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Carl Davis

From conducting to composing music for films, television, or silent films from the 20’s, ballets, musicals as well as an Oratorio, Carl Davis’ versatility is very impressive. For Carl the combination of silent film and orchestra is a magical mixture. He found the concept of composing a score to fit ‘The Silents’ as they have become known, pure exhillaration.

Born in New York, his early years of work in the States gave him a broad musical background on which he still draws today. In 1959 the revue Diversions, written with fellow college student Stephen Vinaver, won him an Obie (Off-Broadway). When Diversions was presented at the 1961 Edinburgh Festival, and subsequently transferred to London, Ned Sherrin invited him to compose for That Was The Week That Was; other radio and television commissions then followed.

His musical compositions for television programmes and series are extensive. They include the BBC Pride and Prejudice, which was received with much acclaim worldwide. Others, such as The Snow Goose, The World At War, Hollywood, The Cold War, Real Women, Coming Home, Seesaw and Good Night Mr. Tom are but a few of Carl’s scores.

His feature film scores include The French Lieutenant’s Woman, Champions, Scandal, Ken Russell’s The Rainbow and Mike Leigh’s Topsy-Turvy.

He has composed a unique series of scores for restored prints of The Silents originally commissioned by Channel Four beginning in 1980 with Abel Gance’s Napoléon (1927). Live cinema performances continue to take place regularly around the world. Recent countries visited include Belgium, Holland, Sweden, Luxembourg, Italy, Germany, Israel, USA, Canada and Malaysia. In 1983, the French Minister of Culture awarded the order of Chevalier des Arts et des Lettres to Carl after a screening of Napoléon. A further restoration of Napoleon was screened at the Royal Festival Hall in June 2001 with Carl’s revised and extended score.

Since 1997 he has conducted bi-annual performances of ‘The Silents’ at the Royal Festival Hall with the London Philharmonic Orchestra including Ben-Hur (1925), Flesh and the Devil (1927), The Student Prince in Old Heidelberg (1927) and The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse (1921), and more recently Intolerance (1916).

He has recorded numerous albums that cover a broad spectrum of his musical life. These recordings include the scores for many of the silent films, the latest of which The Phantom of the Opera (1925) was reviewed in the press: “. . . he has composed a lush score full of emotion. You’ll want to rush out and see the film.”

In 1993, Carl was invited to be Artistic Director and Conductor for the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra’s Summer Pops Season, a position he held for eight seasons.

As part of the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra’s 150th anniversary celebrations, Carl and Paul McCartney together wrote a full length work entitled Paul McCartney’s Liverpool Oratorio premiered and conducted by Carl at the Anglican Cathedral, Liverpool, in June 1991 and subsequently around the world.

Carl loves composing music for dance. His principle works include A Simple Man and A Christmas Carol for the Northern Ballet Theatre; The Picture of Dorian Gray for Sadlers Wells and Alice in Wonderland for the English National Ballet. Last year the Scottish Ballet commissioned Carl to compose the music for the ballet Aladdin that had its première in December 2000.

Carl has diversified into radio with his own show. He first recorded a thirteen-week series for Radio 2 in 1997 entitled Carl Davis Classics and, due to its popularity; the fifth series was completed in May 2001.

He made his debut in 1999 at the BBC Proms with a concert of film music with the BBC Concert Orchestra.

Since 1983, Carl has been conducting the annual open air concerts at Leeds Castle and to commemorate these concerts he has recorded three albums, the Leeds Castle Classics in 1992, Classics for a Summer Evening in 1997 and A Classical Celebration for 1999.

Carl has recorded many classical albums with various orchestras including The Royal Philharmonic, The Royal Liverpool Philharmonic, The English Chamber Orchestra, The London Philharmonic and the Philharmonia, and in particular one with the R.P.O. featuring his own compositions entitled The World at War, Pride and Prejudice and other Great Themes and most recently The Silents.

He has been honoured on both sides of the Atlantic for his work as a composer and conductor. In 1992, he received an Honorary Fellowship from Liverpool John Moores University and in 1994 he was awarded an Honorary Doctor of Arts by his old College in New York, Bard.

At the start of last year, Davis completed his score to the Harold Lloyd classic silent comedy, The Freshman (1925). The film’s premiere was in Los Angeles, June 2002 with The Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra. He also scored the film, An Angel For May starring Academy Award Nominee Tom Wilkinson and The Book of Eve starring Dame Claire Bloom will have its premiere Spring 2003 through Lions Gate Releasing.

In the works is a more definitive version of the Abel Gance classic, Napoleon (running time 5.5 hours). His most recent film, Promoted to Glory is scheduled for a Winter 2003 release in England.

In May 2003, Carl Davis received a special award for his contribution to film, television and theatre by The British Academy Film And Television Arts. The first award from BAFTA designated to a composer.

In late 2003, a special edition DVD of The World At War reuniting all the production personnel via interviews and a special documentary will be released worldwide.

In special appreciation for his work on several Chaplin silent films including, City Lights (1931), Mr. Davis was commissioned to compose and conduct newly written scores for Charlie Chaplin’s acclaimed restored Mutual Shorts. The shorts will begin their tour with new compositions by Carl Davis starting in June 2003.

Carl now lives in London. He is married to actress Jean Boht and they have two daughters, Hannah and Jessie.

References: The Kaufman Agency.

Website : Carl Davis
Silent film music scores by CARL DAVIS available on home video.
Silent Era Home Page  >  People  >  Composers and Musicians  >  Carl Davis
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