In Memoriam: Richard Rodney Bennett – Goodbye for Now

by 5:4

2012 has almost drawn to a close, but not before claiming another prominent musical voice: Richard Rodney Bennett, who passed away on Christmas Eve aged 76. Bennett began his compositional life as something of a modernist, studying with Boulez and showing a distinct interest in serialism. But i suspect it’s for his lighter music, particularly jazz, that Bennett will be most fondly remembered. In the late 1990s i worked for the Cheltenham Music Festival, and on one occasion was charged with being Bennett’s assistant for an evening cabaret at the Town Hall (with, i think, Cleo Laine). Until then, i was generally grumpy in the presence of anything jazz-related, but that night everything changed, and i remember being amazed at the wit and sophistication of Bennett’s performance (and, for what it’s worth, he remains one of the most charming composers i’ve ever met).

Around the same time, BBC Music Magazine gave away a free CD of Bennett’s music, featuring his Four Jazz Songs. On hearing of his death, the last of these songs, ‘Goodbye for Now’, came immediately to mind. It sets words by Charles Hart, words that communicate what is effectively a last will and testament (lyrics below). It’s a touching song in any case, but hearing it in this recording—sung and played by Bennett himself—is very moving in light of his death. Bennett’s setting (which, if i recall correctly, was composed in a taxi on the way to a concert) is delicate and gently playful, allowing both the wit and the weight of the words to come through; the bequeathing of the “modest flat” to the family feline is amusingly sweet, while the intimate behests to the former love are achingly poignant:

And to my lover I leave the wish
that you’ll discover that there’s a sea of other fish;
and in that sea a friendly face, that isn’t me but fills a space.

Personally, Richard Rodney Bennett’s death has served to remind me how little i know of his earlier works, the assortment of sonatas and concertos, the three symphonies, the five operas, although recordings of these works seem to be very hard if not impossible to find (and when did they last appear in concerts?). To seek them out will be a 2013 resolution, but in the meantime, there’s plenty by which to remember him. Goodbye, Richard, for now.


When I, for reasons of my own, see fit to quit this sphere,
to those of you I leave behind, I hope and pray that you may find
some pleasure and some peace of mind in all that follows here.
To any siblings who may survive
I leave my scribblings to prove I really was alive. Goodbye for now.
To all my exes I leave my bed,
and trust that sex is not hampered by my being dead. Goodbye for now, goodbye for now.
To make amends to all my friends
for any wrong I’ve done I leave the sun and stars.
My modest flat goes to my cat,
to keep her tucked away from beasts of prey and cars.
And to my lover I leave the wish
that you’ll discover that there’s a sea of other fish;
and in that sea a friendly face, that isn’t me but fills a space.
You’ll muddle through somehow; you won’t believe it, but we do somehow;
And so, goodbye for now, goodbye for now.
And you, my lover, should feel no shame,
when you recover and find you can’t recall my name.
And all the rest that I’ve left out,
you were the best without a doubt,
and you’ll get by somehow.
My funds ran dry, and so did I somehow;
and so, goodbye for now, goodbye for now, goodbye for now.

Words by Charles Hart

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