Richard Rodney Bennett

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Richard Rodney Bennett
Background information
Born(1936-03-29)29 March 1936
Broadstairs, Kent, England[1]
Died24 December 2012(2012-12-24) (aged 76)
New York City, US
Years active1954–2012

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 and occasional vocalist. He was based in New York City from 1979 until his death there in 2012.[2]

Life and career[edit]

Bennett was born at Broadstairs, Kent, but was raised in Devon during World War II.[2] His mother, Joan Esther, née Spink (1901–1983)[3] was a pianist who had trained with Gustav Holst and sang in the first professional performance of The Planets.[4][5] His father, Rodney Bennett (1890–1948), was a children's book author, poet and lyricist, 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.[6] He later studied at the Royal Academy of Music with Howard Ferguson and Lennox Berkeley. 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.[7] 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.[8]

Bennett produced over 200 works for the concert hall, and 50 scores for film and television. He was also a writer and performer of jazz songs for 50 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,[6] performing the Great American Songbook. Bennett and Martin performed at such venues as The Oak Room at the Algonquin Hotel in New York, and The Pheasantry and Ronnie Scott's Jazz Club in London.

In later years, in addition to his musical activities, Bennett became known as an artist working in the medium of collage.[9] He exhibited these collages several times in England, including at the Holt Festival, Norfolk[10] in 2011, and at the Swaledale Festival, Yorkshire, in 2012.[11] The first 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.[12] Bennett is honoured with four photographic portraits in the collection of the National Portrait Gallery, London.

Bennett was gay[13] and in 1995 Gay Times nominated him as one of the most influential gay people in music.[14]

Anthony Meredith's biography of Bennett was published in November 2010.[15] 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. His grave is marked by a grey granite headstone.[16]


Despite his early studies in modernist techniques, Bennett's tastes were eclectic. 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'.[9] 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 his 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 Hart and so on). See also Tom Service's appreciation of Bennett's music published in The Guardian in July 2012.[17]

Film and television scores[edit]

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), The Tale of Sweeney Todd (1999) and Gormenghast (2000). 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[edit]

Instrumental works[edit]

  • Sonata (1954) - for piano, first published work
  • Farnham Festival Overture (1964) - for orchestra
  • Symphony No. 1 (1965)
  • Impromptus (1968) - for guitar
  • Symphony No. 2 (1968) - commissioned by the New York Philharmonic Orchestra
  • Party Piece (1971) - for orchestra
  • Scena II (1973) - for solo cello; commissioned by the Music Department of the University College of North Wales, Bangor, with funds from Welsh Arts Council, first performed by Judith Mitchell 25 April 1974
  • Viola Concerto (1973) - commissioned by the Northern Sinfonia for Roger Best.
  • Music for Strings (1977)
  • Harpsichord Concerto (1980) - premiere conducted by Leonard Slatkin. St. Louis Symphony Orchestra. Richard Rodney Bennett, harpsichord
  • Sonatina (1981) - for solo clarinet
  • After Syrinx I (1982) - for oboe and piano
  • Summer Music (1982) - for flute and piano
  • Sonata (1983) - for solo guitar
  • After Syrinx II (1984) - for solo marimba
  • A Little Suite (1986) - based on selections from Rodney Bennett's song cycles The Insect World and The Aviary.
  • Morning Music (1986) - for wind band
  • Symphony No. 3 (1987)
  • Concerto (1988) - for alto saxophone
  • Marimba Concerto (1988)
  • Concerto for Stan Getz (1990) - for tenor saxophone, timpani and strings
  • Partridge Pie (1990) - based on The Twelve Days of Christmas
  • Percussion Concerto (1990) - commissioned by and first performed at St Magnus Festival, Orkney, soloist Dame Evelyn Glennie, 1990
  • Over the Hills and Far Away (1991) - for piano 4 hands
  • The Four Seasons (1991) - for symphonic wind ensemble
  • Dream Sequence (1992) - for cello and piano, first performed in December 1994 at the Wigmore Hall, London by Julian Lloyd Webber and John Lenehan (1992)
  • Trumpet Concerto (1993) - for trumpet and wind orchestra
  • Reflections on a Sixteenth Century Tune (1999) - for string orchestra or double wind quintet
  • Lilliburlero Variations (2008) - for two pianos, commissioned by the Dranoff 2 Piano Foundation in Miami
  • Fanfare (2012) - for brass quintet



Choral and vocal works[edit]

  • Tom o' Bedlam's Song (1961) - voice and cello[18]
  • The Birds Lament (1966)
  • Five Carols: There is No Rose, Out of Your Sleep, That Younge Child, Sweet was the Song, Susanni (1967) - written for St Matthew's Church Northampton
  • Spells (1974) - written for soprano Jane Manning
  • Sea Change (1983)
  • Nonsense (1984) - chorus and piano duet, a setting of the seven poems by Mervyn Peake
  • Missa Brevis (1990)
  • On Christmas Day to My Heart, (1998) - written for the Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols at King's College Chapel, Cambridge in 1999.
  • A Good-Night (1999)
  • The Garden – A Serenade to Glimmerglass (2006) - commissioned by Nicholas Russell for Glimmerglass Opera in honour of Stewart Robertson for its Young American Artists Program



  • I Never Went Away (1992) - Delos
  • Harold Arlen's Songs (1994) - Audiophile
  • A Different Side of Sondheim (1995) - DRG
  • Take Love Easy (2002) - Audiophile
  • Richard Rodney Bennett: Words And Music (2007) - Chandos

with Marion Montgomery

with Carol Sloane (singer)

  • Lush Life (1988)
  • Love You Madly (1989) - Contemporary

with Chris Connor (singer)

  • Classic (1991) - Contemporary
  • New Again (1991) - Contemporary

with Mary Cleere Haran (singer)

  • This Funny World: Mary Cleere Haran Sings Lyrics By Hart (1995) - Varèse Sarabande
  • Pennies From Heaven: Movie Songs From The Depression Era (1998) - Angel Records
  • The Memory Of All That: Gershwin On Broadway and In Hollywood (1999) - 2011 reissue
  • Crazy Rhythm: Manhattan in the 20s (2002) - Varèse Sarabande

with Claire Martin


  • The Mines of Sulphur (2005) - Chandos



  • Stuff and Nonsense (1999) - Astounding Sounds for London Oriana Choir
  • Letters to Lindbergh (2013) - Signum UK
  • Sea Change: Choral Music of Richard Rodney Bennett (2013) - The Cambridge Singers, the composer and John Rutter, Collegium Records

Selected TV and filmography[edit]


  1. ^ "Bennett, Richard Rodney in All Contents | The Library". Berklee. Retrieved 1 March 2022.
  2. ^ a b Zachary Woolfe, "Richard Rodney Bennett, British Composer, Dies at 76", New York Times, 30 December 2012
  3. ^ Venn, Edward (7 January 2016). "Bennett, Sir Richard Rodney (1936–2012), composer". Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (online ed.). Oxford University Press. doi:10.1093/ref:odnb/105846. Retrieved 6 December 2019. (Subscription or UK public library membership required.)
  4. ^ "Sir Richard Rodney Bennett – Writer – Films as Composer:, Publications". Retrieved 15 May 2014.
  5. ^ "Richard Rodney Bennett Biography (1936–)". 29 March 1936. Retrieved 15 May 2014.
  6. ^ a b Adam Sweeting (26 December 2012). "Sir Richard Rodney Bennett obituary". The Guardian. Retrieved 24 July 2015.
  7. ^ Robert Ponsonby "Sir Richard Rodney Bennett: Composer whose work encompassed serialism, tonality and popular music", The Independent, 26 December 2012
  8. ^ "Life Peers to Order of the Companion of Honour". BBC News. 31 December 1997.
  9. ^ a b Nicholas Wroe (22 July 2011). "A life in music: Richard Rodney Bennett | Music". The Guardian. Retrieved 15 May 2014.
  10. ^ "Holt Festival 2011 | Fine Art". Archived from the original on 22 September 2012. Retrieved 15 May 2014.
  11. ^ "music, poetry, visual arts, walks, exhibitions, workshops". Swaledale Festival. Retrieved 15 May 2014.
  12. ^ "The Nightingale Project". The Nightingale Project. Retrieved 15 May 2014.
  13. ^ "Sir Richard Rodney Bennett: The Last Interview". 22 June 2013. Retrieved 12 September 2021.
  14. ^ "Sir Richard Rodney Bennett obituary". 26 December 2012. Retrieved 12 September 2021.
  15. ^ Meredith, Anthony; Harris, Paul (2010). Richard Rodney Bennett: The Complete Musician. Omnibus. ISBN 978-1-84938-545-9.
  16. ^ "Sir Richard Rodney Bennett Dead at 76". Retrieved 24 July 2020.
  17. ^ Service, Tom (2 July 2012). "A guide to Richard Rodney Bennett's music". The Guardian. London.
  18. ^ Richard Rodney Bennett: Tom O'Bedlam's Song, for voice & cello at AllMusic. Retrieved 7 June 2015.

Further reading[edit]

  • 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, 30 December 2012.
  • Timothy Reynish, "British Wind Music", paper presented to the 2005 CBDNA National Conference

External links[edit]