Richard Rodney Bennett


Sir Richard Rodney Bennett, one of today's most talented, respected and beloved composer/musician/performers, died peacefully at home in Manhattan on December 24.He was 76 years old.

Sir Richard was a prolific artist at home in many genres of music. He was no stranger to the worlds of film, opera, jazz and cabaret where he was well known for acclaimed collaborations with Mary Cleere Haran and Claire Martin at The Algonquin, among others. He was quite at home in the world of jazz, for which he developed a passion, and worked with Dame Cleo Laine. Well respected for decades by his peers, Stephen Sondheim and Leonard Bernstein even signed his immigration application. Early in his career, he studied with legendary Pierre Boulez in Paris.

He is likely best known by the public for his numerous film and television scores – for which he won a BAFTA award and earned three Oscar nominations. Among his memorable scores were music for the “Doctor Who” television series in Great Britain and many films including “Four Weddings and a Funeral,” Sidney Lumet’s “Murder on the Orient Express,” which won him a BAFTA in 1974, “Far from the Madding Crowd” and “Nicholas and Alexandra.”

Sir Richard was equally at home composing and performing. He was honored with a CBE in 1977 and received a Knighthood in 1995.

RR Bennett. McCartney 4

April, 2000: Sir Richard Rodney Bennett with Sir Paul McCartney event in NYC

(Photo above: AP: - April 27, 2000 file photo, Sir Paul McCartney, second left, speaks with composers Sir Richard Rodney Bennett, left, Roxanna Panufnik, second right, and Judith Bingham before a benefit dinner for the Garland Appeal in New York.)

Sir Richard once said that his film and television work was “... to earn money to subsidize my other work.” He also said, “... I liked writing music that would be played next week by more talented musicians. It was the best training there was.”

His major works included three symphonic works and an acclaimed opera, “The Mines of Sulphur.” Recent compositions included “Reflections on a Scottish Folk Song” for cello and string orchestra, which was commissioned by Prince Charles to commemorate his grandmother, the Queen Mother.

He was equally at home performing as a jazz pianist, especially when he played with Cleo Laine, which he did regularly. His publisher, Gill Graham, of the Music Sales Group, described him as “.... the last of his kind”. “ Sir Richard also wrote 32-bar jazz standards; the most complex serial music and everything in between,” she said.

Chris Butler, the company’s head of publishing, added: “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.”

Sir Richard came from an artistic family; his mother had studied composition with Gustav Holst, and his father was a writer of children’s books. He turned down a place at Oxford University in the 1950s in favor of studying at the Royal Academy of Music in London, alongside other distinguished composers including Sir Peter Maxwell Davies and Thea Musgrave.

He was later dismissive of his education at the Academy, describing it as a “disaster”. “I learned much more at the Westminster Music Library in Buckingham Palace Road, which was an absolute treasure house of 20th-century music,” he said. “Though London was very exciting,” he added. “It was cheap and we could live our own lives - and be slightly bohemian, without being raffish.”

He helped Sir Paul McCartney with his orchestral work, "Standing Stone." Commenting on sections faxed by the former Beatle, Sir Richard said, "I sent him one, thinking it was pretty good," McCartney said. "A few minutes later, I got a fax back with the word 'feeble' scribbled across it. "I phoned him straight back and said, 'Richard, that's what my teacher wrote on my essays. You're a sensitive artist, and if you don't like something, could you please write, 'That's a little below par?'”

Bennett once coached Elizabeth Taylor to sing a nursery rhyme for the film "Secret Ceremony," for which he wrote the musical score.

In his private life, he was known as a Scrabble enthusiast and a creator of enormous Christmas feasts. Ms Graham described him as “... determined, hilarious and a great influence.”

A frequent visitor to the cabaret rooms in Manhattan, Sir Richard is mourned by his many friends within that community. Funeral plans were not announced.