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Dad and I felt very honoured to meet Carl Davis, the world-famous film & TV composer & conductor, at his London home in November 2011. We had afternoon tea
tea with him and his wife, Jean, and also met their daughter Jessie and their pet dachshund Diva! We had
We had taken our Champions film poster and soundtrack LP for him to autograph, and he kindly signed some other items for us as well.
Carl Davis was born in Brooklyn, New York in 1936, to a Jewish family with roots in Poland and Russia. He was a musical prodigy, playing the piano at two years of age, and he had the support of his parents when he later decided that he wanted to become a musician. In the 1940s & 50s New York had a very rich cultural life, with Broadway musicals
Carl Davis signing my Champions poster
musicals, an excellent dance scene and a great local orchestra, the New York Philharmonic under Leonard Bernstein
Bernstein. During his teens Carl Davis studied firstly at Queens College, New York, then at the New England College of Music. In 1954, when just 18, he was appointed as accompanist to thepres
the prestigious Robert Shaw Chorale for three nationwide tours. Davis also attended Bard College in New York where he began to compose music for theatre productions, graduating from there as a composer, rather than as a pianist. In 1959, he won an Obie award for his 1959 off-Broadway revue Diversions. He was also a conductor at the NY City Opera.ra.
Bard College in New York
Carl Davis moved to England in 1960, attracted by its theatre scene, and the opportunities to write music for radio, TV and stage productions
productions. Diversions was performed at the Edinburgh Festival in 1961, and this led to the producer, Ned Sherrin, commissioning Carl to compose the score for the satirical TV series That Was the Week That Was. This led to further commissions from the National Theatre and the Royal Shakespeare Company.
Carl Davis gained international recognition
recognition in 1973, when he was engaged by Thames Television's producer Jeremy Isaacs to write the score for their landmark 26-hour documentary series (which went global) The World at War. The series took the US by storm and, during the following decades, has had repeat showings in many countries.
Since then, Carl Davis has written the music for nearly a hundred different TV series, TV movies and TV documentaries. Many of these are period, or costume, dramas including early ones like Wuthering Heights (1978) & The Pickwick Papersssss
Famous TV productions for which Carl Davis
has written the music
As a film composer, Carl Davis is probably best known for his scores for the Oscar-nominated The French Lieutenant's Woman (1981), which won him a BAFTA, and Champions (1984), the heartwarming story of the horse Aldaniti and his jockey Bob Champion, who triumphed against all the odds to win the 1981 Grand National.
Carl Davis wrote the music for these TV productions
Credit for the film Champions
Score for Champions
Soundtrack LP for Champions signed by Carl Davis
For the film Champions, Davis was approached by the director, John Irwin, to provide ascore
cancer and the near destruction of the horse. The first important thing was to have a central theme
that expressed this grail-like element and this isfir
is first stated on the horn and later accom- panieddddd
panied by the piano, to which is gradually added
added the entire orchestra. There were other motifs
motifs, one for his relationship with the girl, Jo, whol
a score on a grand scale for full symphony orchestra. Carl says, "Champions was not so much the story of winning a race, but almost aquest
a quest for a grail. In his quest for victory in the Grand National, Bob Champion undergoes many trials - the
His later film scores include Ken Russell's The Rainbow (1989); Kafka's masterpiece The Trial (1993); Widow's Peak (1994) also directed by John Irvin and The Raft of the Medusa (1998).
forcefully during the race."
Carl Davis has carved a niche forh
for himself, providing the music for silent films. This began with another commission from Thames
Some films for which Carl Davis has written the soundtrack
Thames Television for music for their mini-series of documentaries (based on a book by Kevin Brownlow called The Parade's Gone By), about the American silent movie industry Hollywood (1980). For this, he wrote music to accompany several hundred film clips.
Carl's association with silent film continued that year with his music for Abel Gance's 5-hour
hour epic film Napoleon (1927), his score earning him the 'Chevalier desArt
Abel Gance & Kevin Brownlow in 1967
des Arts et des Lettres' from the French Ministry of Culture in 1983. The story behind this amazing film is told in Kevin Brownlow's book Napoleon, published in 1983. Carl kindly gave me a copy of this fascinating book, which he signed for me.
Carl Davis went on to write many more scores forfull
for full-length classic films like The Thief of Baghdad (1924); The Phantom of the Opera (1925); Ben Hur (1925); Buster Keaton's The General (1926) and more than a fifty others.
One project stands out for Carl
Carl Davis - providing the music for twelve films made by Charlie Chaplin for the Mutual Film Corporation between 1916 & 1917. He wrote the soundtracks at a rate of two per year. All the films were shown in 2007 at the Cadogan
Cadogan Hall, with Carl's soundtrack performed live by the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra and conducted byhim
by him. All twelve films have been release
Signed photo of Carl Davis after the screening of
the Chaplin Mutual films at the Cadogan Hall
released by BFI on two dvds. “Originally, orchestras would have accompanied
He is now the world's most famous conductor of 'movie-concerts' - the showing of silent films accompanied with a live orchestra. He is an expert in the tricky art of precisely synchronising the music with the film action.
Carl Davis also has a number of ballets to his name, including A Simple Man (1987)his
and A Christmas Carol (1992) for the BBC; Aladdin (2000) for Scottish Ballet; Cyrano (2007) for Birmingham Royal Ballet, and The Lady of the Camellias (2008) for Croatia's National Ballet. He has also written a small number of concert works, including a symphony and a clarinet concerto.
at the piano
Since the 1970s, Carl Davis has been an active recording artist, mainly as a conductor. In 1991, he assisted
assisted Paul McCartney in the composition of his Liverpool Oratorio, with Davis conducting its first performance in Liverpool Cathedral later that year. A recording of this concert, with the soloists Kiri Te Kanawa, Sally Burgess, Jerry Hadley and Willard White, was released
Carl Davis & Paul McCartney at the end of
the Liverpool Oratorio in Liverpool Cathedral
in October 1991.
Davis became artistic director and conductor of theRoy
Carl is well known for wearing colourful coats!
Carl Davis at Leeds Castle in Kent
the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic's 'Summer Pops' Concert series
series from 1993 to 2001. He has since conducted the BBC’s Proms in the Park and the popular outdoor concerts at Leeds Castle. He is well-known for wearing a variety of colourful costumes, especially his Union Jack outfit, when conducting!
Carl has signed my Heroines in Music cd
In 1992 Carl Davis received an Honorary Fellowship from Liverpool John Moores University and in 1994 he was awarded an Honorary Doctorate of Arts by his old College ‘Bard’ in New York. More recently, he was awarded an Honorary Doctorate
Doctorate of Music by Liverpool University. In 2003 he received a BAFTA Special Lifetime Achievements Award for his contribution to the worlds of film and television. In 2005, Carl
Carl Davis was awarded an Honorary CBE (as he is American) for his contribution to music asb
as both composer and conductor.
With Carl, Jean and their dachshund Diva
In 1970, Carl Davis married the actress Jean Boht (star of the Liverpool sitcom Bread). They met in 1969 when Jean was working for the director Joan Littlewood at Theatre Workshop at Stratford East. They have two daughters, the actress Hannah Davis (b. 1972) and Jessie (b. 1974).
A second film The Understudy (2008) was also very much a familya
In 2004, Hannah Davis and David Conolly wrote, produced, directed and acted in their black comedy Mothers and Daughters, with Jean Boht playing Mary, and Carl providing the soundtrack.
family affair, with Carl even having a small acting role as Mr Davidovitz. He also wrote the music for the film.
Carl Davis and Jean Boht in The Understudy
In 2009, Jean and Carl set up their own record label, The Carl Davis Collection to market Carl's CDs, DVDs,
DVDs, sheet music and even his Carl Davis teddy bears! "It seemed
Link to Carl's website
Jean Boht in Mothers and Daughters
Diva, their lovely little mini-dachshund, who sadly cannot bark, has her own Twitter page, as does Carl of course (links below).
seemed a pity to allow good music to disappear with the films it accompanied, so we created a label to give it a new lease of life," says Carl.
Champions - Opening Credits
Some Film & TV Music by Carl Davis:
Carl's interview about Napoleon at the Paramount Theatre
Papers (1985), to recent ones like the hugely popular Prideandpr
Pride & Prejudice (1995); Goodnight, Mr Tom (1998) and Cranford (2007).
who later becomes his wife, again expressed as a piano solo. Also, there isan
there is an important theme for his despair, and then later a theme for the sympathy of the nurses and doctors and then, at a later stage in the film, there is a motif for his recovery, which is later expressed most
accompanied the films - they were never actually silent - but the scores were not written down,” says Carl.