Andre Previn death: Oscar-winning composer and conductor dies aged 89

Andre Previn, the four-time Oscar-winning composer, conductor and pianist, has died at his Manhattan home aged 89, his manager has confirmed.

The German-born virtuoso, who enjoyed a career spanning eight decades, worked on more than 500 albums and films including Gigi, My Fair Lady, and Porgy and Bess.

Alongside success in Hollywood, the pianist also memorably performed a beloved classic music sketch with the comedy duo Morecambe and Wise.

Born in 1929, Previn joined MGM in 1946 when he was still a teenager.

He went on to win four Oscars and 10 Grammys throughout his career, but in his early thirties shocked his colleagues when he resigned from the company, looking to explore other aspects of his music.

“At MGM you knew you were going to be working next year, you knew you were going to get paid,” Previn told The Guardian in 2008.

“But I was too ambitious musically to settle for it. And I wanted to gamble with whatever talent I might have had.”

He thus focused on his classical music career, first joining the Houston Symphony Orchestra, then spending 11 years as the principal conductor of the London Symphony Orchestra. Previn also served at the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra and at the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra. In 1998, his opera based on A Streetcar Named Desire premiered at the San Francisco Opera.

Through his career, Previn continued to dip in and out of the jazz world. “I don’t ever consciously change gears when I play jazz or classical,” he once said. “It’s all music.”

Arguably, no one ever performed at so high a level in so many different genres of contemporary music. But Previn’s versatility came at a price.

“Music critics have made it quite clear,” he once said, “that any composer who ever contributed a four-bar jingle to a film was to be referred to as a ‘Hollywood composer’ from then on, even if the rest of his output were to consist solely of liturgical organ sonatas.”

Previn was married five times, including with Mia Farrow and violinist Anne-Sophie Mutter. He was among those in Hollywood who early on experimented with LSD, and his memoir of his movie-studio days, No Minor Chords, contained juicy revelations about everyone from Lenny Bruce to Ava Gardner.

With Farrow, his third wife, with whom he was married from 1970 to 1979, Previn had three children and adopted three others, including Korean-born Soon-Yi Previn.

In the early 1990s, it was revealed that Woody Allen, Farrow’s partner at the time, was in a relationship with Soon-Yi. After the affair became known, Farrow bitterly criticised the filmmaker for initiating a relationship with the young woman, saying he had been a father figure to her for years. Allen and others countered that he had hardly known Soon-Yi while she was growing up and that Previn was not just a father figure, but her father.

In August 2002, at age 72, Previn married Mutter, the violinist who has been a classical music superstar since her teenage years. She was 39. In 2005, their recording of violin concerto Anne-Sophie, which he wrote for her, won a Grammy for best instrumental soloist performance with orchestra (conducted by Previn).

The marriage ended in divorce in 2006.

Previn’s second wife, Dory Previn, also has had a notable career as a singer and songwriter. She collaborated with Previn during their marriage on Oscar-nominated songs for the films Pepe (1960), and Two for the Seesaw (1962). After he left her for Farrow, she wrote about the experience in “Beware of Young Girls”.

Previn’s other wives were Betty Bennett and Heather Hales.

The composer was born Andreas Ludwig Prewin in Berlin. His father, Jack Prewin, was a distinguished lawyer, but when Hitler rose to power in Germany, Prewin moved his wife, Charlotte, and their two sons to Paris. A year later, the family left for Los Angeles.

In the US, Jack Prewin was reduced to giving piano lessons, while 17-year-old Andre, after finding work at the film studio, assumed much of the burden of supporting the family.

Previn earned his first film credit as music director for She’s for Me in 1943. He cut his first record three years later and began composing film scores three years after that.

In 1958, he won the first of his numerous Grammys for the soundtrack for Gigi. In 1960 he was awarded a Grammy for best jazz performance for selections from West Side Story.

He won the same award the next year for Andre Previn Plays Harold Arlen. In 1998, he received the Kennedy Centre’s lifetime achievement award – with ex-wife Farrow reading a tribute at the televised ceremony.

“Ever since we first met, you have been a true and trusted friend to me. Thanks for the music, toots, and for the memories,” she said.

In the twilight of his career, Previn was asked whether he felt he sometimes spread himself too thin.

“It’s been thrown up to me most of my life: ‘Why don’t I just concentrate on conducting or composing or my own playing or on jazz?’” he replied.

“But the thing is that I’m naturally curious about a lot of different disciplines in music and I enjoy doing them. And as long as people are nice enough to let me, I’ll keep on trying.”

Additional reporting by agencies