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Sir Richard Rodney Bennett

Composer and pianist;

Born: March 29, 1936; Died: December 24, 2012.

Sir Richard Rodney Bennett, who has died aged 76, was one of Britain's busiest and most versatile composers of the period which also produced Sir Peter Maxwell Davies and Sir Harrison Birtwistle.

As a pupil of Boulez from 1957 until 1959, he was originally expected to veer more towards the post-modern complexity of Birtwistle than towards the more accessible idioms, including a penchant for jazz and cabaret, which later inspired him.

Yet Boulez, as teacher, greatly thrilled the young Broadstairs-born genius, and for a time his output could have gone either way, with his opera The Mines of Sulphur (1965) representing his darker, sterner, more expressionistic side.

Indeed when English National Opera brought it to Glasgow, with Sir Colin Davis as conductor and Scottish Opera's favourite mezzo-soprano Catherine Wilson in the cast, Bennett seemed well on the way to becoming the most intensely Bergian of British composers (Edinburgh was excluded from the work's tour because, as I flippantly suggested at the time, one of its central characters was a tramp called Tovey, and Sir Donald Tovey had been Edinburgh's most distinguished musical academic).

But other Bennett operas, culminating in his Covent Garden adaptation of Joseph Conrad"s novel, Victory, fared less well; and though his Piano Concerto, which opened the 1969 Edinburgh Festival in a performance by the Scottish National Orchestra featuring Stephen Kovacevich as soloist and Sir Alexander Gibson as conductor (they later recorded it together) showed him to be one of the most ambitious and atmospheric of British composers – the work was wittily nicknamed Nights in the Gardens of Darmstadt by one critic – his ear for elegance and pastiche was by then beginning to reveal itself.

One of the omens was his Waltonian flair for film music, with the succulent Ravel-like waltz from Murder on the Orient Express as a highlight, and his scores for Nicholas and Alexandra and Four Weddings and a Funeral as other successes. His polish as a cabaret pianist brought him to the Perth Festival and his taste for jazz resulted in 1990 in his Concerto for Stan Getz for tenor sax, timpani and strings.

His move in 1979 to New York, where he was to appear frequently with the singer Marian Montgomery and where Leonard Bernstein and Stephen Sondheim were close supporters, had already shown which way things were going. His reappearances in Britain, after being appointed to the Royal Academy of Music's international chair of composition, were less glamorous, though he advised his students to be practical and useful, as he himself undoubtedly was.

His most recent recording, issued this month, is of his Letters to Lindbergh and other pieces for chorus and piano, sung by the National Youth Choir of Scotland National Girls Choir, directed by Christopher Bell.

His collaboration with the jazz singer Claire Martin is commemorated by Linn Records with Witchcraft, a selection from the Cy Coleman Songbook.

Richard Rodney Bennett was knighted in 1998, three years after Gay Times hailed him as one of the most influential of all gay musicians.

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