Richard Rodney Bennett, Oscar-nominated English composer of “Far From the Madding Crowd,” “Nicholas and Alexandra” and “Murder on the Orient Express,” died Monday, Dec. 24, at his home in New York City. He was 76.
Bennett’s other films included “Secret Ceremony,” “Billion Dollar Brain,” “Equus,” “Yanks,” “The Return of the Soldier,” “Enchanted April” and “Four Weddings and a Funeral.” His television scores included “Sherlock Holmes in New York,” “Murder With Mirrors” and the miniseries “Tender Is the Night” and “Gormenghast.”
But his career encompassed much more than films and TV. He was well known as one of Great Britain’s finest classical composers, writing three symphonies, concertos for numerous instruments and a large number of chamber works; and he was familiar on both the London and New York cabaret scenes as a performer of jazz works and popular songs.
He was born in 1936 in Kent; his mother was a pianist and composer who had studied with Gustav Holst, and his father was an author of children’s books. He began writing music at an early age (including a string quartet at 15), studied informally with composer Elisabeth Lutyens, attended the Royal Academy of Music and, in the late 1950s, studied privately with composer Pierre Boulez in Paris.
Between 1957 and 1996, he scored an estimated three dozen films, including four for director Joseph Losey (including “Secret Ceremony” in 1968 and an unused score for “The Go-Between” in 1970), four with John Schlesinger (including “Billy Liar,” 1963; “Far From the Madding Crowd,” 1967; “Yanks,” 1969; and the made-for-TV “Tale of Sweeney Todd” in 1997), and two for Sidney Lumet (“Murder on the Orient Express” in 1974 and “Equus” in 1977).
“Far From the Madding Crowd” earned him the first of his three Academy Award nominations, although his music for the all-star Agatha Christie mystery “Murder on the Orient Express” was probably his best-known score. He earned an Emmy nomination for another Christie adaptation, the Miss Marple mystery “Murder With Mirrors” (1985).
In recent years, he had concentrated more on writing and recording concert music. His opera “The Mines of Sulphur” was recorded in 2005. He moved to New York City in 1979 and he was knighted in 1998.
No survivors have been named; funeral plans were not immediately known.