Sir Richard Rodney Bennett, one of Britain's most versatile and talented composers and performers, has died peacefully on Christmas Eve in his adopted home city of New York, aged 76.
Over the course of a distinguished career he has been equally at home writing music for the concert hall and performing cabaret at the Algonquin Hotel; as enthusiastic about Cole Porter as Pierre Boulez. His publisher, Gill Graham of the Music Sales Group, said: "He was, I think, the last of his kind. He wrote 32-bar jazz standards, the most complex serial music, and everything in between."
To a broad audience he is perhaps best known as a prolific writer of scores for film and television, including for Sidney Lumet's Murder on the Orient Express and Four Weddings and a Funeral; his film work earned him two Oscar nominations. To his friends he will be remembered as a witty and generous host, a fiendish player of Scrabble and an enthusiastic creator of delicious Christmas feasts. Graham described him as "determined, hilarious and a great influence".
Bennett was born in 1936 and raised in Budleigh Salterton, Devon. His mother had studied composition with Gustav Holst; his father was a writer of children's books. In 1953 he turned down a place at Oxford to study at the Royal Academy of Music in London, part of a golden generation of British composers including Sir Peter Maxwell Davies, Thea Musgrave, Cornelius Cardew and Sir Harrison Birtwistle. He told the Guardian last year: "In fact for me the academy was a disaster. I learned much more in the Westminster music library in Buckingham Palace Road, which was an absolute treasure house of 20th-century music. But London was very exciting. It was cheap and we could live our own lives and be slightly raffish without exactly being bohemian."