Richard Rodney Bennett
Sir Richard Rodney Bennett, CBE (29 March 1936 – 24 December 2012) was an English composer renowned for his film scores and his jazz performance as much as for his challenging concert works. He was based in New York City from 1979 until his death in 2012.
Life and career
Bennett was born at Broadstairs, Kent, but was raised in Devon during World War II. His mother, Joan Esther (Spink), was a pianist who had trained with Gustav Holst and sang in the first professional performance of The Planets. 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.
Richard Rodney Bennett was a pupil at Leighton Park School, the Quaker school in Reading, studied at the Royal Academy of Music with Howard Ferguson, Lennox Berkeley and Cornelius Cardew. During this time, he 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.
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.
As one of Britain’s most respected and versatile musicians, 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, 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. He exhibited these collages several times in England, including at the Holt Festival, Norfolk in 2011, and at the Swaledale Festival, Yorkshire, in 2012. 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.
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'. 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.
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.
- Sonata for piano (1954, first published work)
- Impromptus (for guitar) (1968)
- Concerto for alto saxophone
- Concerto for Stan Getz (tenor sax, timpani & strings)
- Dream Sequence for cello and piano – first performed in December 1994 at the Wigmore Hall, London by Julian Lloyd Webber and John Lenehan
- Elegy for Davis
- Farnham Festival Overture (1964) for orchestra
- The Four Seasons (1991) for Symphonic Wind Ensemble
- A Little Suite, based on selections from his song cycles The Insect World and The Aviary.
- Morning Music for wind band
- Reflections on a Sixteenth Century Tune for string orchestra or double wind quintet (1999)
- Sonata for solo guitar (1983)
- Sonatina for solo clarinet
- Summer Music for flute and piano
- Symphony No. 1 (1965)
- Symphony No. 2 (1968) commissioned by the New York Philharmonic
- Symphony No. 3 (1987)
- Trumpet Concerto for trumpet and wind orchestra
- Scena II (solo cello) commissioned by the Music Department of the University College of North Wales, Bangor, with funds provided by the Welsh Arts Council, and first performed by Judith Mitchell on 25 April 1974
- Partridge Pie (based on The 12 Days of Christmas)
- After Syrinx I for oboe and piano
- The Ledge – 1961
- The Midnight Thief (libretto by Ian Serraillier) – 1964
- The Mines of Sulphur (libretto by Beverley Cross) – 1965
- A Penny for a Song – 1967
- All the King's Men (opera) (libretto by Beverley Cross) - 1968
- Victory (libretto by Beverley Cross) – 1970
- Missa Brevis – 1990
- Sea Change – 1983
- Spells, written for soprano Jane Manning
- Out of Your Sleep
- On Christmas Day to My Heart, written in 1998 for the Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols at King's College Chapel, Cambridge in 1999.
- The Garden - A Serenade to Glimmerglass, commissioned by Nicholas Russell for Glimmerglass Opera in honour of Stewart Robertson for its Young American Artists Program – 2006
The Birds Lament
- With Claire Martin
- 2005 When Lights Are Low
- 2010 Witchcraft
- 2013 Say It Isn't So
Richard Rodney Bennett sat for sculptor Alan Thornhill for a portrait in clay. The correspondence file relating to the Bennett portrait bust is held as part of the Thornhill Papers (2006:56) in the archive of the Henry Moore Foundation's Henry Moore Institute in Leeds and the terracotta remains in the collection of the artist. There are four photographic portraits of Bennett in the collection of the National Portrait Gallery, London.
- Zachary Woolfe "Richard Rodney Bennett, British Composer, Dies at 76", New York Times, 30 December 2012
- Robert Ponsonby "Sir Richard Rodney Bennett: Composer whose work encompassed serialism, tonality and popular music", The Independent, 26 December 2012
- "Life Peers to Order of the Companion of Honour". BBC News. 31 December 1997.
- Meredith, Anthony; Harris, Paul (2010). Richard Rodney Bennett: The Complete Musician. Omnibus. ISBN 978-1-84938-545-9.
- portrait head of Richard Rodney Bennett image of sculpture
- HMI Archive[dead link]
- Timothy Reynish, "British Wind Music", paper presented to the 2005 CBDNA National Conference
- Richard Rodney Bennett: The Complete Musician. (Authorised biography.) Anthony Meredith (with Paul Harris). Omnibus. ISBN 978-1-84938-545-9.
- "Composer Sir Richard Rodney Bennett dies aged 76." Charlotte Higgins, The Guardian, 25 December 2012.
- "Sir Richard Rodney Bennett." (Daily Telegraph Obituary.) 25 December 2012.
- "Richard Rodney Bennett, British Composer, Dies at 76." By Zachary Wolfe, The New York Times, December 30, 2012.
- Biography and list of works, published by Novello & Company Ltd
- Richard Rodney Bennett biography and works on the UE website
- Richard Rodney Bennett at the Internet Movie Database
- Richard Rodney Bennett at AllMusic
- Conversation between Richard Rodney Bennett and Claire Martin - British Library sound recording
- Interview with Richard Rodney Bennett by Bruce Duffie, March 25, 1988