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He began composing at age 9 and entered the Moscow Conservatory at 15. Later he studied with Tikhon Khrennikov and Lev Ginzburg. He composed symphonies, symphonic poems, as well as works for chamber orchestra, small ensembles and solo instruments.
Outside his native country he is best known as a composer of music for such films as War and Peace, the 1966–67 film directed by Sergei Bondarchuk, Ivan's Childhood and Andrei Rublev for Andrei Tarkovsky. He has composed for some 40 films in total. Tarkovsky is said to have been so impressed by Ovchinnikov that he stated: "I cannot imagine a better composer for myself than Vyacheslav Ovchinnikov."
Ovchinnikov was named a People's Artist of Russia in 1986. For the 60th birthday of Queen Sirikit of Thailand, he was commissioned to compose The Bouquet for the Queen. For that work he was awarded the Order of the White Elephant. He was also a professor at the University of Kansas from 1990 to 1991.
- "Умер композитор "Андрея Рублёва" Вячеслав Овчинников". Радио Свобода (in Russian). Retrieved 2019-02-04.
- Ovchinnikov, Symphony No. 2, Label: Melodiya 33 C 10-0831314 Stereo, ASIN: B00KHGJUMG