When Carl Davis premiered his orchestral score for Abel Gance’s restored silent epic “Napoléon” in 1980, few in the audience knew they were assisting at the birth of an art form. Until then, silent films meant club performances with piano accompaniment; the silent classics Davis went on to score—Buster Keaton, Harold Lloyd, Charlie Chaplin—laid the foundations for a global industry.
Now Davis is celebrating his 75th birthday with a burst of conducting engagements in Europe, culminating in a premiere of his symphonic work “Ballade for Cello”, alongside Chaplin’s seldom screened “The Pilgrim”. This is just one facet of this amiable New Yorker’s productivity. He is a prolific composer for ballet, feature films and television: his scores have done for the small screen what Prokofiev and Shostakovich did for the big one. And the secret behind the showmanship is an incorruptible seriousness.
But he may still endure the fate of the composer whose work he celebrated with his soundtrack for Mike Leigh’s film “Topsy-Turvy”: Arthur Sullivan too wrote symphonies, but fun is what he’s remembered for.
Chaplin’s The Pilgrim/Ballade for Cello Liverpool Philharmonic Hall, April 30th