American composer Carl Davis dies at 86
LONDON—Carl Davis, the American composer and conductor behind the scores for numerous award-winning British television shows and movies, has died, aged 86.
In a statement, his family said Davis, who is perhaps best known for the score of “The World at War,” a hugely influential documentary series about World War II that aired in 1973, died Thursday, Aug. 3, in Oxford following a brain hemorrhage.
“We are so proud that Carl’s legacy will be his astonishing impact on music,” the family said. “A consummate all-round musician, he was the driving force behind the reinvention of the silent movie for this generation and he wrote scores for some of the most-loved and remembered British television dramas.”
Davis, who was born in Brooklyn in 1936, started his career in New York, rising to prominence as co-author of the 1959 revue “Diversions,” which won an off-Broadway Emmy. He subsequently traveled to the 1961 Edinburgh Festival and made Britain his home.
Moving to London, Davis soon found himself at the heart of the UK’s theatre, television and movie scene, composing for the National Theatre and The Royal Shakespeare Company. He scored an array of programs on British television, including the BBC’s 1995 “Pride and Prejudice.”
His most prominent television work was his score for “The World at War,” which was narrated by Laurence Olivier and broadcast over 26 weeks on the commercial network ITV. His foreboding theme music set the tone for the factual non-sensationalist horror to come.
Davis’ most successful film work was 1981’s “The French Lieutenant’s Woman,” which starred Meryl Streep and Jeremy Irons, and won him a BAFTA award, Britain’s equivalent of an Oscar. Other notable movie credits include 1984’s “Champions” starring John Hurt and 1989’s “Scandal” with Ian McKellen and Joanne Whalley.
He also wrote and reconstructed scores for over 50 silent films starring some of the great silent film stars including Charlie Chaplin, Buster Keaton and Harold Lloyd.
He was also a composer of symphonic concert works, and ballet scores which have been performed worldwide.
“Carl was a central figure in our roster since his arrival in 1990, over half of the company’s existence,” said Richard King, CEO of Faber Music. “We are honored and proud to have worked alongside such a compositional giant, and our thoughts are with Carl’s family at this time.”
Davis, who was made a Commander of the Order of the British Empire in 2005 by the late Queen Elizabeth II, is survived by his wife Jean Boht, their two daughters and three grandchildren. /ra