Carl Davis, beloved conductor and BAFTA-winning composer, dies aged 86

3 August 2023, 16:21

Carl Davis was a beloved conductor and composer
Carl Davis was a beloved conductor and composer. Picture: Alamy

By Sophia Alexandra Hall

Described as a ‘true polymath of music’, Carl Davis leaves a substantial legacy of music including over 100 television soundtracks, and internationally performed ballets.

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American-born conductor and composer Carl Davis CBE has died at 86, following a brain haemorrhage.

Davis, who has resided in the UK since 1961, was a driving force behind the resurgence of silent films. He scored more than 50 of them, and wrote the soundtracks for some of Britain’s most beloved television dramas.

Some of these landmark soundtracks include The World at War, the 1995 TV adaptation of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice starring Colin Firth, and the 1998 film adaption of Goodnight Mr. Tom. He also wrote the theme tune for the 2006 World Cup, an arrangement of Handel’s See the Conquering Hero Comes.

His score for the 1981 film The French Lieutenant’s Woman won him both a BAFTA and Ivor Novello Award.

One of Davis’ most notable achievements is his collaboration with Sir Paul McCartney. In 1991 the compositional duo wrote Paul McCartney’s Liverpool Oratorio, a live album recorded to celebrate the 150th anniversary of Classic FM’s Orchestra in the North-West of England, the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra. The eight-movement work was conducted by Davis and marked McCartney’s first foray into the classical music world.

“I think he’ll be remembered by so many people in different ways,” RLPO’s Artistic Planning Director Sandra Parr told Classic FM, “but our audience here in Liverpool will remember him as the person who introduced them to music.

“He was always so warm and open to everybody here in Liverpool. We miss him terribly.”

Paul McCartney · Liverpool Oratorio [1991]

Alongside his work for the big and small screens, Davis wrote a selection of concert works and ballet. He was commissioned by a number of high-profile ballet companies during his career including the Northern Ballet Theatre, Scottish Ballet, English National Ballet, and Birmingham Royal Ballet.

His work for stage ranged from rising to prominence as the co-author of Diversions, a 1959 show which won an off-Broadway Emmy when Davis was in his twenties, to writing scores for both the National Theatre and The Royal Shakespeare Company later in his career.

Born in Brooklyn in 1936, Davis was awarded a CBE (Hon) in 2005 for his services to music. Davis is survived by his wife Jean Boht, their two daughters, Hannah and Jessie and three grandchildren, Molly, Fred and Alice.

In an official statement from his family, they thanked the paramedics who assisted the Davies, and the Neurological ICU Team at the John Radcliffe Hospital in Oxford.

“We are heartbroken to announce that Carl Davis CBE passed away this morning,” his family wrote.

“We are so proud that Carl’s legacy will be his astonishing impact on music.”