The 85 year-old was talking at an NT Platform in conversation with Rufus Norris. He said: "I remember seeing Judi Dench do 'Send in the Clowns' and I thought: I had never heard that song before.
"It moved me in a way I've never been moved with that song before."
Sondheim spoke on a range of topics including how to support young writers.
"It's giving young people a means of getting their work heard. It has to be performed. It does't exist in the library. New writers need places where their music can be heard."
Sondheim also spoke about his famously difficult relationship with his mother:
"I don't think I was f**ked up [by my parents] anymore than anyone else. My mother was, to put it politely, a difficult woman. There was a reason she was difficult, because my father left her, but there's a reason he left her.
"My life was saved by finding another set of parents. The Hammersteins. They literally saved me emotionally.
"If I hadn't found them I might have been a geologist."
Sondheim was very close to lyricist and playwright Oscar Hammerstein II.
When asked whether he felt musicals translated easily into films, he explained why he doesn't like the film of West Side Story.
"Stage and screen are very different mediums," he said. "The audience's imagination is the motor for stage. That's not true of films.
"I don't think West Side Story is a good movie," he added "When I see a bunch of juvenile delinquents in colour co-ordinated jackets on screen I'm not scared. But on stage, I am."
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