The Aztec’s composer and pianist Sir Richard Rodney Bennett, a voracious talent who was equally at home writing jazz and film scores as music for concert halls, passed away on Christmas Eve aged 76.
Although he considered his film and television subordinate to his concert work he produced fifty scores for both mediums receiving three Oscar nominations for Far from the Madding Crowd, Nicholas and Alexandra (which starred future Doctor Tom Baker and eventual Valeyard Michael Jayston) and Murder on the Orient Express he approached each piece with consummate craftsmanship – describing the process as writing ‘in different rooms, albeit in the same house’.
Born in Broadstairs on March 29 1936, the youngest of three children, Bennett’s musical ability and insatiable curiosity were spotted from a young age – popular music was on his radar from an early age through trips to the cinema and the radio, which he listened to attentively.
It was this same voracious consumption of anything and everything on his portable radio during his ‘disastrous’ time at the Royal Academy of Music that he valued more than his scholarship.
He travelled to the German contemporary music festival in the late 1950s and soon found gainful employment tackling challenging scores by Stockhausen and Boulez — whose sole pupil he was in Paris between 1957 and 1959 — while developing a parallel career in jazz.
Meanwhile, Stephen Sondheim recommended him to Sidney Lumet, the director of Midnight on the Orient Express.
To Bennett, film and television – like the 1964 serial The Aztecs – were an exciting way to hone his craft:
“The subject is supplied to you. You are writing within a certain format that will be acceptable to the boss, you have a specified length, and you know what you can do and what you can’t.”
However, no sooner had he become established within film and television did he turn his hand to producing symphonies, operas, concertos — 17 or more, for almost every available instrument — and choral music.
His eclecticism was celebrated in his 75th Birthday year where there were numerous concerts featuring all the different strands of his work.
Bennett is survived by his sister Meg, the poet MR Peacocke, with whom he collaborated on a number of vocal works.
(Via The Daily Telegraph)