Sir Richard Rodney Bennett, a gay British composer and pianist who was nominated three times for Academy Awards, died on Christmas Eve aged 76.

He was knighted in 1998, three years after GT (Gay Times) hailed him as one of the most influential of all gay musicians.

His publisher Novello & Co. said in a statement on Friday that Bennett died on 24 December in New York following a brief illness.

Bennett, born in Broadstairs, Kent, received Oscar nominations for the scores of ‘Far from the Madding Crowd’ in 1967, ‘Nicholas and Alexandra’ in 1971 and ‘Murder on the Orient Express’ in 1974.

A student of Pierre Boulez in 1957-58, Bennett’s work evolved from the avant-garde to a more tonal style.

He also wrote the score for Hugh Grant’s 1994 breakthrough film, ‘Four Weddings and a Funeral’.

Over the last three decades of his life Bennett became increasingly identified with the composers of the Great American Songbook, having moved to New York in 1979 to get over a failed love affair.

As a pianist, he performed with singer Claire Martin and he recorded music by George Gershwin, Jerome Kern and Harold Arlen.

He is survived by his sister Meg, the poet MR Peacocke, with whom he collaborated on a number of vocal works

Sir Richard Rodney Bennett, born 29 March 1936; died 24 December 2012