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Composer Sir Richard Rodney Bennett dies aged 76

Sir Richard Rodney Bennett, one of Britain's most versatile and talented composers and performers, has died peacefully on Christmas Eve in his adopted home city of New York, aged 76.

Over the course of a distinguished career he has been equally at home writing music for the concert hall and performing cabaret at the Algonquin Hotel; as enthusiastic about Cole Porter as Pierre Boulez. His publisher, Gill Graham of the Music Sales Group, said: "He was, I think, the last of his kind. He wrote 32-bar jazz standards, the most complex serial music, and everything in between."

To a broad audience he is perhaps best known as a prolific writer of scores for film and television, including for Sidney Lumet's Murder on the Orient Express and Four Weddings and a Funeral; his film work earned him two Oscar nominations. To his friends he will be remembered as a witty and generous host, a fiendish player of Scrabble and an enthusiastic creator of delicious Christmas feasts. Graham described him as "determined, hilarious and a great influence".

Bennett was born in 1936 and raised in Budleigh Salterton, Devon. His mother had studied composition with Gustav Holst; his father was a writer of children's books. In 1953 he turned down a place at Oxford to study at the Royal Academy of Music in London, part of a golden generation of British composers including Sir Peter Maxwell Davies, Thea Musgrave, Cornelius Cardew and Sir Harrison Birtwistle. He told the Guardian last year: "In fact for me the academy was a disaster. I learned much more in the Westminster music library in Buckingham Palace Road, which was an absolute treasure house of 20th-century music. But London was very exciting. It was cheap and we could live our own lives and be slightly raffish without exactly being bohemian."

Bennett was one of only very few composers to study personally with Boulez, in Paris from 1957-8. He also visited the Darmstadt summer school. These were the twin citadels of 12-tone serial composition, and the rigorous attitude among many of the "serious" composers of the time was to discount music written outside its strictures.

All along, though, Bennett was writing music for the screen in popular idioms "to earn money to subsidise my other work. But I liked writing music that would be played next week by brilliant musicians. It was the best training there was," he said. As a student he also supported himself as a jazz musician and later began to perform regularly with Cleo Laine. He is regarded as having been one of the most accomplished jazz pianists of his generation.

Major works include three symphonies and an opera, The Mines of Sulphur. There were concertos for various instruments and concertante pieces including his Actaeon for orchestra and solo horn, and his Sonnets to Orpheus for orchestra and solo cello.

Finally, all these disparate parts of his musical life were reconciled, aided by a move to New York in 1979. A more relaxed style emerged, with music for the concert hall inflected with flavours of the jazz and film music that he loved. A 1990 concerto for saxophone fused jazz harmonies and serial technique; recent works have included Reflections on a Scottish Folk Song for cello and string orchestra commissioned by Prince Charles to honour the memory of the Queen Mother.

The critic Tom Service wrote earlier this year: "In his reflection of so many of the streams, trends and styles of postwar music, and in the unmistakable, personal voice he has found across all of the genres in which he has worked, composed and performed, Bennett is one of the most significant compositional voices we have."

Although the sheer variety of his output means that he has, perhaps, been undervalued, his delight in so many genres and styles has, arguably, prefigured the eclectic musical approach of a younger generation of composers such as Mark-Anthony Turnage and Thomas Adès.

by Anonymousreply 2601/02/2013


Chris Butler, head of publishing for the Music Sales Group, which owns Chester and Novello, said: "Richard was the most complete musician of his generation – lavishly gifted as a composer, performer and entertainer in a multiplicity of styles and genres. He was a loyal friend to music, musicians and music publishing and we will remember him with great respect and affection."

by Anonymousreply 112/25/2012

The score to 'Murder on the Orient Express' is one of my favorites.

by Anonymousreply 212/25/2012

Does Sir Richard top off the Klugman/Durning Triumvirate?

Somehow, I think not.

by Anonymousreply 312/25/2012

No - he is the first of a group of three named musicians to go. Look out Jason Robert Brown.

by Anonymousreply 412/25/2012

Sorry, he doesn't qualify for the Celebrity Trifecta.

by Anonymousreply 512/25/2012

There are always a few big celebrity deaths in the last week of every year.

by Anonymousreply 612/25/2012

Actually, R4, he did a CD (almost said "album," which would date me almost as much as knowing this factoid) with Mary Cleere Haran, who died in February, 2011, having been hit by a car while riding her bike. Is that recent enough for the three-named musicians connection?

by Anonymousreply 712/25/2012

R2 i also love this soundtrack.

God rest Sir Richard Rodney Bennett's soul.

He composed beautiful music.

by Anonymousreply 812/25/2012

Just in time for the Oscar tribute! Whew!

by Anonymousreply 912/25/2012

I have a cd of him playing and singing Sondheim. Wonderful.

by Anonymousreply 1012/25/2012

He was a great musician who loved the classics as well as jazz and pop music. His career ranged from composing operas and concertos (his most recent one was commissioned by Prince Charles to honor his late grandmother the Queen Mum) to pop songs and accompanying jazz singers like Claire Martin and Mary Clere Haran and Dame Cleo Laine.

He was also an amazing cook, great party host, hilarious storyteller, and charming conversationalist. He had 2 cats he adored and a great apartment on the UWS. He'd been unwell for a while but we all thought he seemed finally to be getting past it.

I will miss him terribly.

by Anonymousreply 1112/26/2012

Sorry for your loss, Eldergay. I always heard such great things about him from B. Cook among others.

by Anonymousreply 1212/26/2012

And he was a very persuasive singer of standards. Love his vocal albums.

by Anonymousreply 1312/26/2012

So many musicians and singers have gone this year: Etta, Donna, Whitney, Dory, a Bee Gee, a Monkee, a member of The Band, Andy Williams, Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau, Joe South, Hal David, Ravi Shankar, Dave Brubeck, and now Richard Rodney Bennett ....

by Anonymousreply 1412/26/2012

Too bad. Yet another death.

He started out composing music for the William Hartnell 'Doctor Who' story "The Aztecs" in 1964.

by Anonymousreply 1512/26/2012

He wrote one of my favorite all time scores, "Far From the Madding Crowd."

by Anonymousreply 1612/26/2012

76 is too young to go. William Russell is 88 and still going strong!

Interesting how young Bennett was when he did the music for "The Aztecs" in 1964 - he must have been only about 28. Another example of 'Doctor Who' spotting talent at an early age before an artist goes on to become more famous & successful later in life.

by Anonymousreply 1712/26/2012

Also wrote the score for the BBC mini-series "Gormenghast" in 2000, based on the works of Mervyn Peake.

by Anonymousreply 1812/27/2012

He smoked like a chimney and drank like a fish. But he was a dear, dear soul - many of us in his circle (and it was a laaarge circle) are quite bereft.

by Anonymousreply 1912/27/2012


by Anonymousreply 2112/28/2012




by Anonymousreply 2212/28/2012

Huh, R22?

: )

by Anonymousreply 2312/28/2012

Lol, ok R21

Kisses, gotcha!

by Anonymousreply 2412/28/2012

Richard has not had a cigarette for close to 30 years. He had quit for health reasons, and also because he said that he found himself coughing while performing on stage.

by Anonymousreply 2501/02/2013

Whoa, 30 years is a long time for a smoker. Bravo to Sir Richard Rodney Bennett.

Actually, from the soundtrack music he composed i'm very fond of 'Murder on the Orient Express' and of 'Secret Ceremony'. Very atmospheric.

by Anonymousreply 2601/02/2013
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