Donald's Encyclopedia of Popular Music

A B C D E F G H I J K L M N O P Q R S T U V W X Y Z

BENNETT, Robert Russell

(b 15 June 1894, Kansas City MO; d 17 Aug. '81 NYC) Composer, and an arranger of astonishing facility who worked very quickly and rarely had to revise. Some of his own music is listed in classical catalogues; he was a successful composer but his work is familiar to people who have never heard of him, because he arranged Broadway shows and film scores for over forty years, from Jerome Kern's Show Boat '27 to Lerner and Loewe's My Fair Lady and Rodgers and Hammerstein's Sound Of Music, both filmed in the '60s. Tall and lanky and slightly handicapped by childhood polio, he had made a living copying music when Max Dreyfus, the genius at T. B. Harms, Kern's publisher, appointed Bennett to work with Kern from '23. After Kern died in 1945 Bennett worked with Rodgers and Hammerstein; the unforgettable sound of the original cast recording of R&H's South Pacific, one of the biggest hit albums of all time, is that of Bennett's skill, and he won an Oscar '55 for his work on the film of Oklahoma! He also arranged and conducted Rodgers's music for the TV documentary series Victory At Sea, about WWII in the Pacific, and for hit albums of it from '54.

It is not widely known that composers of musical shows do not orchestrate their own work: André Previn orchestrated others' Hollywood film musicals; for the stage Don Walker did Carousel, Robert Ginzler did Gypsy, William Brohn did Miss Saigon and Jonathan Tunick has worked with Leonard Bernstein, David Shire, Stephen Sondheim (several shows), Boublil and Schoenberg (Martin Guerre) and others. Another part of the work is orchestrating a new production under different circumstances than the original (a different theatre, a larger or smaller orchestra): Tunick revamped Sondheim's A Funny Thing Happened On The Way To The Forum for a Broadway revival '96 (and has also worked in the studio with Kiri Te Kanawa, Barbara Hendricks, Paul McCartney etc). But the dean of the school was Robert Russell Bennett.