One of Carl Davis’s most ambitious projects has been his score for Abel Gance’s epic masterpiece Napoléon. As The Scotsman commented in 1981:
‘…this is a voiceless opera… it will be impossible henceforth to imagine Gance’s film without Davis’s score….’
‘Abel Gance’s 1927 epic Napoléon was shown in its latest version… with live orchestral accompaniment composed and conducted by Carl Davis. It was magnificent, awe-inspiring, colossal, sublime - all those words you use when you look at a work of art and find your critical reactions defused by its enormity.’The Guardian (Jonathan Romney), 7 June 2000
‘The score is by Carl Davis, who was set a task that would have daunted Wagner; indeed, it is considerably longer that Götterdämmerung. Mr Davis, wisely, has not attempted to write the lot himself; he has ransacked Haydn, Mozart and above all Beethoven, and fitted their work to his so skilfully that the seams are truly imperceptible. On an ocean of C major the silent film floats, sounding depths and breadths that anyone would have thought impossible in a two-dimensional medium.’The Times (Bernard Levin), 23 June 1990
When the Kevin Brownlow-restored film with Carl’s music was last shown in London at the Southbank in 2004, with Carl conducting the London Philharmonic Orchestra, there was a storm of approval, not only for the emotional power of the film, but for the superb compilation score embracing music from the period by Beethoven and his contemporaries, interwoven seamlessly with Carl’s own music.
Rights issues have so far prevented several screenings, so it is great news that now the San Francisco Silent Film Festival will be presenting the US premiere on 24, 25, 31 March and 1 April 2012.
Each screening of the 5-½ hour epic will begin in the afternoon and will be shown in four parts with three intermissions. Each performance will be accompanied by the Oakland East Bay Symphony Orchestra with 75-year old Carl Davis at the helm in what will be a marathon conducting feat! The occasion is described by the organisers as ‘the cinema event of a lifetime’.