Carl Davis

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About Carl Davis

In a musical world richly stocked with specialists, the composer and conductor Carl Davis stood out for his versatility. He helped pioneer the revival of silent films with live orchestral backing, as they were routinely presented in the early decades of the 20th century, causing a sensation at the London Film Festival in 1980 by conducting his compelling accompaniment to Abel Gance’s five-hour epic film Napoléon (1927). Davis injected new life into such classics of movie history as D. W. Griffith’s Intolerance (1916), The Thief of Bagdad (1924), and Buster Keaton’s The General (1926) with scores that reflect the drama and pathos of their on-screen action. He also secured international attention as collaborator on Paul McCartney’s first classical composition, Liverpool Oratorio (1991). Davis was born an only child in New York City in 1936; his maternal grandfather had been a synagogue cantor in the then-Polish city of Vilnius. He studied composition in his home state before settling permanently in England in 1961, where he made his mark as composer for the iconoclastic television satire That Was the Week That Was (1962-63) and later on with soundtrack scores, The French Lieutenant’s Woman (1981) and Pride and Prejudice (1995) among them. Davis’ soundtrack to the landmark British documentary series The World at War, created in the early 1970s, reached a vast global audience. Its memorable themes, bold instrumentation, and broad expressive range are hallmarks of the Davis style, the formal logic and sumptuous beauty of which are also present in such vibrant ballet scores and concert works as Aladdin (1999), Ballade for cello and orchestra (2011), and The Great Gatsby (2019).

Brooklyn, NY, United States
October 28, 1936
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