Among present-day musicians, there can be few more versatile than Sir Richard Rodney Bennett, and none better at everything he does: composing for concerts and films, playing the piano in contemporary music and in jazz idioms, singing and playing classic show tunes in cabaret.
Bennett was born into a musical family, and began composing as a child. He studied at the Royal Academy of Music, and the Darmstadt summer schools, and a two-year period of study in Paris with Pierre Boulez. A fellow-student was the pianist Susan Bradshaw, with whom Bennett later collaborated on a translation of Boulez’s theoretical writing, and formed a long-standing piano duet partnership. Other significant performing partnerships were to be with the soprano Jane Manning and the horn player Barry Tuckwell.
As a composer, Bennett adopted what Stephen Walsh has called "a neo-Romantic serialism closer to Berg than Webern".
His interest in opera expanded to song-cycles, choral works, and three symphonies, to concertos for almost every instrument and instrumental solos. Many of his smaller works of the 1970s fall into series, including the sequence of pieces called Scena for solo instruments, and the group of ensemble works called Commedia.
Since his student years he composed film scores, an activity which he has described as musical "journalism", but one to which he has brought a strong gift for melody and for the immediate creation of mood. His film work has brought him many awards.
One of his first film scores was in a jazz idiom, and he supported himself as a student by playing jazz piano. This led later to partnerships with singers including Karin Krog, Marian Montgomery and Mary Cleere Haran, and to his own cabaret performances as both pianist and singer. He has also composed concert works in a true jazz idiom.