Richard Robbins, the composer who created memorable scores for such films as "A Room With a View," "Howards End" and "The Remains of the Day" during a quarter-century collaboration with director
Robbins died Nov. 7 at his home in Rhinebeck, N.Y., of
"I always felt that if anything happened to him and we didn't have his music, then it really wouldn't be a Merchant Ivory film," James Ivory said in an interview last week. "His music was integral to our films."
That long, remarkably fruitful creative partnership came about almost by happenstance.
In 1976, while he was serving as acting director of the preparatory school at the Mannes College of Music in New York, Robbins began teaching piano to the youngest daughter of Ruth Prawer Jhabvala, the award-winning novelist and screenwriting collaborator of Merchant and Ivory.
Jhabvala and Robbins soon became friendly and she introduced him to the filmmakers, who agreed to produce a
Of their initial meeting, Ivory said Robbins "liked us and we liked him, and then he gradually became a composer. I don't think that was something he ever thought he'd be doing, writing film music, but what happened to him was what happened to me and to Ruth: Ismail just kind of assigned us our roles and that was that.
"I think the more Dick did, the more he realized he could do. And soon, he was writing really wonderful original music."
The first score Robbins developed for a Merchant Ivory film was for the period
Although his compositions were heavily influenced by the minimalist composers
Of the melancholy, evocative score for "The Remains of the Day," Robbins said in a 2000 interview with writer Chris Terrio that his inspiration had come from a single scene featuring actress
"I know when ... the hard part of writing the score is over, because I know how I feel about a character," he said in the interview posted on the Merchant Ivory website. "That's a great relief. That can happen all at once: It can be as simple as watching one of the characters enter a room or walk down a hallway. In 'The Remains of the Day,' it happened when I first saw the shot of Emma Thompson walking down the hall toward the camera. That did it."
Robbins was responsible for choosing and supervising all the music for the Merchant Ivory films he worked on, from the pop songs for "Slaves of New York" in 1989 to the Puccini aria "O mio babbino caro" for "A Room With a View." And when an actor played music in a film —
"Dick was right there, advising her and telling her how to play it, although those are her hands and she plays it every step of the way," Ivory said.
Richard Stephen Robbins was born Dec. 4, 1940, in South Weymouth, Mass., and began playing the piano at the age of 5. After graduating from the New England Conservatory in Boston, he received a fellowship through a fund established by the philanthropist Frank Huntington Beebe to continue his studies in Vienna for a year.
In addition to his work as a composer, Robbins made brief appearances in several Merchant Ivory films, often as a dancer, a favorite pastime. And in 1994, inspired by a leper couple he had heard singing a duet beneath his Bombay hotel window, he directed a Merchant Ivory feature documentary, "Street Musicians of Bombay," about the street life of that Indian city.
Robbins' work was honored in 1996 at a gala concert at
In addition to Schell, an artist who was his partner for more than 20 years, Robbins' survivors include his brothers Donald, William, John and Peter.