Born in New York in 1936, Carl Davis studied composition with Paul Nordoff and Hugo Kauder, and subsequently with Per Nørgård in Copenhagen. His early work in the USA provided valuable conducting experience with organizations such as New York City Opera and the Robert Shaw Chorale. In 1959 the revue Diversions, of which he was co-author, won an Off-Broadway Emmy and subsequently travelled to the 1961 Edinburgh Festival. As a direct result of its success there, Davis was commissioned by Ned Sherrin to write music for That Was The Week That Was. Other radio and TV commissions followed and Davis’s UK career was launched. He moved to London in 1961 and soon found himself at the heart of England’s theatre, television, and film scene with scores for the National Theatre and The Royal Shakespeare Company, the television series The World at War, Hollywood, Goodnight Mister Tom and the BBC’s Pride and Prejudice. Following on from his work on Thames Television’s Hollywood series, he created a score for Abel Gance’s epic film Napoleon, a performance so unique it stimulated a global revival of silent film performance with live orchestra. He has written or reconstructed scores for over 50 silent films ranging from Charlie Chaplin, Harold Lloyd and Buster Keaton to DW Griffiths’ masterpiece Intolerance.
Film soundtracks include the award winning The French Lieutenants Woman (1981), Champions (1983), The Naked Civil Servant (1975), Silas Marner (1985), Scandal (1989), Ken Russell’s The Rainbow (1989), Frankenstein Unbound (1990), The Great Gatsby (2000), Ethel & Ernest (2016), Brexicuted (2018)
Other television work includes The Snow Goose (1971), Hotel du Lac (1986), The Commanding Sea (1980), A Dance to the Music of Time (1997), Coming Home (1998), Oppenheimer (1980), Cranford (2007-2009) and Upstairs Downstairs (2012).
For the ballet, Carl composed scores for the London Contemporary Dance Theatre, the Birmingham Royal Ballet, and the Northern Ballet Theatre, working with choreographers David Bintley, Gillian Lynne, Derek Deane, and Daniel de Andrade. Other ballet work includes Alice In Wonderland, Aladdin, The Lady of the Camellias, A Picture of Dorian Grey, Nijinksy: God of the Dance, The Great Gatsby and Chaplin: The Tramp.
Notable concert works include Ballade for Cello and Orchestra for the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra, Paul McCartney’s Liverpool Oratorio and Last Train To Tomorrow a choral work telling the story of the Kinderstransport movement of 1938-1939.
In 2009 Carl created his own record label The Carl Davis Collection. In 2016 he was the subject of Wendy Thompson’s biography Maestro. The same year Davis explored new ground with Ethel & Ernest, his first score to an animated film (after the book by Raymond Briggs). The focus of his creative energies in the final decade of his career, though, was dance, creating a further four full-length works: Nijinsky (2016) Chaplin, The Tramp (2019), The Great Gatsby (2019) and, finally, Le Fantôme et Christine which premiered at the Shanghai Ballet in May 2023.
Carl was a central figure in the Faber Music roster since his arrival in 1990, over half of the company’s existence. We are honoured and proud to have worked alongside such a compositional giant.