The son of a well-known violinist, Corigliano studied at Columbia University and worked as a programmer and producer in radio and recording. He has taught at the Manhattan School of Music, the Juilliard School, and City University New York. He writes in a highly intelligible idiom marked by both arching neo-Romantic lyricism and progressive instrumental and compositional techniques. He won Grammys for Best Contemporary Composition in 1991 (Symphony No. 1, which also won a Grawemeyer Award) and 1996 (String Quartet), and has scored popular films such as Altered States (1979) and The Red Violin (1997 – winning an Oscar). His opera The Ghosts of Versailles – commissioned by the Metropolitan Opera – was the Composition of the Year for the International Music Awards in 1992. His Symphony No. 2 won a Pulitzer Prize in 2001.
The composer has written the following note:
“The Sonata, written during 1962-63, is for the most part a tonal work although it incorporates non-tonal and poly-tonal sections within it as well as other 20th-century harmonic, rhythmic and constructional techniques. The listener will recognize the work as a product of an American writer although this is more the result of an American writing music than writing ‘American’ music – a second-nature, unconscious action on the composer’s part. Rhythmically, the work is extremely varied. Meters change in almost every measure, and independent rhythmic patterns in each instrument are common. The Violin Sonata was originally entitled Duo, and therefore obviously treats both instruments as co-partners. Virtuosity is of great importance in adding color and energy to the work, which is basically an optimistic statement, but the virtuosity is always motivated by musical means. To cite an example: the last movement rondo includes in it a virtuosic polyrhythmic and polytonal perpetual motion whose thematic material and accompaniment figures are composed of three distinct elements derived from materials stated in the beginning of the movement. The 16th-note perpetual motion theme is originally a counterpoint to the movement’s initial theme. Against this are set two figures – an augmentation of the movement’s primary theme and, in combination with that, a 5/8 rhythmic ostinato utilized originally to accompany a totally different earlier passage. All three elements combine to form a new virtuoso perpetual motion theme which is, of course, subjected to further development and elaboration.”