an blog | AJBlog Central | Contact me | Advertise | Follow me:

Sad news: Richard Rodney Bennett is dead

We have been notified of the death, on Christmas Eve in New York, of the wonderfully diverse and widely loved composer, Sir Richard Rodney Bennett. He was 76.

rrb4

The British composer leaves behind 200 concert works and 50 film scores, and a span of close relationships that extend from Pierre Boulez to Stephen Sondheim. His gift for a good tune was insuppressable. He was also a pretty good pianist and singer. He took part in the UK premiere of Boulez’s four-hand Structures and co-translated his early essays. When he migrated to New York in the 1970s, Leonard Bernstein signed his green card application.

rrb3

We met for a Lebrecht Interview in the summer of 2011 and had a rollicking good time, so much so that Richard got in touch afterwards and asked if we couldn’t do all over it again. His memory was faultless, he had an acute eye for absurdity and he relished all forms of musical experience.  He will be sorely missed.

rrb nl

Here’s the preamble that I wrote at the time:

Richard Rodney Bennett is a contemporary of Birtwistle and Maxwell Davies but his musical life has pursued a very different path. From his childhood onwards music was there for him. His mother was a pupil of Holst while his father wrote children’s books and ballad lyrics. But his frailty meant that the young Richard was sent to boarding school, so he hardly knew him. Bennett’s musical mind was inquisitive from the start and after reading about her he approached the composer Elisabeth Lutyens for lessons.

She invigorated him further. Soon after he went to the Royal Academy of Music but this didn’t give him the stimulus he needed although it was there that he met one of his best friends Cornelius Cardew. Together they wanted to find out about the new music which was being written in the 1940s and 50s.
For a while he was the only pupil of Pierre Boulez, and with Cardew he visited Darmstadt in Germany where the new music supremos of the era met and had their works performed. His prowess as a pianist meant he was called upon to play some of the more challenging music by Boulez, Stockhausen and others. But in parallel with this he was writing film scores and continuing to play jazz with friends. So already at the age of twenty his musical life was eclectic to say the least.

In the late 50s and 60s his compositional career burgeoned with commissions and performances all over the world. His film scores included Far from the Madding Crowd, Nicholas and Alexandra and Murder on the Orient Express all of which earned him Oscar nominations.

In 1979 after the breakdown of a love affair and with the pressure of responsibilities in the music world proving too much, Bennett moved to New York where he has lived ever since.Now 75 Bennett enjoys his life spent between New York and London, singing with his regular collaborator Clare Martin.



Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...

Comments

  1. Very sad news. A composer I have listened to since I first discovered his music on a BBC magazine cd. Memento mori.

  2. Stephen Llewellyn says:

    I shall never forget his gig with Eartha Kitt. They were just perfect together!

  3. Very sad news. Jeanne and I spent a lot of time with Richard and Marian Montgomery during the late-Seventies. Theirs was a perfect evening of entertainment. And by sad coincidence–reading Stephen’s message above–today is also the anniversary of Eartha Kitt’s death.

  4. A very sad day….his work with Claire Martin in recent years has been wonderful. Saw the 2 of them at Ronnie Scotts in September. Pure class.

  5. Michael Sharp says:

    A tremedously talented man. Apart from his extraordinary classical career and the many films he scored, his piano accompaniment with singers was masterly.

    Well worth checking out recordings he made with Charles Cochran, Mary Cleere Haran, Joyce Breach, Clair
    Martin, and Sandra King.

    He was in the audience of a performace of Joyce Breach which I attended. and she mentioned how proud she was to actually know “a genius”/

  6. Clare Torry says:

    I didn’t know Richard well at all really, but I met him on several occasions and saw him perform with Claire Martin, Having admired him from afar, a few years ago I was a guest at a very jolly lunch party in Hove given by Dee Palmer, a former pupil at the Royal Academy . Two other former pupils were also there, Christopher Gunning and David Cullen.
    He leaves us with a great legacy both in his music and his teaching.
    Another fully paid-up member of the Great Band in the Sky.
    He’ll love it !!

  7. Guy Vespoint says:

    Several years ago, I used to participate in a list-serv called Songbirds which was devoted to the discussion of female pop and jazz singers, and RRB was a frequent contributor. Having been an admirer of his score for “Murder on the Orient Express”, as well as his poignant song “I Never Went Away”, it delighted me to know that someone of his stature contributed such astute, humorous and candid remarks in this venue. I remember he was particularly keen on a singer named Pinky Winters, and I think it would please him to know that their collaboration (the CD entitled “Rain Sometimes”) was mentioned in a memorial.

  8. Deeply saddening news. Emotion was everything in Richard Rodney Bennett’s music, and it was always communicated with eloquence and clarity no matter how complex the piece. The world of music has lost an extraordinary and unique talent.

  9. Dear Norman,

    You might consider adding that Richard is survived by his sister, the poet M.R. Peacocke, who wrote or devised texts for a number of his vocal scores.

    More about Meg Peacocke here: http://www.claresambrook.com/meg-peacocke/bio.html
    The Guardian’s review of her collection Speaking of the Dead is here http://www.guardian.co.uk/books/2004/jan/24/poetry

    All good wishes,

    Clare Sambrook

  10. Laura Holleran says:

    Several years ago I interviewed Sir Richard for a CLAVIER magazine article about his charming piano pieces for children called Partridge Pie. The pieces are named for the 12 days of Christmas and perfect for this season. We did the interview in his tiny kitchen over cups of tea with his cats in attendance and talked also about our mutual love of duo piano music (2 pianos, 4 hands). I had an old LP of his duo piano performance of Holst’s The Planets and also had some duo arrangements of Gershwin music which he coveted. I sent him a set of the Gershwin in appreciation for the interview and made a friend.

    A few years ago he was commissioned by the Dranoff International Duo Piano Competition to write a new work to be required of all contestants. For that organization he wrote Lilliburlero Variations for Two Pianos and dedicated it to me. Contestants from all over the world performed the piece in Miami and he was there to hear them all. The Russians won for “best performance”. A local team in a Connecticut organization to which I belong performed the work. Richard came for the concert and dined with our group afterward. He was a jovial, kindly man who loved cooking even more than music and was inspired to compose when he heard an instrumentalist he admired. He was a master of just about every musical genre there is, a pure genius. I was very honored to know him. Laura Holleran

an ArtsJournal blog