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Paul McCartney Mourns Friend and Composer Richard Rodney Bennett

Beatle recalls their collaborations on orchestral pieces

Paul McCartney, Sir Richard Rodney Bennett
Dave J Hogan/Getty Images; David Redfern/Redferns
January 9, 2013 2:15 PM ET

In a heartfelt post on his website, Paul McCartney remembered and honored his friend and acclaimed composer Sir Richard Rodney Bennett, who died in New York City on Christmas Eve.

Although McCartney was familiar with Bennett's scores for films including Far from the Madding Crowd and Murder on the Orient Express, the two only met when the former Beatle made a foray into classical music after he was asked to write a piece for the Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra's 150th anniversary.As McCartney began composing larger compositions, he would often collaborate with others who could help with the orchestration, which marked the beginning of his working relationship and friendship with Bennett.

Paul McCartney: Yesterday & Today

"I would ring him up, and chat over an idea I'd had to see if he had any interest in helping me translate my ideas for an orchestra," McCartney recalls. "These phone conversations turned out to be fun and quite amusing. Richard showed himself to be quick-witted with a no-nonsense approach for the project." Often, McCartney would ring up Bennett, throw on a fake voice, and pretend to be a "fictitious long-forgotten friend," stringing the composer along before fessing up. 

The two would work at Bennett's New York City apartment or McCartney's home in England, sitting at an upright piano and working through the entire composition: "Composing is one thing, but dividing the parts skillfully across an orchestra; translating the melodies and rhythms into the perfect blend requires a certain special skill that Richard had running through every inch of his body." Bennett would go on to orchestrate much of McCartney's 1997 album Standing Stone, and he oversaw the recording sessions as well. 

Along with classical music, the two shared a love of jazz composers like Cole Porter and George Gershwin, and McCartney recalls the musician playing their standards in a cabaret. 

"After he was knighted in 1998 I phoned him and this time pretended to be a crass New York business type," writes McCartney at the end. "'Is this Sir Bennett?' I asked. 'Yes it is,' he replied, politely as usual. 'I love you tons,' I went on, sensing his momentary embarrassment, 'You do great music, I’m a big fan,' and so on and on and it was only when I let him off the hook by revealing who this idiot on the phone was that he cursed me in no uncertain fashion. I’ve laughed a lot. I’ll miss him."

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