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 traveled 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 (1975) and Dances of Love and Death (1981). Sadler’s Wells Royal Ballet commissioned A Picture of Dorian Gray (1987). Further commissions include the award-winning A Simple Man (1988) and Lippizaner (1989, Northern Ballet Theatre with Gillian Lynne)‚ Liaisons Amoureuses (1989) and A Christmas Carol (1992); Aladdin (2000)‚ (Scottish Ballet with Robert Cohen)‚ taken by David Bintley for Tokyo’s New National Ballet (2008). His association with Derek Deane led to a full-length ballet‚ Alice in Wonderland (1995) commissioned by the English National Ballet‚ as well as The Lady of the Camellias (2008‚ National Ballet of Croatia). A full-length ballet commissioned by David Bintley for Birmingham’s Royal Ballet resulted in Cyrano (2007).
Davis’s output for film and television is vast‚ including The World At War‚ The Snow Goose (1971)‚ Hotel du Lac (1986)‚ 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), which was 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.
Music for silent films has been an enduring strand to Davis’s activities: a project to revive the Chaplin films has focused on The Mutuals‚ a cycle of 12 films all with original Davis music. His 1980 score for Abel Gance’s silent film Napoleon (1927) triggered an extraordinary revival of interest in the silent film‚ and Davis’s oeuvre of more than fifty scores for this medium‚ including Flesh and the Devil (1927)‚ Ben-Hur (1925)‚ The Thief of Bagdad (1924)‚ Greed (1924)‚ Intolerance (1916)‚ Safety Last! (1923) and The General (1926)‚ has brought him international acclaim. The Phantom of the Opera (1925) was the first silent film to be performed at the Royal Opera House (2006) conducted by the composer.
Throughout his career Carl has composed concert works‚ among which a Clarinet Concerto‚ a Fantasy for Flute‚ Strings and Harpsichord‚ a Ballade for cello and orchestra and a Symphony (Lines on London) are particularly notable. There are also many concert suites derived from film scores‚ vocal music‚ choral works‚ instrumental and chamber music‚ and opera. In 1991 his collaboration with Paul McCartney produced Paul McCartney’s Liverpool Oratorio‚ which has been performed worldwide‚ and achieved record CD sales‚ whilst the BBC documentary and EMI’s commercial video have done much to publicize this new departure for both composers. In 2005 he was awarded a CBE (Hon).
Recent and forthcoming engagements include concerts with Pacific Symphony Orchestra‚ Czech National Symphony Orchestra‚ Aalborg Symfoniorkester‚ Filharmonia Poznanska‚ Bergen Filharmoniske Orkester‚ Pordenone Festival and all the major UK Orchestras. Abel Gance’s 1927 silent movie Napoleon received its US debut with Davis’ score at the San Francisco Film Festival in March 2012‚ to huge critical acclaim. Current commissions include a new BBC series of Upstairs Downstairs and a large-scale choral work for children’s choir and the Hallé Orchestra Last Train to Tomorrow on the subject of the Kindertransport.