Richard Rodney Bennett (1936-2012) - classical, jazz and film composer

Richard Rodney Bennett - photo Sir Richard Rodney Bennett's formal training is decidedly classical, having studied at the Royal Academy of Music in London and then under Pierre Boulez in Paris. However he has always had an interest in Jazz and improvisation. Though the formal education resulted in his writing much in the classical vein, with regular concert works and many recordings available. He has also had some success in the Jazz arena both as composer and pianist, and worked with the singer Cleo Laine and John Dankworth for a period. He has also contributed significantly to the movie scene with scores for a number of films, particularly films of British origin. He started in the film industry putting together the music for those documentaries that used to be shown as a filler along with a main feature. He then progressed onto scoring those main features themselves, starting with a string of Horror movies, Comedies and Thrillers. Though he has a broad musical experience, his best-known film work has tended to be period dramas or productions with a literary origin.

The British Music Collection: Richard Rodney Bennett - CD cover Not having worked on hollywood blockbusters his music has tended not to be full of in-your-face pulsating excitment but more thoughtful, reflective and artistic in nature. Yet his music manages to fulfil the role demanded of it and also stand up on its own as music with a certain intrinsic interest. His composition style can be quite modern at times which is relatively unusual in film music, but equally he can adopt romantic and lyrical styles when the situation demands. For "Murder on the Orient Express", Bennett put together a collection of themes including an exuberant waltz, and a Charleston-like dance theme which is given many treatments in a variety of styles, and some suspenseful underscore at suitable moments in the plot. His music for the TV series Gormenghast is highly recommended, but Amazon don't seem to stock the soundtrack CD. However they do have the music to his first oscar nominated score for "Far from the Madding Crowd" at these links:, or

Richard Rodney Bennett: L'Imprecateur (with Yared: Interdit aux moins de 13 ans) - CD cover Although based in Britain for many years and knighted in 1998, Bennett now stays in New York. Recently he has appeared in Manhattan's Encore Club playing cabaret songs. Also he was commissioned to compose a piece to celebrate the late Queen Mother. The work is for cello and orchestra, called "Reflections of a Scottish Folksong", and received its premier performance in 2006 with Paul Watkins playing the solo part. Bennett has also recently found a passion for the visual arts and has participated in art exhibitions. See the Nightingale Project for more information about his series of "Collages". His music for the French film L'Imprecateur (released internationally as "The Accuser") is now available from Music Box Records together with another film by the same director Jean-Louis Bertuccelli. The score's mood is dark and sad, generally atonal and atmospheric, with strings, piano, spinet and percussion, and featuring some eerie slide effects.

Richard Rodney Bennett: The Complete Musician by Anthony Meredith and Paul Harris - book cover It is with regret that we report the sad passing of Sir Richard Rodney Bennett. He died peacefully on Christmas Eve 2012 after a long, distinguished and varied musical career. A biography about the composer was published in 2010. It was written by Anthony Meredith and Paul Harris who have collaborated previously, including a well-regarded biography of the composer Malcolm Arnold. The new biography is called "Richard Rodney Bennett: The Complete Musician" with the title referring to the breadth of the composer's interests and successes, from film and television to concert music, contemporary music to song, and his music for cabaret and jazz clubs. More information about the new biography can be found at, or See also the article Final on Vinyl? which describes Bennett's score for "The Return of the Soldier".

Films by Richard Rodney Bennett:

    Richard Rodney Bennett: Far from the Madding Crowd - CD cover
  • Blind Date
  • The Man who could Cheat Death
  • The Devil Never Sleeps - aka Satan Never Sleeps
  • The Devil's Disciple
  • The Witches - aka Satan Never Sleeps
  • Billy Liar - for John Schlesinger
  • One Way Pendulum - film adaptation starring Eric Sykes of the surreal play by N.F. Simpson; Bennett creates some nice comic jazz performed by the Johnny Scott Quintet and Jonathan Miller teaches "speak your weight" machines to sing Handel's Hallelujah Chorus and Arne's Rule, Britannia!
  • Far from the Madding Crowd - also for John Schlesinger, with the score exuding a wonderful British folk feel
  • Billion Dollar Brain
  • Lady Caroline Lamb - the composer later adapted the music into a concert piece subtitled "Elegy for Viola and Orchestra"
  • Sea Change: the Choral Music of Richard Rodney Bennett - CD cover
  • Nicholas and Alexandra - assisted by his protege Christopher Gunning
  • Murder on the Orient Express - a Viennese Waltz and 20s style music creates a backdrop for the protagonists' life of leisure before murder strikes among the travellers
  • The Accuser (L'Imprecateur) - a French film for director Jean-Louis Bertuccelli, with music generally dark and atonal
  • Yanks - another John Schlesinger film
  • The Return of the Soldier - based on the novel by Rebecca West
  • Enchanted April - based on a novel about English ladies staying in an Italian villa, the music features an Ondes Martenot which is an early electronic keyboard instrument
  • Four Weddings and a Funeral - Bennett was reportedly sued by a French composer who claimed that a four note sequence had been stolen

TV work by Richard Rodney Bennett:

    Richard Rodney Bennett: Complete Works for Solo Piano - double CD cover
  • Doctor Who - contributed very effective incidental music for the early William Hartnell historical story "The Aztecs", whereas Geoffrey Burgon did some work during the Tom Baker era
  • Eustace and Hilda - TV Movie by the BBC (piano sheet music for this is in the book "21st Century Classical Collection" available from Music Room)
  • Murder with Mirrors - another Agatha Christie adaptation
  • Tender is the Night - a TV miniseries adaptation of the F. Scott Fitzgerald's novel, "Nicole's theme" from the series has since been recorded
  • The Charmer - TV series with Nigel Havers
  • The Tale of Sweeney Todd
  • Gormenghast - Fantastical music for a fantastical serial, John Taverner providing the choral music

Note: Richard Rodney Bennett the composer is not to be confused with the director Rodney Bennett who has also worked extensively on British television programmes including Doctor Who for example.

Richard Rodney Bennett - Recommendations:

In addition to his film music, some of which has been performed in concert versions, Richard Rodney Bennett has composed much music directly for the concert hall including 3 symphonies, 17 concertos, "Sonnets to Orpheus" for cello and orchestra, the opera "The Mines of Sulphur" and the choral work "Ricercar". The following is a small sample of his recorded music on CD:

  • Complete Works for Solo Piano (double CD), played by Martin Jones - and
  • The British Music Collection - Richard Rodney Bennett - Piano Concerto No.1, Concerto For Stan Getz and some film music - and
  • Sea Change - The Choral Music of Richard Rodney Bennett - and