Carl Davis

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Carl Davis

Davis in 2009
Born(1936-10-28)October 28, 1936
New York City, US
DiedAugust 3, 2023(2023-08-03) (aged 86)
Oxford, England
Alma materBard College
Occupation(s)Conductor and composer
Years active1960–2023
(m. 1970)

Carl Davis CBE (October 28, 1936 – August 3, 2023) was an American-born British conductor and composer. He wrote music for more than 100 television programmes (notably the landmark ITV series World At War (1973) and BBC's Pride and Prejudice (1995), created new scores for concert and cinema performances of vintage silent movies and composed many film, ballet and concert scores that were performed worldwide, including (in collaboration with Paul McCartney) the Liverpool Oratorio in 1991.[1] Davis's publisher was Faber Music.[2]

Early life and career[edit]

Carl Davis was born in Brooklyn, New York, on October 28, 1936,[3][4] to Jewish parents,[5] Sara (née Perlmutter) and Isadore Davis.[6] He studied composition with Paul Nordoff and Hugo Kauder, and subsequently with Per Nørgard in Copenhagen. He attended Bard College, in Annandale-on-Hudson, New York.[7] His early work in the US provided valuable conducting experience with organisations such as the New York City Opera and the Robert Shaw Chorale. In 1959, the revue Diversions, of which he was co-author, won an off-Broadway award and subsequently travelled to the Edinburgh Festival in 1961. As a direct result of its success there, Davis was commissioned by Ned Sherrin to compose music for the original British version of That Was the Week That Was. Other radio and TV commissions followed and Davis's UK career was launched.[3]


Davis achieved early prominence with the title music for the BBC's anthology play series The Wednesday Play and later for Play for Today.[8] For the critically acclaimed and popular success Pride and Prejudice (1995) Davis used period classical music as his inspiration, in particular Beethoven's Septet E flat major, Op. 20 and a theme strongly reminiscent of the finale of his Emperor Concerto.[9]

Other television scores included The Naked Civil Servant (1975), Shades of Greene (1975), The Kiss of Death (1977), Langrishe, Go Down (1978),[10] Prince Regent (1979),[11] Private Schulz (1980),[12] Oppenheimer (1980), Winston Churchill: The Wilderness Years (1981),[13] The Hound of the Baskervilles (1982), The Far Pavilions (1984), The Day the Universe Changed (1985),[14] The Pickwick Papers (1985), Hotel du Lac (1986), Ashenden (1991), Anne Frank Remembered (1995), Seesaw (1998), Coming Home (1998), Upstairs Downstairs (2010),[8][15] and Brexicuted (2018).[16]

Davis also worked for television producer Jeremy Isaacs in providing the original music for the documentary history series The World at War (1973) for Thames Television,[17] and later Cold War (1998) for the BBC.[10] He conducted the BBC's theme song for its coverage of the 2006 FIFA World Cup, adapted from George Frideric Handel's "See the Conquering Hero Comes".[18]

Silent film music[edit]

In the late 1970s, Davis was commissioned by documentarians Kevin Brownlow and David Gill to create music for Thames Television's Hollywood: A Celebration of the American Silent Film (1980). His association with them continued the same year with the restoration of Abel Gance's 1927 epic silent film Napoléon, for which Davis' music – drawing once again on Beethoven as a source – was used in its cinematic re-release and television screenings.[19][20] There was a similar treatment for D. W. Griffith's Intolerance: Love's Struggle Through The Ages (1916). This had orchestral music originally, but Davis's new score was used instead in 1989. In March 2012 Davis conducted the Oakland East Bay Symphony, performing his score live during a presentation of Napoleon in the complete Brownlow restoration at the San Francisco Silent Film Festival in Oakland.[21]

The Hollywood documentary series was followed by the documentaries Unknown Chaplin (1983),[22] Buster Keaton: A Hard Act to Follow (1987)[23] and Harold Lloyd: The Third Genius (1989).[24] In the 1980s and 1990s, Davis wrote and conducted the scores for numerous Thames Silents releases and television screenings.[25]

By 1993, his reputation made him the number one choice for new scores to silent films. Many DVD releases, including Ben-Hur (1925), The Phantom of the Opera (1925),[8][26] Safety Last (1923), DeMille's The Godless Girl (1928), Chaplin's City Lights (1931, re-orchestrated by Davis based on Chaplin's and José Padilla's original written score),[27] and Erich von Stroheim's Greed (1924), use Davis's music. Davis also entirely re-scored Clarence Brown's Flesh and the Devil (1927).[28] On several occasions he conducted these scores live in the cinema or concert hall as the film was being screened.[citation needed]

Film music[edit]

Davis also composed for contemporary films, including the BAFTA and Ivor Novello award winning score for The French Lieutenant's Woman in 1981.[17] His other films included The Bofors Gun (1968),[29] The Only Way (1970), I, Monster (1971),[30] Up Pompeii (1971), Up the Chastity Belt (1971), Rentadick (1972), What Became of Jack and Jill? (1972), Catholics (1973), Man Friday (1975), The Sailor's Return (1978), Champions (1983), King David (1985), The Girl in a Swing (1988),[31] Scandal (1989), The Rainbow (1989), Frankenstein Unbound (1990),[32] The Trial (1993), Widows' Peak (1994), The Great Gatsby (2000), Mothers & Daughters (2004)[33] and The Understudy (2008).[10]

Stage and concert works[edit]

Although Carl Davis wrote several substantial orchestral and concertante pieces – including the symphonic A Circle of Stones for full orchestra in 1997 – the core of his work outside of film and television was drama and dance, particularly musicals and ballet. He continued to actively compose over the last decade of his life,[17] during which he produced four large scale dance works: Nijinsky (2016) and Chaplin, the Tramp (2019), both for the Slovak National Ballet in Bratislava; The Great Gatsby for the Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre (2019); and most recently the two-act Le Fantôme et Christine, from Gaston Leroux's 1911 novel, which develops themes he first composed for the 1925 silent movie Phantom of the Opera. This received its premiere by the Shanghai Ballet on May 11, 2023.[34] Other works include:

Personal life and death[edit]

Davis married the British actress Jean Boht on December 28, 1970.[45] They had two daughters, filmmakers Hannah Louise (born 1972) and Jessie Jo (born 1974).[45] Davis also composed music for his daughter Hannah's films Mothers & Daughters (2004) and The Understudy (2008). Davis and his wife were executive producers on the latter, and they appeared in the film as a married couple, the Davidovitches.[46][47]

Davis died from a brain haemorrhage in Oxford on August 3, 2023, aged 86.[2] His wife Jean Boht died a month later on September 12, 2023, aged 91, having battled vascular dementia and Alzheimer's disease.[48]


  1. ^ Kozinn, Allan (June 29, 1991). "Review/Music; A Crossover Dream Comes True in Liverpool: The Philharmonic Plays McCartney's Oratorio". The New York Times.
  2. ^ a b "In Memoriam: Carl Davis CBE (1936–2023) | Faber Music". Faber Music. Retrieved August 3, 2023.
  3. ^ a b "Carl Davis, prolific composer whose work included the haunting theme tune to The World at War – obituary". The Daily Telegraph. August 3, 2023. Retrieved August 4, 2023.
  4. ^ Barnes, Mike (August 3, 2023). "Carl Davis, 'French Lieutenant's Woman' and 'Napoleon' Composer, Dies at 86". The Hollywood Reporter. Retrieved August 4, 2023.
  5. ^ "Interview: Carl Davis". Jewish Chronicle, 22 December, 2010 (accessed August 4, 2023)
  6. ^ "Carl Davis Biography (1936–)". Retrieved February 10, 2013.
  7. ^ Chur, Elizabeth (August 27, 1992). "For Composer Carl Davis, Life Is A Musical Merry-go-round". Chicago Tribune.
  8. ^ a b c Ramachandran, Naman (August 3, 2023). "Carl Davis, BAFTA-Winning Composer of 'The French Lieutenant's Woman,' Dies at 86". Variety. Retrieved August 3, 2023.
  9. ^ Birtwistle, Sue & Conklin, Susie (1995). The Making of Pride and Prejudice. Penguin Books. ISBN 0-14-025157-X.
  10. ^ a b c "Carl Davis". Retrieved August 3, 2023.
  11. ^ "BBC Programme Index". October 9, 1979. Retrieved August 3, 2023.
  12. ^ "Private Schulz Episode 1 (1981)". BFI. Archived from the original on August 17, 2019. Retrieved August 3, 2023.
  13. ^ "Television in 1982 | BAFTA Awards". Retrieved August 3, 2023.
  14. ^ "The Day The Universe Changed | Faber Music". Retrieved August 3, 2023.
  15. ^ "Carl Davis". BFI. Archived from the original on July 23, 2016. Retrieved August 3, 2023.
  16. ^ "Carl Davis | Credits | Faber Music". Retrieved August 3, 2023.
  17. ^ a b c d "Bafta-winning composer Carl Davis dies aged 86". The Guardian. August 3, 2023. Retrieved August 3, 2023.
  18. ^ "Carl Davis Theme for BBC World Cup Coverage | Faber Music". Retrieved August 3, 2023.
  19. ^ 'Carl Davis: Napoléon', reviewed at MusicWeb International
  20. ^ Brownlow, Kevin (2004). Napoleon: Abel Gance's classic film. Vol. 1. Photoplay. pp. 217–236. ISBN 978-1-84457-077-5.
  21. ^ "Silent Film Festival to present 'Napoleon'". San Francisco Silent Film Festival. July 15, 2011. Retrieved July 17, 2011.
  22. ^ "Charlie Chaplin : A new DVD: Unknown Chaplin The Master at work". Charlie Chaplin: Official Site. Retrieved August 3, 2023.
  23. ^ "Buster Keaton – A Hard Act to Follow (Production Material) (1987)". BFI. Archived from the original on November 14, 2017. Retrieved August 3, 2023.
  24. ^ "Harold Lloyd The Third Genius (1989)". BFI. Archived from the original on January 4, 2018. Retrieved August 3, 2023.
  25. ^ Appleyard, Bryan (August 3, 2023). "Carl Davis: The silent treatment". The Sunday Times. Retrieved August 3, 2023.
  26. ^ "Carl Davis Albums and Discography". AllMusic. Retrieved August 3, 2023.
  27. ^ "Chaplin as a composer". Archived from the original on March 14, 2015.
  28. ^ "Silent Film". Carl Davis Collection. Retrieved August 3, 2023.
  29. ^ "The Bofors Gun". Retrieved August 3, 2023.
  30. ^ Miller, Mark A.; Johnson, Tom (2009). The Christopher Lee Filmography: All Theatrical Releases, 1948–2003. McFarland & Company. p. 226. ISBN 978-0786446919.
  31. ^ "The Girl in a Swing". Retrieved August 3, 2023.
  32. ^ Colin Larkin, ed. (1992). The Guinness Encyclopedia of Popular Music (First ed.). Guinness Publishing. p. 637/8. ISBN 0-85112-939-0.
  33. ^ Alberge, Dalya (August 3, 2023). "British couple serve up a family drama". The Sunday Times. Retrieved August 3, 2023.
  34. ^ "Shanghai Ballet premiere Davis' Le Fantôme et Christine". Faber Music. Retrieved August 4, 2023.
  35. ^ "Alice in Wonderland". Faber Music. Retrieved August 4, 2023.
  36. ^ James McCarthy. 'Carl Davis's magical carpet ride towards Aladdin', in Gramophone, March 14, 2013
  37. ^ "Carl Davis: Featured Composer at Music Shop". Retrieved August 3, 2023.
  38. ^ "Concerto for Clarinet". Faber Music. Retrieved August 3, 2023.
  39. ^ "Cyrano". Faber Music. Retrieved August 4, 2023.
  40. ^ "Fantasy for Flute". Faber Music. Retrieved August 3, 2023.
  41. ^ "Lady of the Camellias, The". Faber Music. Retrieved August 4, 2023.
  42. ^ "Last Train to Tomorrow". Faber Music. Retrieved August 3, 2023.
  43. ^ "Lippizaner". Faber Music. November 29, 1989. Retrieved August 4, 2023.
  44. ^ "Mermaid, The". Faber Music. February 17, 2011. Retrieved August 4, 2023.
  45. ^ a b "Jean Boht". 2010. Archived from the original on August 18, 2011. Retrieved April 19, 2011.
  46. ^ "The Understudy". Carl Davis Collection. Retrieved August 3, 2023.
  47. ^ "The Understudy (2008) – Cast & Crew on MUBI". Retrieved August 3, 2023.
  48. ^ "Jean Boht: 'Beloved and renowned' Bread star dies aged 91". Retrieved September 13, 2023.

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