On 7 July Débora Waldman conducted Carl Davis’ score to Buster Keaton’s The General with the Orchestre National Avignon-Provence at the Théâtre Antique d'Orange. The 1926 silent, directed by Keaton and Clyde Bruckman, is an action-adventure-comedy set in the American Civil War, telling the story of a railway engineer infatuated equally by a young woman and eponymous locomotive. Both objects of his affection become entangled in the ongoing struggle between Union and Confederate forces. The film is renowned for an extravagant sequence showing the destruction of a purpose-built railway bridge and multi-wagon train – the most expensive single shot ever featured in a silent movie.

Davis’ 76-minute score for 31 players combines a symphonic sweep with mock-heroic aspects, chiming with both the comic elements of the film as well as the grandeur of its spectacular action sequences. Davis also weaves popular songs from the period into his soundtrack to render the conflict between North and South in musical terms.

Thames Television commissioned Davis’ score to The General, which premiered in 1987. It has been performed over a hundred times worldwide since; its exponents have included the London Philharmonic Orchestra, the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra, the Luzerner Sinfonieorchester, the Belgian National Orchestra, and Basel Sinfonietta.

The score has been conducted by Davis on numerous occasions; he recorded it with the Thames Silents Orchestra in 2021 alongside his music for other Buster Keaton classics, including Our Hospitality and One Week. Davis’ score for One Week was performed by the City Lights Orchestra at the Arena Klosters on 1 August as part of a double bill with his music for Chaplin silent The Rink.