Sir Richard Rodney Bennett, one of Britain’s most talented and versatile composers, has died at the age of 76. He is perhaps best known for his numerous film and television scores – for which he won a Bafta award and secured a series of Oscar nominations.
Among his memorable scores were music for the Doctor Who television series and films including Four Weddings and a Funeral, Sidney Lumet’s Murder on the Orient Express – which won him his Bafta in 1974 – Far from the Madding Crowd and Nicholas and Alexandra.
The composer, who died peacefully in his adopted home of New York on Christmas Eve, was equally at home both writing and performing. He was honoured with a CBE in 1977 and received a knighthood in 1998.
Sir Richard once said his film and television work was “to earn money to subsidise my other work”, although he added: “I liked writing music that would be played next week by talented musicians. It was the best training there was.”
His major works included three symphonies and an 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 and played regularly with Cleo Laine. His publisher, Gill Graham, of the Music Sales Group, described him as “the last of his kind”. “He 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 favour of studying at the Royal Academy of Music in London, alongside other distinguished composers including Sir Peter Maxwell Davies and Thea Musgrave.
However, he was later dismissive of his education at the academy, describing it as a “disaster”. “I learnt much more in the Westminster Music Library in Buckingham Palace Road, which was an absolute treasure house of 20th-century music,” he said. “London was very exciting,” he added. “It was cheap and we could live our own lives and be slightly bohemian without being raffish.”
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”.