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John Corigliano

Publisher: G. Schirmer

The Red Violin: Chaconne for Violin and Orchestra (1997)
G Schirmer Inc
Soloist(s) and Orchestra
Sub Category
Large Orchestra
Year Composed
15 Minutes
Solo Instrument(s)
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Programme Note
John Corigliano The Red Violin: Chaconne for Violin and Orchestra (1997)
Composer Note:

The Red Violin: Chaconne for Violin and Orchestra draws upon music I composed for the film of the same name. The film spans three centuries in the life of a magnificent but haunted violin in its travels through space and time. 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 chords upon which the music is built.

Against the chaconne chords I juxtaposed Anna's theme, a lyrical yet intense melody representing the violin builder's doomed wife. From these elements I wove a series of virtuosic etudes for the solo violin, which followed the instrument from country to country, century to century.

I composed these elements before the actual filming, because the actors needed to imitate actual performance of the music. Then, while the film itself was shot, I made - from Anna's theme, the chaconne, and the etudes - this concert work. While I scored the film just for the soloist and string orchestra (to emphasize the "stringness" of the picture), I composed this seventeen-minute concert work for violin and full orchestra.


As The Red Violin: Chaconne for Violin and Orchestra begins, diaphanous ascending string lines unveil the chaconne chords, voiced in incantatory dotted rhythms, in low winds and brass. Then solo violin and orchestra utter, and expand on, Anna's theme. Virtuosic etudes quicken the pace, lead to a rushing climax; these yield to a stratospherically high, gravely slow melody, which remembers, against slowly shifting string sonorities, Anna's romantic theme. The string chords louden, strengthen with winds and brass: then the soloist reclaims, in determined accents this time, the diaphanous string line that opened the score. The orchestra halts to launch the soloist's cadenza, impetuous and songful by turns: then the chaconne, in strings chords rendered brittle by sharp attacks with the wood of the bow, gradually climax in a grand tutti restatement of the incantatory opening and a whirlwind coda for all.

— John Corigliano

Related works:
   The Red Violin: Chaconne for Violin and Wind Ensemble
   The Red Violin: Chaconne for Violin and Piano

  • Ensemble
    Philharmonia Orchestra
    Joshua Bell, violin
    Esa-Pekka Salonen
    Sony Classical:
  • Ensemble
    Royal Philharmonic Orchestra
    Chloë Hanslip, violin
    Leonard Slatkin
The most compelling music during Friday's San Antonio Symphony concert came from...THE RED VIOLIN, CHACONNE FOR VIOLIN AND ORCHESTRA, a dark and powerful 1997 work....The piece is built on a rising figure, announced by the low brass and bassoons as a trudging and portentous ascent. Both the soloist and the orchestra elaborate on this stepwise theme, sometimes enveloping it in filigree, sometimes breaking it violently into shards. The sensibility is romantic and the harmonic idiom tonal, but the orchestration's intense colors and unsettling effects are modern.
Mike Greeenberg, San Antonio Express-News,01/01/0001
John Corigliano is film scoring's answer to Terrence Malick and the late Stanley Kubrick, the kind of genius who comes along every 20 years or so to amaze us with brilliance. Corigliano's bravura score is nothing short of a masterpiece, a concert work in sound-track form. No instrument can resonate emotion like the violin, and Corigliano uses this one for all of its tragic potential. His sombre violin theme etches a dark, romantic path across the centuries, accompanied by the virtuoso playing of Bell.
Daniel Schweiger, Venice Magazine,01/01/0001
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