Bennett occupies the middle ground in contemporary music, composing in a style that is challenging but not confrontational. Having dabbled in the avant-garde in the 1950s, he has found his own musical language and used it to create music that musicians are queuing up to play. He has also had a highly successful career as a film composer, composing around 50 scores, and won numerous awards for his music to Murder on the Orient Express (1975).
Bennett was born on 29 March 1936 and displayed his musical talents early, starting to write music almost before he could read. Study at the Royal Academy of Music followed with Howard Ferguson and, briefly, Lennox Berkeley. Having heard broadcasts of the new European composers from Germany, Bennett started spending his summers at Darmstadt and, after winning a scholarship from the French Government, studied with Boulez from 1957-9.
Bennett's career as a film composer had already begun in earnest (Interpol and A Face in the Night date from 1956) by the time he threw himself into the avant-garde world of Boulez and his circle. Returning to London in 1959 his film work continued successfully, though he always regarded it as incidental to his primary job as a composer of concert music.
Having developed a personal approach to Boulez's serialism, the 1960s were a prolific time for Bennett: the one-act chamber opera, The Ledge (1961), two of his three symphonies, and the Piano Concerto, among many other works, date from this decade. Bennett's output continued apace throughout the 1970s with the important Commedia and Scena chamber works.
By the 1980s, Bennett was exploring the harmonic possibilities of tonality or, more accurately, an atonality free from the restrictions of serialism. Much of the chamber music from this time uses quotation, with five pieces based on Debussy's Syrinx.
Bennett has always been a performer and he has been much in demand as an accompanist. In addition, his attraction to the jazz music of the 1950s has seen him perform as a jazz pianist and singer, though he has tended to avoid any stylistic crossovers in his composition. His activities also include short-term periods of teaching and from 1994-2000 he held the international chair of composition at the Royal Academy. The recipient of numerous awards, he was made a CBE in 1977 and knighted in 1999.