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Richard Rodney Bennett
The Complete Musician
with Paul Harris
Omnibus Press £24.95
In 1953 Bennett won a scholarship to the Royal Academy of Music. There he was taught composition by Lennox Berkeley, who said that Bennett was the most precociously gifted talent he had ever encountered, citing Britten and Previn as the only other musicians who had such gifts. Bennett wrote the music for the film Indisdcreet (with Cary Grant and Ingrid Bergman) at the age of 19, straight after leaving the RAM. Simultaneously he became the first and only pupil of Boulez, in Paris, who gave him three-hour lessons!
The relationship between Bennett and the pianist Susan Bradshaw is well documented. Privately, never to his face, Boulez was to them always Bouzel. They worked together on the translation of Boulez on Music Today, which took them two years. RRB had polished his French simply by being around in Paris. Bennett and Bradshaw eventually fell out. She was in love with him, while he states unequivocally that though he likes women very much indeed, he doesn’t happen to want to go to bed with them. She ridiculed his jazz concerts, and referred to Gershwin as ‘silly music’. Inevitably, the friendship wore away.
As early as 1958 Bennett was on the path to being a film composer. That year his royalties for the music of the film Interpol amounted to almost eight hundred pounds. His stay in Paris had cured Bennett, ‘A good man fallen among dodecaphonists’, of wanting to be Boulez. His later professional relationship with the late Marion Montgomery (an endearing singer who couldn’t read music) also ended in disagreement.
From September 1970 he taught for eight months at Peabody in Baltimore. Bernstein gave the first performance of RRB’s Second Symphony in New York. When Bennett came to apply for entry into the USA, Bernstein was one of his referees, the other being Stephen Sondheim. He admires André Previn, loves the piano playing of Ellis Larkins, and said of Birtwistle that: ‘Harry’s music makes no sense’.
Anthony Meredith’s outstanding book contains photographs and a useful list of works, but no notated musical examples.
John Robert Brown
First published in Classical Music magazine, December 2010. Reproduced by permission.
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