Nicola Piovani studied orchestration under the tutelage of Manos Hadjidakis and went on to write music for more than two hundred films and series, and still alternates this with composing for his other great love: theatre. He worked with important Italian directors including Marco Bellocchio and Nanni Moretti. After Nino Rota's death in 1979, Piovani became Federico Fellini's regular composer. He provided the scores for Fellini's last three feature films.

He broke through the Italian borders by writing music for films by filmmakers such as Bigas Luna (Jamón, Jamón), Belgium's Jean-Jacques Andrien (Australia) and Dušan Makavejev (Manifesto). One of the biggest awards for his work came in 1999, when his music for Roberto Benigni's classic La vita è bella won him the Oscar for Best Music and he was nominated for a Grammy. More recently, Piovani provided the music for Bellocchio's mafia drama Il traditore, Gabriele Muccino's popular Gli anni più belli and Leonora addio, Paolo Taviani's new film that competed for the Golden Bear at the Berlinale in February 2022.