November 19, 2012

Richard Robbins, 71, musical arm of Merchant Ivory film trio


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"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 Carnegie Hall to benefit AIDS research. The actors Hugh Grant, Vanessa Redgrave, Sharon Stone, Joanne Woodward and Christopher Reeve were among those who spoke and read between compositions.

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.


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