Role models of greatness.

Here you will discover the back stories of kings, titans of industry, stellar athletes, giants of the entertainment field, scientists, politicians, artists and heroes – all of them gay or bisexual men. If their lives can serve as role models to young men who have been bullied or taught to think less of themselves for their sexual orientation, all the better. The sexual orientation of those featured here did not stand in the way of their achievements.

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Film score composer Richard Robbins

Richard Robbins, the film score composer who collaborated for 25 years with director James Ivory and producer Ismail Merchant, died November 7 from Parkinson’s disease at age 71. At the time of his death he was at home in Rhinebeck, NY, attended by his long-term partner, painter Michael Schell.

I must say that I am somewhat spooked by his death. My readers likely don’t know that I usually work on three or four blog entries at a time, and after my earlier post about life partners Merchant and Ivory, I did some initial research on Richard Robbins, who provided outstanding scores for  "A Room With a View," "Howards End" and "The Remains of the Day", among many others. Just today I began further Internet research for information about Mr. Robbins, in order to devote an entire entry to his musical contributions to film. You can imagine my shock when I found out he had died two weeks ago.

Robbins was nominated for an Oscar in 1992 for his score for “Howards End” and in 1993 for “The Remains of the Day”. He created the score for nearly every Merchant Ivory film from "The Europeans" in 1979 to "The White Countess" in 2005.

His creative partnership with Merchant and Ivory came about in 1976, when he was serving as acting director of the preparatory school at the Mannes College of Music (NYC). Robbins was the piano teacher of the youngest daughter of Ruth Prawer Jhabvala, the screenwriting collaborator of partners Merchant and Ivory. Richard and Ruth became friends, and she introduced him to Merchant and Ivory, who produced a documentary on the school’s young musicians. He served as Mr. Merchant’s assistant on Ismail’s next project, a film about ballroom dancers set at the Roseland dance hall in New York City. The creative quartet of Jhabvala, Merchant, Ivory and Robbins became close, and Robbins eventually became a composer, a move that outshone his original intention of a career as an educator.

The first score Robbins developed for a Merchant-Ivory film was for "The Europeans" (1979) a period drama based on the Henry James novel. He wrote a romantic, lush score for "Maurice," (1987), a film based on the E.M. Forster novel. That score won a top award at the Venice Film Festival, and Robbins considered it his favorite.

In 1994 Robbins collaborated with his partner, painter Michael Schell, on "Via Crucis" (Way of the Cross), a musical and visual collage representing the Stations of the Cross.

Richard “Dick” Robbins was born in Massachusetts in 1940 and studied music at the New England Conservatory in Boston, followed by a year of study in Vienna, Austria. His subsequent job at the Mannes College of Music in NYC brought him into the circle of Jhabvala, Merchant and Ivory, and the rest is cinematic history.

Here is a sampling of the score for “Maurice”, one of the great films about homosexual love and attraction:

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