British film composer Richard Rodney Bennett dies at 76

Richard Rodney Bennett, a British-born composer for film, ballet, opera and the concert hall, died Christmas Eve in New York. He was 76.

Wrote music for Four Weddings and a Funeral, Murder on the Orient Express

British composer Richard Rodney Bennett, shown in 1970, moved between the jazz and classical worlds, but is best-known for his film scores. (Erich Auerbach/Getty Images)

Richard Rodney Bennett, a British-born composer for film, ballet, opera and the concert hall, died Christmas Eve in New York. He was 76.

Bennett, who had made his home in New York for the past 20 years, moved between the jazz and classical worlds throughout his career, but was best known for his film scores.

He earned a BAFTA award for his score for Murder on the Orient Express in 1974 and was nominated nine times for the British film awards his TV and film scores including Ghormenghast, Tender is the Night, Yanks and Equus.

His best-known film is probably Four Weddings and a Funeral, but he has more than 50 film and TV scores to his credit including popular TV series Doctor Who. He was nominated for an Academy Award three times, for Murder on the Orient Express, Nicholas and Alexandra (1971) and Far from the Madding Crowd (1967).

Considered one of the great jazz pianists of his generation, Bennett accompanied singers such as Cleo Laine and Claire Martin. He frequently performed at the Algonquin Hotel in New York playing songs from the American Songbook.

Jazz singer Ann Hampton Callaway remembered Bennett on her Facebook account.

"He was one of the first friends of the music world to welcome me to New York, teach me great songs, accompany and arrange for me and record with me. He had superb taste, great talent and a wicked sense of humour," Callaway wrote.

He also earned important commissions, such as Reflections on a Scottish Folk Song, a concert for cello and strings commissioned by the Prince of Wales to honour the memory of the Queen Mother in 2004.

Chris Butler, head of publishing for Music Sales Group, paid tribute to his versatility.

Richard Rodney Bennett, left, poses with Paul McCartney and Judith Bingham before a benefit concert for The Garland Appeal, charity dedicated to fighting cancer in honour of McCartney's late wife Linda. (Doug Kanter/AFP/Getty Images)

"Richard was the most complete musician of his generation — lavishly gifted as a composer, performer and entertainer in a multiplicity of styles and genres," Butler said in a statement.

Bennett was born in 1936 and raised in Budleigh Salterton, Devon. His mother had studied music composition and his father was a writer of children's books.

In 1953 he began studies at the Royal Academy of Music in London, part of a golden generation of British composers that includes Peter Maxwell Davies, Thea Musgrave, Cornelius Cardew and Harrison Birtwistle.

Bennett studied personally with Pierre Boulez in Paris from 1957-58 and visited the Darmstadt summer school, learning the 12-tone serial composition then considered the cutting edge in classical music.

His early classical works were performed when he was still a student. He wrote his Dream Sequence for cello and piano for Julian Lloyd Webber and John Lenehan and his Symphony No. 2 for the New York Philharmonic.

He also wrote operas such as The Mines of  Sulpher and choral works, including The Garden, a Serenade to Glimmerglass, commissioned for the Glimmerglass Opera in 2006.

Bennett was knighted in 1998 for services to music.