Carl Davis’s most recent and future highlights include the premiere of his score for the new major animated movie Ethel & Ernest (2016); his new ballet score Nijinsky‚ commissioned by the National Ballet of Slovakia; performances of Abel Gance’s 1927 silent movie Napoleon‚ scored and conducted by Davis at the Royal Festival Hall with the Philharmonia Orchestra; and as part of the Holland Festival‚ new scores for Harold Lloyd’s Why Worry (1923) and The Freshman (1925) and for Buster Keaton’s Steamboat Bill Jr. (1928) at the Turner Classic Movie Festival in Hollywood. Many of Davis’s silent film scores can now be found on DVD/BluRay restorations on The Charles Cohen Collection‚ Janus Films and BFI labels.
Born in New York in 1936‚ Carl Davis studied composition with Paul Nordoff and Hugo Kauder‚ and subsequently with Per Nørgaard in Copenhagen. His early work in the USA provided valuable conducting experience with organizations such as New York City Opera and the Robert Shaw Chorale. In 1959 the revue Diversions‚ of which he was co-author‚ won an off-Broadway Emmy and subsequently travelled to the 1961 Edinburgh Festival. As a direct result of its success‚ Davis was commissioned by Ned Sherrin to write music for That Was the Week That Was. Other radio and TV commissions followed, and Davis’s UK career was launched. Since then, he has been enormously successful in the world of theatre‚ composing scores for the Royal Shakespeare Company and the National Theatre and working closely with such artists as Laurence Olivier‚ John Gielgud‚ Joan Littlewood‚ Jonathan Miller‚ John Wells‚ Barry Humphries and Billy Connolly.
Equally well-known in the field of dance‚ his first assignment began with London Contemporary Dance Theatre‚ composing for David and Goliath and Dances of Love and Death. Sadler’s Wells Royal Ballet commissioned A Picture of Dorian Gray. Further commissions include the award-winning A Simple Man and Lippizaner (Northern Ballet Theatre with Gillian Lynne); Liaisons Amoureuses; A Christmas Carol; and Aladdin (2000), the Scottish Ballet with Robert Cohen‚ taken by David Bintley for Tokyo’s New National Ballet. His association with Derek Deane led to a full-length ballet of Alice in Wonderland commissioned by the English National Ballet‚ as well as The Lady of the Camellias, as part of the National Ballet of Croatia. A full-length ballet commissioned by David Bintley for Birmingham’s Royal Ballet resulted in Cyrano.
Davis’s output for film and television is vast‚ including The World at War‚ The Snow Goose (1971)‚ “Hotel du Lac”‚ Hollywood‚ The Naked Civil Servant (1975)‚ Silas Marner (1985)‚ Champions (1984)‚ Scandal (1989)‚ The Commanding Sea‚ Oppenheimer‚ The Rainbow (1989)and The French Lieutenant’s Woman (1981, winner of both BAFTA and Ivor Novello awards). BBC’s Pride and Prejudice (1996, nominated for a BASCA Ivor Novello award for Best Music for a TV Production) has been one of his best-loved scores and was followed by Cranford in 2007. Music for silent films has been an enduring strand to Davis’s activities: a project to revive the Chaplin films has focussed on The Chaplin Mutuals‚ a cycle of 12 films all with original Davis music. His 1980 score for Abel Gance’s silent film Napoleon triggered an extraordinary revival of interest in the silent film‚ and Davis’s oeuvre of more than 50 scores for this medium‚ including Intolerance (1916)‚ The Thief of Bagdad (1924)‚ Greed (1924)‚ Safety Last! (1923), Ben-Hur: A Tale of the Christ (1925)‚ The General (1926) and Flesh and the Devil (1927), has brought him international acclaim. The Phantom of the Opera (1925) was the first silent film to be performed at the Royal Opera House conducted by the composer.
He has been honoured on both sides of the Atlantic for his work as a composer and conductor‚ receiving in 2003 a BAFTA Special Lifetime Achievements Award. In 2005 he was awarded CBE (Hon.) for his services to music, and he recently accepted membership of The Academy of Motion Pictures‚ Arts and Sciences.