You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Composer David Lang on Writing ‘Simple Song #3’ for Paolo Sorrentino’s ‘Youth’

Throughout Paolo Sorrentino’s “Youth,” composer Fred Ballinger (Michael Caine) is asked to conduct a performance of his most famous work, “Simple Song #3.” It’s a deeply personal work that the audience hears in full only at the end of the film, when it’s performed by celebrated soprano Sumi Jo. To come up with a song that would have such a powerful effect, Sorrentino turned to composer David Lang, winner of the 2008 Pulitzer Prize for Music for choral work “The Little Match Girl Passion.”

How did this collaboration with Sorrentino come about?

Paolo had used my music in “The Great Beauty,” and so when he wanted to make a movie about a composer, he thought, “I know a composer, I should ask him.” I probably answered the question before he even finished asking it. I was very excited.

How did you go about writing the song? Was it a matter of reading the script or conversations with Paolo?

I did both. The script wasn’t finished, and there were a lot of details that ended up being quite different. Basically, the idea was a rough outline of a movie about a composer. Plot points and characters changed, but that central idea that there would be a song that tells this story was there. I had philosophical conversations with Paolo about what it could and couldn’t do. I would ask him, “Do you want it to be a particular emotion at the end? Regret? Triumph?” He said, “No, you figure it out.” He just wanted it to be emotional and to elicit a reaction, but he didn’t have a specific reaction in mind. I answered a lot of questions about what composers think about themselves, for better or worse. And that was one of the things that was empowering for me. I was able to make something that was complicated.

At what point did you learn Sumi Jo would be performing your song? 

Her name was actually in the script, and I didn’t know if it was going to be her or it was just a placeholder. But they got her. It was an incredible honor. She’s an opera legend, and it was fantastic to work with her.

Where were you when you learned of the Oscar nomination? 

I was watching the broadcast at five in the morning. The ridiculous thing is, they announced my category first. I was completely groggy and drinking coffee. They announced my name, and I just spilled coffee everywhere.

More Music

  • Jim Gosnell

    APA Claims Texts Were Fabricated in Lurid Sex Harassment Suit

    A former assistant at APA filed a lurid sexual harassment complaint on Wednesday alleging that a partner at the firm sent her graphic text messages and threatened to have her fired when she refused his advances. The assistant, identified in the suit only as Jane Doe, alleges that top management fostered a “toxic, pervasive and [...]

  • Logic Launches BobbyBoy Records as Joint

    Logic Launches BobbyBoy Records as Joint Venture With Def Jam

    Grammy-nominated rapper Logic — aka Sir Robert Bryson Hall II, aka Bobby Hall —has announced a joint venture with Def Jam Recordings for his new label, BobbyBoy Records, which was formerly known as Elysium Records. The imprint’s initial artist roster is comprised of singer-songwriter John Lindahl, Damian Lemar Hudson (featured on “Black Spiderman,” from Logic’s RIAA platinum 2017 album, “Everybody”); Big Lenbo (featured on two previous Logic albums); [...]

  • Adam Lambert Queen

    Adam Lambert on What's Changed for Gay Artists Since His 'American Idol' Run

    Ten years ago, Adam Lambert burst onto the music scene in a blaze of guy-liner, hairspray and sexual ambiguity as America’s most unlikely “Idol.” But while he had the rock star look down and a soaring voice that seduced the hard-to-impress Simon Cowell, Lambert lost. Or did he? While many blamed homophobia for his runner-up [...]

  • Camila Cabello, Shawn Mendes, Liz TrinneariHeartRadio

    Shawn Mendes and Camila Cabello Tease Footage from Their 'Senorita' Video Shoot

    Camila Cabello’s heart, or commercial instincts, may still be south of the border, judging from the title of her new duet with Shawn Mendes, “Señorita,” which hits digital services at midnight Thursday night. Prior to making the announcement Wednesday, both performers had busied themselves on social media teasing fans about their first collaboration since “I [...]

  • Viola Davis, Chadwick Boseman Starring in

    Viola Davis, Chadwick Boseman Starring in 'Ma Rainey's Black Bottom' for Netflix

    Viola Davis and Chadwick Boseman will star in the movie adaptation of the play “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom” for Netflix. George C. Wolfe (“Lackawanna Blues”) will direct from a script by Ruben Santiago-Hudson, based on the award-winning play by August Wilson. Other cast include Glynn Turman, Colman Domingo (“If Beale Street Could Talk”) and Michael Potts. Denzel [...]

  • 'Dreamgirls' Uk Premiere at the Odeon

    Mathew Knowles Says Beyonce's Career Benefited, Kelly Rowland's Suffered From Skin Tone Bias

    Beyonce’s father, Mathew Knowles, addressed the perceptions of skin tone outside of and even within the African American community in an interview with SiriusXM, saying that his daughter’s career was “affected” by her lighter skin, and that the effect might have been the opposite for Destiny’s Child bandmate Kelly Rowland. In the interview with “The [...]

  • Vivendi Chairman of the Supervisory Board

    Vivendi 'Not in a Hurry' to Sell Universal Music Group

    Yannick Bollore, chairman of the supervisory board of Universal Music Group parent company Vivendi, implicitly extended the projections for the sale of UMG by around six months in a interview today. He said Vivendi is “not in a hurry” to wrap the sale and is “very confident” it will find the right partner to purchase [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content