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Richard Rodney Bennentt

Richard Rodney Bennett

An assessment of his career and his music for Wind Ensemble

Born 29th March 1936

By Tim Reynish - 2006

Revised January 2012

"I hope I am a composer who provides music which is beautiful to listen to and which people can use, because one without the other is for me only a halfway stage." Richard Rodney Bennett

Wind Ensemble Music

Twenty Years Of Comissioning

Since 1986, I have commissioned three major works from Richard Rodney Bennett and all four of his works for wind have been featured at WASBE Conferences. The first Morning Music, was commissioned for the 1987 WASBE Conference in Boston, and I conducted the premiere with the Northshore Concert Band. The Royal Northern College of Music gave the world premiere of The Four Seasons in 1991 and the world premiere of the Trumpet Concerto in 1993. All three works, together with another RNCM commission, Midnight Music by Irwin Bazelon, are recorded on CD DOY CD037, and with his delicious dectet Reflections, these make up a corpus of major works by one of the finest composers of the latter 20th century.

The Wind Orchestra of the Royal Northern College of Music, directed by Timothy Reynish, has done much to create a living repertoire. Its commissions are legion... his (Richard Rodney Bennett's) Concerto for Trumpet and Winds, written for the college in 1993, and here played by Martin Winter, goes deeper; its slow middle movement is a beautiful homage to Miles Davis and Gil Evans, at the same time holding on to Bennett's version of the 12-tone technique. When he inhabits this sort of cross-over territory, Bennett really has something to say.The Sunday Times, 23rd June 1996.

Richard is one of several major British composers with an international reputation who have contributed major works to wind repertoire.

Major British Composers Commissioned 1981-2005

Composer Work
Judith Bingham Three American Icons
Harrison Birtwistle Panic
John Casken Distant Variations
Robin Holloway Entrance; Carousing; Embarcation
James Macmillan Sowetan Spring
Nicholas Maw American Games
Colin Matthews Quatrain
Thea Musgrave Journey through a Japanese Landscape
Michael Tippett Triumph
Mark-Anthony Turnage A quick Blast

Consummate Professional

I was recently asked why I approached Richard in 1987 as my first major composer for wind ensemble. Briefly, Richard is a consummate professional, with an enormous range of music ranging from grand opera to works for children, symphonies, concertos, vocal and chamber music to film, radio and theatre music, jazz, popular song and arrangements from the shows, and I knew that whatever he would write would be wonderfully crafted and possibly also inspired. Both assessments were correct, and the result, Morning Music, 1987, remains one of the greatest of over sixty works that I have commissioned in the last quarter of a century.

Early Days

His father was an author, his mother a pianist and composer manqué who had studied at St Paul's School under Gustav Holst. As a child during the war Richard describes that I entertained myself by pretending to write music. He was given records of Britten, Lambert and Walton, and it was Walton who remained a strong influence in future years.

His list of "main" works starts with his Quartet no 1 of 1951 written at the age of 15. By the age of 16, he was already writing twelve-note music at a time when it was disregarded by the world. The doyenne of serialism in England at the time was Elizabeth Lutyens. Bennett said in a preface to a concert of his works:

Elizabeth Lutyens was the first professional composer that I ever knew.... I sent some extremely infantile pieces that I'd written and got marvellous encouragement and interest from her....she's certainly the English composer who's influenced me the most.

His studies were at the Royal Academy of Music with Howard Ferguson and Lennox Berkeley; whilst there, as a conscious reaction against the "Englishry" of the RAM, he attended summer classes at Darmstadt with Stockhausen, Nono, Pousseur, Maderna and Berio and later studied privately with Pierre Boulez in Paris. He said of Boulez:

He was the first musician I ever met who really took me apart, who questioned everything I did, who demanded to know why I used such and such a technique - I had always assumed that any technique was fair game for my own uses. I could not see beyond the bare bones of the technique; I was thinking theory, not music. I believe he helped me to begin to understand what kind of musical personality I had, - if any.

Despite the rigorous training, informally from Lutyens and more formally from Boulez, the rebellious streak emerged yet again, and he wrote a solo piano work which was a reaction against the abstract scheme of total serialisation. Serialism for Bennett was to be a device to underpin his fecund imagination. To an extraordinary technical facility, he allies a lyricism, a fastidious sense of form and architecture, a brilliant enjoyment of orchestral colour and an almost unique gift of communication with players and audience. If you trace his musical development over the last fifty years, you will find a consistency of purpose, a sense of architecture, a sensitivity to literature and a refreshing freedom from the academic restraints of serialism or any other "ism".

Mr Bennett Should Go Far

Mr Bennett has long shown exceptional promise and his new quartet shows real achievement... a very convincing and personal use of the twelve-note method. Mr Bennett should go far ...surprising for a young creative artist in our age of stylistic confusion to have found his way and defined it with simple clarity although his style is contemporary and serialist, he does not regard himself as a member of the avant garde... Mr Bennett is a serialist whose aim is to "compose serial music that sounds well". 1962 - The Times newspaper

Seven years later in the same magazine, composer Nicholas Maw wrote that

Richard Rodney Bennett ... possesses one of the most extraordinary talents that have arrived on the scene since the young Britten startled the world 30 years ago. In the same year the critic of The Times newspaper found it surprising for our young creative artist in our age of stylistic confusion to have found his way and defined it with simple clarity although his style is contemporary and serialist, he does not regard himself as a member of the avant garde... Mr Bennett is a serialist whose aim is to "compose serial music that sounds well."

The breadth of Bennett's tastes in music and composition echoes for me that of Leonard Bernstein. I would love to know how the two got on back in 1968 when Bernstein premiered Bennett's Symphony no 3, a commission from the New York Philharmonic Orchestra.

He began writing music for films in the fiftes, and has continued for the past five decades. He was nominated for an Oscar for the score of Murder on the Orient Express, and his most recent films have included Four Weddings and a Funeral, Sweeney Todd and Gormenghast.

His operas include The Mines of Sulphur and A Penny for a Song, both commissioned by Sadlers Wells Opera, and Victory commissioned for Covent Garden.

The Battle Over Serialism – Rubbish

I first came across his music in the seventies, when I played in the City of Birmingham Orchestra in the premiere of his piano concerto. Like most of his major works, it is couched in a kind of free-wheeling serialism but with an inherent lyricism and extraordinary use of orchestral colour. I was immediately captivated by the sound world, an idiom which was instantly recognisable twenty years later when I premiered Morning Music at the WASBE Conference in Boston.

In an edition of the WASBE Journal of 1998, the Editor wrote that:

The twelve-tone school was of course a return to maths... This school is now completely dead and forgotten... how many compositions from the fifty years of twelve-tone music will be performed forever? One can count them on one hand.

This is of course complete rubbish. It is not the system that is inherently unmusical and dead, it is the boring academic music which some composers write.

The critic Felix Aprahamian gives Bennett's serial secret in his appraisal of his magnificent Violin Concerto, a worthy successor to the Piano Concerto:

. ...the poetic fantasy resides in the music which itself stems from poetry, for each of the work's two extended movements reflect quotations from Herrick.

There is nothing cerebral about the results of Bennett's compositional methods. Bennett's use of twelve-note techniques like that of Alban Berg communicates directly to me in a way in which that of Webern fails to do. Aprahamian again in the Sunday Times:

Bennett's twelve-tone allegiance or formal cerebration, like Berg's, is secondary to the total clarity with which an expressive message of poetic mood is communicated.

In his sleeve notes for the RNCM recording of the three major works, Michael Graubart writes of Bennett and his colleague Irwin Bazelon about:

their ability to write vivid, approachable, communicative music often employing jazz idioms which yet uses dissonant harmonies, complex polyrhythms and aspects of 12-tone technique, and their ability to move effortlessly between film and TV music and serious concert works.

I personally think that Bennett's use of serial technique adds a structural dimension to the over-riding forms in which he is working, whether it be variation or symphonic. However, Evan Feldman, in his article in the third volume of Tim Salzman's masterly series quotes Richard as saying

I don't give a damn about the twelve notes of the chromatic scale. That's of no interest to me at all, but it's taking what used to be called a germ and turning it into something, turning it into a thousand things.

Morning Music (1997)

Commissioned by Timothy Reynish with funds from the Arts Council of England
World premiere WASBE Conference, Boston July 25 1987,
Northshore Concert Band conductor Tim Reynish

This city now doth like a garment wear
The beauty of the morning, silent, bare.
Ships, towers, domes, theatres and temples lie<
Open unto the fields and to the sky
All bright and glitt'ring in the smokeless air...

The inspiration for Morning Music is drawn from the sixth line of Wordsworth's sonnet Composed upon Westminster Bridge. The work is in seven movements, played without a break, and is scored for orchestral wind and brass, with the addition of four saxophones, piano, harp and basses.


The wind ensemble concept, pioneered by Frederick Fennell in 1952 at Eastman, is utilized fully, its wide dynamic range, its rich palette of primary colours, its energy and its lyricism. It is as incidental that Morning Music is serial as that it is programmatic; a Prelude states the melody, and this is the basis for a set of five closely argued variations.

Prelude- Molto Moderato 2/2

The main thematic material is stated immediately on piccolo and flute, a lyrical seventeen bar melodic line which is a twelve note series with two tonal centers of F# and Bb. It is restated on solo oboe, centred on Ab and C before the inversion is given on Bb with a rocking triplet accompaniment. A light accelerando and heightening of tension leads into....

Ships - Allegro giocoso 6/8

... a swift scherzando, the theme appearing in stabbing diminution over reiterated brass quavers; the inversion is still lyrical, this time over a mix of 3/4 and 6/8 combined in wind and piano. Again there is a slight speeding up and intensification of the rhythm before a pause on a pedal C links to the next movement.

Towers - Molto mosso 3/4

Bell-like clusters build in percussion and brass and contrast with a woodwind theme striding in leaps over a rhythmic ostinato. The linking bar is this time on a cluster chord and resolves onto a point of repose.

Domes - Andante tranquillo 4/4

A chorale-like version of the main thematic material, scores for a Harmonie of winds, horns and tuba, with brass and woodwind choir passages alternating, contrasting and finally combining.

Theatres - Vivo 2/4

A vivid scherzando, with climbing figures in the woodwind interrupted by trumpet fanfares; a short saxophone link leads to a rag-time, ending with a haunting coda.

Temples - Molto moderato

Unison plainsong (in mixed metres) on low wind mingles with mysterious muted brass chords and quiet contrapuntal writing for the whole woodwind choir. In a short coda, the chords become an accompaniment to the plainsong, this time doubled with the horns and leading to the

Finale - Presto con brio 6/8

Much of the earlier material is referred to here and developed, particularly Towers, before a final triumphant re-statement of the tone-row.

The Four Seasons

Dedicated to Stephen Day, world premiere at the Cheltenham Town Hall on 16th July, 1991, by the RNCM Wind Orchestra, conducted by Clark Rundell

Commissioned by the Cheltenham Festival with funds made available by the Arts Council of Great Britain and the School of Wind and Percussion of the Royal Northern College of Music.

Bennett's first work for wind ensemble, Morning Music, was commissioned by BASBWE, the British Association of Symphonic Bands and Wind Ensembles, for the third international conference of the World Association of Symphonic Bands & Ensembles, and premiered in Boston in 1987. The scoring of The Four Seasons is similar, full orchestral wind, brass and percussion, with the addition of a quartet of saxophones, piano and harp, but omitting double bass and euphonium. It is cast in four movements

Spring - Vivo

An energetic syncopated motif provides the main material, alternating with and later accompanying a gentler chorale. A short link of fluttering single reeds ends in a rapid descending scale for bass clarinet and leads into

Summer - Allegretto

The colours here are more restrained, the energy of Spring is dissipated by the heat. Gently rocking thematic fragments become more extended, the pulse is increased, the brass begin to dominate until a unison link for the horns dies away into a reprise of the opening, differently scored and shortened.

Autumn - Andante lento

A long lyrical solo for cor anglais, built mainly on shifting fourths, accompanied by clarinets and harp, gives a little space for reflection. On analysis (anathema to Bennett) the theme proves to be a tone row or note series, which has been present throughout the work, perhaps un-noticed.

Bb C F D G E B C# F# A Ab Eb

Winter - Molto vivo

As with the other three movements, the feel is that of ternary form, a sparkling rising motif with brilliant trumpet double tonguing, a more serene central section and a triumphant return.

Such is Bennett's sure handling of his materials and the idiom that we have no need to be aware other than sub-consciously that this crackling scherzando is derived from the same materials as is verdant Spring and golden Summer. The rising fourths and dropping thirds give the row, stated most clearly in Autumn, a strong tonal feel, and as with Morning Music, Bennett's sure ear for sonorities, his sense of architecture and his passionate lyricism and energy make a clear statement that there is certainly a very vital life after the Second Viennese School.

Trumpet Concerto

Commissioned by Timothy Reynish for

Martin Winter and the RNCM Wind Orchestra, world premiere at BASBWE Conference 17th September 1993

Declamato - Allegro - Presto

Elegy for Miles Davis - Lento


1. Schoenberg was born two years after Vaughan Williams; while VW used folk-song as an antidote to 19th century chromaticism, Schoenberg took the language of the romantics and refined it even further, developing his system of equality of the semitones, so-called "twelve-tone" or serial music.

2. His Theme and Variations for Band of 1943 reverts to tonality, perhaps as a sop to band tradition.

3. Half a century later, the three works of Richard Rodney Bennett written for the Royal Northern College of Music are serial, but in a way which combines post-Schoenberg technique with tonality, and in the Trumpet Concerto with jazz.

Bennett immediately states eleven of the twelve notes, but with a strong sense of key; A minor for the opening rising second and fifth, a triad of C minor, a G minor triad in first inversion and a Db triad in first inversion, descending to E, the dominant of A minor. The missing note, a Gb is introduced in the second phrase, an extension of the first. Happily, the inversion of this tone row turns out to be a version of "The Maid of Cadiz", and can develop into the moving Elegy for Miles Davis.

The initial noble cadenza leads directly to a brisk, spiky allegro at twice the speed and later to a faster 6/8. The cadenza material reappears several times and even finishes the movement before linking it with the second. Subtitled Elegy for Miles Davis, the movement takes the form of a jazz ballad and draws inspiration (and the occasional melody) from the luscious but gentle textures of the Davis/Gil Evans collaborations. A bold trumpet statement starts the final vivo, with cross rhythms reminiscent of the first movement. The development of this material is interrupted by a further appearance of the cadenza now supported by the orchestra and leads to an energetic vivo coda. The scoring is for Wind Ensemble with piano, harp and amplified string bass.

Reflections On A Sixteenth Century tune (1999)

This piece is based on the sixteenth century French popular song "A l'ombre d'un buissonet" first printed in "La Couronne et Fleur" (1556). Originally written for a large string orchestra, commissioned for the 1999 International Youth String Orchestra at the ESTA Conference in Portsmouth, it was transcribed by the composer for a double wind quintet, with second Flute and Oboe doubling Piccolo and Cor Anglais, second Clarinet playing Bass Clarinet, second Bassoon on Double Bassoon.

  • Prelude: Lento
  • Variation 1: Allegretto
  • Variation 11: Allegro Vivo
  • Variation 111 Andante (Homage to Peter Warlock)
  • Variation 1V: Con brio e ritmico
  • Finale

The theme is stated in the Prelude in unison in the upper wind, punctuated by solemn chords. Variation 1 is a fleet 3/8 and gives way to an almost jazzy 2/4 variation with a short contrasting lyrical 5/4. The third variation betrays Bennett's Englishness, a suave andante in 3/4 in which false relations, so beloved by Peter Warlock, play a growing part. The 6/8 that follows plays a number of rhythmic tricks, 6/8 alternating with 3/4, duplets across the triple beats finally a scherzo in a mass of mixed metres of fives and sevens, finally settling on a fast march-like version of the tune, which becomes increasingly tranquil, eventually re-capturing the sombre mood of the opening Lento.

Bennett At Seventy

A critique in the mid-sixties of a vocal work by Bennett ran

... It showed Bennett's unexcelled professionalism, facility and good judgement in meeting a specific musical requirement and in suiting his style to the resources at his disposal. Skilfully and considerately written... with enough problems to be challenging but not discouraging.

This is why for me he is a major figure in world music of the past five decades, perhaps a little undervalued and under-estimated in Europe because he lives in New York and because of the wide range of composition, making it impossible to pigeon-hole his output. I am sure that the coming years will lead to a revival of interest in his "serious" works, and I hope that the world of wind ensemble will programme some of his four major works for our medium.

All his music is published by Novello/Music Sales

The slow movement of the Trumpet Concerto is available as a stand-alone work entitled Elegy for Miles Davis

Recordings Available

Reflections on a 16th Century Tune

Guildhall School of Music & Drama Wind Ensemble 4739-MCD

The Four Seasons

WASBE International Youth Wind Orchestra/Wayne Marshall 3147-MCD
Tokyo Kosei Wind Orchestra/Frederick Fennell KOCD 3578
RNCM Wind Orchestra/Tim Reynish DOYCD 037

Morning Music

Philharmonia a Vent/John Boyd Klavier 11150
RNCM Wind Orchestra/Tim Reynish DOYCD 037

Trumpet Concerto

RNCM Wind Orchestra/Tim Reynish DOYCD 037




Mvt 1                80 insert mf

Mvt. 2               107 staccato on each note

                        235 play down an octave


Flute 1

Mvt. 1               15 staccato on F

                        53-54 F# - D

                        153 slur 2 semiquavers to quaver

                        158 top note Cb not Eb

                        240 1st semiquaver should be Eb not Fb

                        282 7th semiquaver should be E#

Mvt 2                5 start diminuendo on 4th beat

65 diminuendo on last beat

                        82 pp on last beat

                        83 morendo

                        195 should be F# on 1st beat

                        210 2nd minim should be C#

                        284 stem missing on 2nd quaver


Flute 2             

Mvt. 1               158 top note Cb not Eb

                        200 flutter tongue throughout the bar


Mvt 2                5 start diminuendo on 4th beat

61 tie B on second beat to a halfnote/minim tied to measure 62

                        122 C is an octave too high

OBOE 1           

Mvt. 2               239 delete legato



Mvt. 1               256 crescendo

Mvt. 2               54 tie over to next measure

                        239 staccato quarter/crotchet, not  legato          



 Mvt. 1              1 time signature 3/2 not ¾

                        81 a fifth too low  should be written Eb F Eb    E F# E   

                        262 diminuendo


Mvt.2                220 mf diminuendo on second quarter/crotchet  to p on half note/minim

                        237 1st 8th/quaver D# not C#

                        238 1st quarter/crotchet D# not C#

                        295 E 1st line triple fortissimo diminuendo tied to

                        296 E forte crescendo tied to

297 E minim crescendo followed by staccato quarter/crotchet sfff on E



 MVT 1              82 last note should be Bb

                        158 last note should be Ab not C

                        163 forte

                        168 C natural not # throughout the bar

Mvt 2                128 mp diminuendo

                        185-186 up an octave


Mvt 1                Measures 2 and 4 are not transposed but last 16ths/semiquavers need to be changed also

                        2   F# E D C#        B A# G# F#   E                                

                        4   F# E D C          B A G F#        E

                        82  second sixteenth/semiquaver should be Eb    E should be Eb in this measure

                        89 should be Eb not Db

                        140 5th eighth note/quaver should be E natural not F#

                        330 1st note should be A#


Mvt 2                5 start diminuendo on 4th beat

71 last note a Gb instead of Ab                        



Mvt. 1               Line 1 is mistransposed

                        11         C# B A#  G#F#E#D#  D natural    D

                        12         A    A G    F# E D C

                        17         C natural – G throughout measure

                        79         second note is F natural

                        82  second 16th should be Eb   all Es should be Eb in this measure

                        330 1st note should be A#


Mvt 2                5 start diminuendo on 4th beat

71 last note a Gb instead of Ab

                        258 tie last two notes



MVT 1               214  second note C natural

                        227 last note B natural

                        264 diminuendo


Mvt 2                5 start diminuendo on 4th beat




1st mvt              81  staccato

2nd mvt              57 first note is C

                        61 delete mf    crescendo to f on third beat

                        114 insert  mf

                        168 last note should be Eb



Mvt 1                65 last note should be D#

69 forte on third beat

188-189 insert legato

278 second note should be E

Mvt 2                5 start diminuendo on 4th beat

24         start diminuendo on 4th beat

                        50         diminuendo on 4th beat

                        243       insert ff on quarter notes/crotchets



Mvt 1`              

Mvt 2                5 start diminuendo on 4th beat

                        131 take 2nd and 4th quarter notes/crotchets down an octave       

                        243 ff at end of crescendo



Mvt 1                34         F natural

                        134       should be Bb

                        135       second beat should be Bb

                        188       legato to 189

Mvt 2                24         tie first two notes



Mvt 1               

Mvt 2                22         2nd 8th note/quaver is F#

                        23         2nd 8th note/quaver is Ab

                        223       delete piano     

HORN 1 & 2

Mvt 1                58         insert diminuendo

                        83 3rd beat F natural followed by F#  also wrong in score

                        86  crescendo throughout the measure

                        109 crescendo

                        110 diminuendo

                        116 crescendo to f in 117

                        322       1st horn second note should be Bb

Mvt 2                75         diminuendo  also missing in score

122       last quarter/crotchet for second horn should be natural

                        150       delete crescendo

                        151       insert crescendo

                        218       crescendo on last beat


HORNS 3& 4

Mvt 1                73         4th horn tie F natural to next measure

                        74         4th horn F natural throughout measure

                        77         4th horn B natural should be Bb

                        112       tied from previous measure  D  A

                        232       f on 2nd beat before diminuendo

Mvt 2                18         3rd horn tie last quaver to next bar

                        25         3rd horn half note/minim should be whole note/semibreve

                        75         diminuendo missing also in score

                        122       4th horn last quarter/crotchet B natural

                        137       4th horn tie second note to next measure

                        218       4th horn should read   F# E D# C# E# D#

                        234       4th C natural

                        251       bar line missing



Mvt 1                7          cresc on last half note/minim

                        84         D# should be C natural


Mvt 1                7          crescendo last half note/minim

                        17         tie to next measure

                        63-4-5   tie all Bs

Mvt 2                266       2 8th notes/quavers both D#



Mvt 1                13-14    F# - E

                        15-16-17            F# E F natural

                        135       diminuendo

MVT 2                                      


Mvt 1                39 glissando ends forte

                        142 and 143 accents at start of diminuendo

                        159 delete bass clef   -  all in tenor clef

                        313       last note should be B

Mvt 2                252       accent on E



Mvt 1                35 Tenor clef, not bass

39 end glissando in forte

141 Tenor clef

145 last note is mezzo forte

(195 crescendo missing in score)


Mvt 1                78 legato to 1st beat 80

                        82 last quaver staccato

                        85 delete fp

Mvt 2                295 accent



Mvt 1                85 fp on second beat

                        109 2nd tuba tie to next bar

                        175 both tubas tie to 176

                        321 tuba 1 last 8th note/quaver G# not F#



Mvt 1                85         crescendo on last half note/minim through 86

Mvt 2                129       Should be D tied through to 130

                        245       Quarter note/Crotchet should be Gb


PERC 1           

            Mvt 1    264       should be medium wood block with hard sticks



            Mvt 1    253       should be quarter note/crotchet ringing through to quarter/crotchet rest followed by 4 measures rest

                        291 and 293  delete tie

            Mvt 2    46  mp   47  mf  48  f  297 sfff 



            Mvt 1    331       insert ff

                        332       insert triplet over whole measure, your note is second of triplet quarter/crotchets

            Mvt 2    189       insert f

                        195       1st note mf   last note forte



            Mvt 1    223       lst note is G

                        324       Left hand should be  Bb not B natural

            Mvt 2    195       last note is G#