theme and becomes the lyrical counterpoint to the high spirit; of this finale, Near the end of the work, the original chaconne from the first movement comes back to complete the Concerto's journey.

—John Corigliano

  • Ensemble
    Baltimore Symphony Orchestra
    Joshua Bell, violin
    Marin Alsop
    Sony Classical:
  • Ensemble
    Lahti Symphony Orchestra
    Elina Vahala (viloin)
    Jaakko Kuusisto
When composer John Corigliano repurposed his score from the film “The Red Violin” into the “Red Violin” Concerto, he added a rigorous and significant work to the American concert repertoire. Corigliano’s masterly skill and omnivorous taste as an orchestrator emerged in the concerto’s performance by violinist Michael Ludwig, conductor JoAnn Falletta and the National Philharmonic... Growling lower winds and brass were answered to magical effect by silvery upper-strings and percussion, neo-romantic swoons were punctuated by pungent intrusions of dissonance, and bits of unashamed Hollywood glamour wove around teasing allusions to great concertos past, in this vividly expressive, violin-capped tone poem.
Joe Banno, The Washington Post,03/10/2011
John Corigliano's Violin Concerto, The Red Violin, is an expansion upon music the American composer produced for the movie of that name. Mr. Corigliano has a knack for weaving quite "progressive" techniques into music with strong gut appeal, and that's certainly what he's done here. The four movements indulge in plenty of shimmers and sparkles, snaps, crackles, pops and blasts. Noisy, militant music certainly suggests the influence of Shostakovich. But there are also episodes of soaring lyricism that seem to take up where Samuel Barber leaves off. This is a strongly integrated conception, bound together by a theme of expanding intervals heard at the outset. The 35-minute work was conceived for violinist Joshua Bell, who played it with ardor and dazzling virtuosity, but also a highly refined sensibility. Mr. Litton led the orchestra in a performance no less thrilling and caringly finished. This piece got an instant standing ovation. Mr. Corigliano, looking fabulous at age 65, appeared onstage to share the applause.
Scott Cantrell, Dallas Morning News,01/09/2006
...Mr. Corigliano is a master of orchestral coloration and effects, and he uses them unabashedly to evoke pictorial, even panoramic imagery, or to manipulate emotions with an efficient directness. All that was, in fact, the original business of the music that became Mr. Corigliano’s Violin Concerto, the roots of which can be found in his film score for “The Red Violin.”
Allan Kozinn, New York Times,13/01/2006
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