The Great Beauty (La Grande Bellezza – 2013) is a visually dazzling film by Italian director Paolo Sorrentino boasting a brilliant and eclectic soundtrack ranging from electro-pop to classical choral music. The film won the 2014 Golden Globe [update: and Oscar] in the “best foreign film” category.
An unexpected event forces ageing journalist and disenchanted socialite Jep Gambardella (Toni Servillo) to reflect on an aimless life where the sublime constantly mixes with the ridiculous. While paying homage to Federico Fellini’s films like La Dolce Vita and Roma with its stylish tracking shots of Rome, The Great Beauty is also pondering over the state of modern Italy during the excesses of the Berlusconi era.
Visits to architectural landmarks of the Italian capital are punctuated by lavish all-night rooftop parties, funerals and nostalgic encounters with various colourful characters. Having spent his life partying with the Roman jet set, Jep never managed to emulate the success of his début novel. Jep’s inability to fulfil his near-spiritual quest for that elusive “true great beauty” is prompting an exuberant two and a half hour-long existential introspection on life and death.
In thinking about this film, an inevitable mix of the sacred and the profane, just as Rome famously is – I immediately thought that this flagrant contradiction of the city, its capacity to miraculously combine the sacred and the profane, should be echoed in the music.
Jean A. Gili – Interview with Paolo Sorrentino
In addition to the selection presented below, the soundtrack also includes an original score by Italian composer Lele Marchitelli as well as music from John Tavener, Zbigngiew Preisner, Henryk Górecki or Georges Bizet.
Maya Beiser: World to come IV
The Great Beauty’s soundtrack features two pieces by post-minimalist American composer David Lang – “I lie”, a 2001 composition which originally features on “The little Match Girl Passion” and “World to Come part IV”. A four part suite “for cello, tape and video projection”, the piece was originally composed in 2003 and recorded the same year by cellist Maya Beiser on her World to Come album.
Arvo Pärt: My Heart’s in the Highlands
“My Heart’s in the Highlands” is a haunting piece for “countertenor or alto and organ” based on a 1789 poem by Scottish poet Robert Burns. Arvo Pärt set it to music in 2000 and the song was first recorded in 2003 with David James (countertenor) and Christopher Bowers-Broadbent (organ) on Arvo Pärt’s Triodion (2003). The version here is sung by Else Torp (soprano).
Rachel’s: Water from the Same Source
A beautiful piece dating back to 2003 from American post-rock chamber ensemble Rachel’s and which first appeared on their Systems/Layers recording.
Pérotin: Beata Viscera
“Beata Viscera” is a conductus (a poem sung during a procession) celebrating the mystery of the Virgin Mary by 12th century composer Pérotin. The version here comes from a 2012 recording by Estonian vocal group Vox Clamantis. The version used on the soundtrack of The Great Beauty comes from Stella Matutina (2008) by the same vocal group.