Carl Davis (1936-2023) - conductor and composer

Carl Davis - Pride and Prejudice soundtrack CD cover Carl Davis has made significant contributions to film and TV music, in the roles of composer, arranger and conductor. As an American living in Britain (and married to the actress Jean Boht) he has found himself film and TV work on both sides of the Atlantic. For TV he has done a number of historical dramas and big productions such as the "Hollywood" documentary series. For film his score for "The French Lieutenant's Woman" is highly regarded. In addition to these media he has also composed music for a number of ballets such as "Aladdin" first performed in the Edinburgh Festival Theatre in December 2000. One particularly challenging commission for Davis was to write a new ballet by Tchaikovsky! The was to be based on Lewis Carroll's "Alice in Wonderland" for the English National Ballet, and Davis arranged piano pieces from Tchaikovsky's "Album for the Young" together with some of the Russian master's orchestral music and some original work.

Carl Davis also enjoys another career as a conductor. For a number of years he conducted the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra during their summer season. He then went on to work with Paul McCartney on his "Liverpool Oratorio", orchestrating and conducting the music for the same orchestra. Davis frequently features as a guest conductor for other orchestras, and has for example conducted the Royal Scottish National Orchestra on more than one occasion. His most recent concerts with the RSNO have focussed on Oscar-winning film music and songs.

Tchaikovsky arranged Carl Davis - Alice in Wonderland CD cover In addition to scores for contemporary films, he has also found a niche composing or reworking scores for silent movies. He did a little of this for the "Hollywood" series, and also scored "Phantom of the Opera" for the Channel 4 Television series of silent classics, for which James Bernard recreated his uniquely dark Dracula sound for the silent "Nosferatu". Neither of these reworkings of silent movies were on the scale of Davis' mammoth reworking of Swiss-born classical composer Arthur Honegger's score for the epic five and a half hour film "Napoléon". I've only heard a small extract from this score and this sounded something like Beethoven, which is perhaps appropriate given that Beethoven originally wanted to dedicate his 3rd Symphony to Napoleon. Davis' music for "Napoleon" was well received in France, where Davis was presented with an award for the score. Davis conducted his music to a showing of Napoleon in London on the weekend of 4th and 5th December 2004. Davis reports that this could be the last performance of this music, since the Coppola family also claim to owns rights to the film and only wish it to be shown with music composed by the late Carmine Coppola, father of the director Francis Ford Coppola.

Carl Davis - Carl's War album CD cover Another project extending Davis' experience with silent films has been with the films of Charlie Chaplin. First he reconstructed Chaplin's own music for the film classic "City Lights", and then he went on to do the same for "The Gold Rush". He has now completed a major project to provide new scores for 12 films made by Charlie Chaplin between 1916 and 1917 for the Mutual Film Corporation. Complete with the new scores, these were released on DVD in two groups of six by the British Film Institute in 2004 and 2005. Other music for silent comedy film includes the "Keystone Kops". Davis arranged the music for the BBC's World Cup television coverage in 2006, based on the often-used "See the Conquering Hero Comes" from the chorus of Handel's oratorio "Judas Maccabaeus". This music is also the basis for the familiar hymn "Thine Be the Glory" and was used by Beethoven for his 12 variations for cello and piano on Handel's theme (see Sheet Music Plus for the sheet music). In another sporting connection, Davis created an anthem for the Leeds Rhinos Rugby League Club.

Carl Davis - Heroines in Music CD cover The composer's web-site at "" has now been replaced with to promote Davis' own record label: The Carl Davis Collection. Items released so far by the label include the ballet "Alice in Wonderland" adapted from Tchaikovsky, and the soundtrack of the film "The Understudy" which was made by Davis' daughter Hannah and her husband David Connolly. There are other CDs of music composed and/or conducted by Davis, and a re-release of his epic film score for "Napoleon" is also in preparation. The latest album from this series is "Heroines in Music" which features Davis' work for "The French Lieutenant's Woman", "Pride and Prejudice", "Cranford" and "Hotel du Lac". The album is available at and Carl Davis conducted his score to the restored 1925 Ben-Hur live at the Royal Festival Hall on 9th June 2012.

We are addened to hear of the composer's passing on 3rd August 2023, but he leaves behind a substantial body of work.

Films by Carl Davis:

    Carl Davis - Ben-Hur soundtrack CD cover
  • Intolerance: Love's Struggle Throughout the Ages (1916)
  • The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse (1921)
  • The Thief of Bagdad (1924)
  • Phantom of the Opera (1925) - for Channel 4, this has been released on CD
  • Ben-Hur (1925) - the blockbuster silent version
  • Napoléon (1927) - Davis reworked Honegger's score and the "Eagle of Destiny" theme can be found in the sheet music collection recommended below
  • The Crowd (1928) - another early silent movie
  • The Thief of Bagdad (1924) - another early silent movie
  • City Lights (1931) - reconstructing Chaplin's own music
  • The Gold Rush (1925) - another of Chaplin's classic films
  • Champions
  • Scandal
  • The Rainbow - for Ken Russell
  • Carl Davis - Napoleon soundtrack CD cover
  • Up Pompei
  • King David
  • Topsy Turvy
  • The French Lieutenant's Woman
  • Frankenstein Unbound
  • Widow's Peak
  • Anne Frank Remembered - for Ken Russell
  • The Book of Eve
  • Mothers and Daughters
  • Garbo
  • Ethel & Ernest - a BBC hand-drawn animated film based on the graphic novel by Raymond Briggs (The Snowman)

TV music and themes by Carl Davis:

    Carl Davis - the Music of Cranford soundtrack CD cover
  • That Was The Week That Was - an early assignment in the UK
  • Prince Regent - with a classical sounding theme
  • The Far Pavilions
  • The World at War
  • A Simple Man
  • The Naked Civil Servant
  • Hollywood - a nostalgic waltz theme
  • The Old Curiosity Shop
  • Winston Churchill: The Wilderness Years - mini-series
  • The Tale of Beatrix Potter - TV movie
  • The Hound of the Baskervilles - a 4-part drama starring a post-Doctor-Who Tom Baker
  • Unknown Chaplin
  • Pride and Prejudice
  • Fame in the Twentieth Century
  • A Year in Provence - French music for this lighthearted series based on the successful book of the same name
  • Coming Home
  • The Snow Goose
  • Goodnight Mr Tom
  • BBC TV's World Cup theme (called "Sports Prepare") - Davis's arrangement of "See the Conquering Hero Comes" from the chorus of Handel's oratorio "Judas Maccabaeus"
  • Cranford - a drama series in 5 parts starring Dame Judy Dench

Carl Davis Recommendations:

Jane Austin's World - sheet music cover For pianists, there is sheet music in the form of "Great Film & TV Themes" by Carl Davis arranged by Richard Harris available on The MusicRoom. Although we can't find it online, there is also a book of piano arrangements by Jack Long of two Jane Austin films: "Sense and Sensibility" by Patrick Doyle and "Pride and Prejudice" by Carl Davis. A similarly themed book which is available online is called "Jane Austin's World" from Sheet Music Plus and The MusicRoom with "Sense and Sensibility", "Pride and Prejudice", "Emma" (by Rachel Portman) and "Persuasion" (by Jeremy Sams).

For an example of an excellent CD with Carl Davis as conductor with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, look no further than The Best of Bond album celebrating more than 45 years of the music of James Bond 007. Here is a selection of some great albums of music by Carl Davis: