Article by John Williams.
Even a cursory look through Carl Davis’ credits, shows the wide span and scale of his composing ability. Right from his earliest days in the UK, he has never been a composer that you could easily pigeonhole. Everything he has undertaken has been done with a style and sheer brilliance that at times can take your breath away
He is well known for a number of major and successful projects: THE WORLD AT WAR, NAPOLEON, CHAMPIONS, CRANFORD, PRIDE AND PREJUDICE, THE FRENCH LIEUTENANT’S WOMAN, the list goes on. Scores for Silent Movies, Documentaries, Animated, Ballet’s,quite amazing.
Yet between these bigger and more famous scores, there are a lot of fine and outstanding music that seem to have not had the public acclaim. Well, no that isn’t quite fair. THE SNOW GOOSE, starring Richard Harris and Jenny Agutter, shown during the Christmas Holidays in the early Seventies, was in fact the first time I saw Carl’s name on any credit. Those were the halcyon days, when the Radio Times only listed BBC programmes, and on the majority of BBC produced films or series, the Composer was actually listed. Such joy!!. That is a wonderful, emotional score, and in fact I only just realised it was only around a hour in duration, which is indeed quite short. Who could ever forget Jenny Agutter trudging away from the Windmill, at the end, clutching the picture that Richard Harris painting, to Carl’s moving score.There was a EMI LP produced not long after this that contains 3 cues. but we had to wait years for CARL’S WAR, a CD from Carl’s own label before we had a recording worthy of the name. An 18-minute tour-de-force of all the principal themes, not in filmic order, but as a fantasy. On CD,it is amazing, but I surely would love to hear in a Concert environment at some point.
I also have fond memories of EAGLE OF THE NINTH, MARIE CURIE, LORNA DOONE, FAIR STOOD THE WIND FOR FRANCE. Golden days of BBC Serials and one – off films. I also miss seeing HOLLYWOOD, which was precursor to the many scores that Carl has written for Silent films, and which to my knowledge is not available either on DVD or Blu Ray.
In 1977, Carl collaborated with John Wells in a one off, so called Pop Opera for BBC 2’s THE LIVELY ARTS. It was entitled ORPHEUS IN THE UNDERGROUND, IMDB have very little on this half hour musical, so much so in fact, I wondered if I had made it up. It’s in Carl’s credits, but information is sketchy. Thankfully I have now, courtesy of Radio Times online, found more information. It was shown on BBC 2 on 27th December 1977 at 19-55. It was of course a update of the old legend, and contains no less than eight songs. The music was provided by a very interesting combination of the Gabreli String Quartet, and George Fenton on guitar – no less.
If memory serves me right, it was singers and dancers against a almost- remember this is 1977 – computerised background so at no time did you see the actual London Underground. “It’s here, Where?? – on the line, Where?? – on the Circle line, doesn’t anyone care, doesn’t anyone know” lyrics that drift in and out of my brain over the years. That classic line, “Stand clear of the doors” is sung at various stages throughout the film. I don’t remember much of the dancing as such. but the music in lyrics are superb. Carl and John collaborated later on a similar project, the year later I think entitled IN THE LOOKING GLASS. Graphics, way off stories and again interesting words and music from John and Carl again and Carl appeared in them as a actor.!
I am quite sure in fact, that Carl and John worked years earlier on a version of CRANFORD. Yes I know Carl scored CRANFORD in this Century, but I am sure I saw a earlier version when after the opening credits, ladies in full costume swirl in , singing, “Good morning” to each other, though this appears on no-ones CV so maybe I have just watched to much TV over the last 50 years!!
I once had a somewhat battered cassette tape of ORPHEUS IN THE UNDERGROUND, which I treasured for a long time, till I moved around the Country much too much, and that with a number of other tapes vanished, so if anyone has any more information etc, then please do let me know. I doubt if I will actually see or hear ORPHEUS again before I leave this mortal coil, and that saddens me, but hey, I have it all the time, I can see it NOW at will and I can recall plenty of the music,. When I can’t remember some of the broadcasts, I saw last week, it must say something when you can recall at will a programme you saw only once over 40 years ago