Richard Rodney Bennett

Sir Richard Rodney Bennett, CBE (29 March 1936  24 December 2012) was an English composer of film, TV and concert music, and also a jazz pianist. He was based in New York City from 1979 until his death there in 2012.[1]

Life and career

Bennett was born at Broadstairs, Kent, but was raised in Devon during World War II.[1] His mother, Joan Esther (Spink), was a pianist who had trained with Gustav Holst and sang in the first professional performance of The Planets.[2][3] His father, Rodney Bennett, (1890-1948) was a children's book author and poet, who worked with Roger Quilter on his theatre works and provided new words for some of the numbers in the Arnold Book of Old Songs.

Bennett was a pupil at Leighton Park School.[4] He later studied at the Royal Academy of Music with Howard Ferguson, Lennox Berkeley and Cornelius Cardew. Ferguson regarded him as extraordinarily brilliant, having perhaps the greatest talent of any British composer in his generation, though lacking in a personal style. During this time, Bennett attended some of the Darmstadt summer courses in 1955, where he was exposed to serialism. He later spent two years in Paris as a student of the prominent serialist Pierre Boulez between 1957 and 1959.[5] He always used both his first names after finding another Richard Bennett active in music.

Bennett taught at the Royal Academy of Music between 1963 and 1965, at the Peabody Institute in Baltimore, United States from 1970 to 1971, and was later International Chair of Composition at the Royal Academy of Music between 1994 and the year 2000. He was appointed a Commander of the Order of the British Empire (CBE) in 1977, and was knighted in 1998.[6]

Bennett produced over two hundred works for the concert hall, and fifty scores for film and television. He was also a writer and performer of jazz songs for fifty years. Immersed in the techniques of the European avant-garde via his contact with Boulez, Bennett subsequently developed his own dramato-abstract style. In his later years, he adopted an increasingly tonal idiom.

Bennett regularly performed as a jazz pianist, with such singers as Cleo Laine, Marion Montgomery (until her death in 2002), Mary Cleere Haran (until her death in 2011), and more recently with Claire Martin,[4] performing the Great American Songbook. Bennett and Martin performed at such venues as The Oak Room at The Algonquin in New York (which closed in 2012), and The Pheasantry and Ronnie Scott's in London.

In later years, in addition to his musical activities, Bennett became known as an artist working in the medium of collage.[7] He exhibited these collages several times in England, including at the Holt Festival, Norfolk[8] in 2011, and at the Swaledale Festival, Yorkshire, in 2012.[9] The first ever exhibition of his collages was in London in 2010, at the South Kensington and Chelsea Mental Health Centre, curated by the Nightingale Project, a charity that takes music and art into hospitals. Bennett was a patron of this charity.[10] Bennett is honoured with four photographic portraits in the collection of the National Portrait Gallery, London.

Anthony Meredith's biography of Bennett was published in November 2010.[11] Bennett is survived by his sister Meg (born 1930), the poet M. R. Peacocke, with whom he collaborated on a number of vocal works.

Bennett's cremated remains are buried in section 112, plot 45456 at Green-wood Cemetery, Brooklyn.[12]


Despite his early studies in modernist techniques, Bennett's tastes were catholic. He wrote in a wide range of styles, including jazz, for which he had a particular fondness. Early on, he began to write music for feature films. He said that it was as if the different styles of music that he was writing went on 'in different rooms, albeit in the same house'.[7] Later in his career the different aspects all became equally celebrated – for example in his 75th birthday year (2011), there were numerous concerts featuring all the different strands of his work. At the BBC Proms for example his Murder on the Orient Express Suite was performed in a concert of film music, and in the same season his Dream Dancing and Jazz Calendar were also featured. Also at the Wigmore Hall, London, on 23 March 2011 (a few days before Bennett's 75th birthday), a double concert took place in which his Debussy-inspired piece Sonata After Syrinx was performed in the first concert, and in the Late Night Jazz Event which followed, Bennett and Claire Martin performed his arrangements of the Great American Songbook (Cole Porter, George Gershwin, Rodgers and Hammerstein and so on). See also Tom Service's appreciation of Bennett's music published in The Guardian in July 2012.[13]

Film and television scores

He wrote music for films and television; among his scores were the Doctor Who story The Aztecs (1964) for television, and the feature films Billion Dollar Brain (1967), Lady Caroline Lamb (1972) and Equus (1977). His scores for Far from the Madding Crowd (1967), Nicholas and Alexandra (1971), and Murder on the Orient Express (1974), each earned him Academy Award nominations, with Murder on the Orient Express gaining a BAFTA award. Later works include Enchanted April (1992), Four Weddings and a Funeral (1994), and The Tale of Sweeney Todd (1998). He was also a prolific composer of orchestral works, piano solos, choral works and operas. Despite this eclecticism, Bennett's music rarely involved stylistic crossover.

Selected works

Instrumental works



Choral and vocal works



with Marian Montgomery

with Carol Sloane (singer)

with Chris Connor (singer)

with Mary Cleere Haran (singer)

with Claire Martin




Selected TV and filmography


  1. 1 2 Zachary Woolfe "Richard Rodney Bennett, British Composer, Dies at 76", New York Times, 30 December 2012
  2. "Sir Richard Rodney Bennett - Writer - Films as Composer:, Publications". Retrieved 2014-05-15.
  3. "Richard Rodney Bennett Biography (1936-)". 1936-03-29. Retrieved 2014-05-15.
  4. 1 2 Adam Sweeting (2012-12-26). "Sir Richard Rodney Bennett obituary". The Guardian. Retrieved 2015-07-24.
  5. Robert Ponsonby "Sir Richard Rodney Bennett: Composer whose work encompassed serialism, tonality and popular music", The Independent, 26 December 2012
  6. "Life Peers to Order of the Companion of Honour". BBC News. 31 December 1997.
  7. 1 2 Nicholas Wroe. "A life in music: Richard Rodney Bennett | Music". The Guardian. Retrieved 2014-05-15.
  8. "Holt Festival 2011 | Fine Art". Retrieved 2014-05-15.
  9. "music, poetry, visual arts, walks, exhibitions, workshops". Swaledale Festival. Retrieved 2014-05-15.
  10. "The Nightingale Project". The Nightingale Project. Retrieved 2014-05-15.
  11. Meredith, Anthony; Harris, Paul (2010). Richard Rodney Bennett: The Complete Musician. Omnibus. ISBN 978-1-84938-545-9.
  13. Service, Tom (2 July 2012). "A guide to Richard Rodney Bennett's music". The Guardian. London.
  14. Richard Rodney Bennett: Tom O'Bedlam's Song, for voice & cello at AllMusic. Retrieved 7 June 2015.

Further reading

External links

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