Thursday, July 9, 2009

Carl Davis - A Composer Who Should Be Better Known

Carl Davis is far better known in Britain than he is in America, and should be highly regarded for his creative gifts and attainments.
He is a native New Yorker, but moved to England in, I believe, his late twenties or early thirties, and continues to reside there. He is probably in his early seventies at this point in time.
Although he has written quite voluminously in various forms, spanning from ballet to music for silent movies (he is probably the most effective composer of any music written for the Chaplin silent movies), I find myself constantly going back to what, in my view, is his most powerful statement as a composer; and that is his music for the gigantic documentary "The World at War."
I have seen this documentary several times, and was recently given the 30th anniversary edition (2004) on DVD, with digitization of the video aspect being the primary improvement in this particular release.
It was begun in 1971, shown first in the following year, with world distribution, I think, in 1973 - 74.
The original documentary consisted of twenty six episodes, each about fifty minutes in length, and remains, in my opinion, the most definitive video production of World War II.
The bringing together of great talents, in both scholarship and media aspects, such as Noble Frankland, the eminent English historian; Stephen Ambrose, at that time a young historian on his way to greatness; and Carl Davis, the composer already discussed, resulted in a landmark production which, in terms of dimensional power, remains unchallenged as a video perusal of history's greatest conflict.
In twenty six episodes, the music that Davis wrote for this Opus Magnus is repeated many times, of course. One does not sit down and write a composition that will last for twenty hours or so.
But the insertion of his music at the times chosen for these incarnations is superb. This reality, plus arguably the best music I know by Davis, gives us an unparalleled message of great power of meaning that rivals the power of the story line itself.
Davis uses a poignant melody that turns out to be the theme at the beginning and end of each episode. It has a powerful, yet poignant element in it that gives the viewer an instant sense of connection to the nucleic reason for the existence of the documentary. What is almost uncanny for me is that the many different melodies that Davis wrote become so efficiently fused to the elemental strength depicting the horror and haplessness of war, and even now, after the viewings of this story I have experienced, the music of Carl Davis remains as memorable to me as the historical material itself.
Even if the reader is not interested in the documentary, perhaps the music should be heard for its message and power of projection. The music is probably available by itself on CD.
I think of the great composers for films, such as Max Steiner, Franz Waxman, Bernard Herrmann, John Williams, Herbert Stothard, Erich Korngold, Frank Churchill etc. From my view, the music of Carl Davis should be included in this group.

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