Flesh and the Devil, the 1927 film that rocketed Greta Garbo to fame as a femme fatale, was notorious for Garbo and co-star John Gilbert's on- and off-screen romance. In 1982 Carl Davis composed a score to accompany the silent classic:
"Garbo plays an evil temptress, which gave me the idea for the introductory snake-like motif on clarinets. Then follows a ball, in which she dances with Gilbert before going out into the garden with him. There was a symbolic language of smoking in those days, and in the film he lights a cigarette and places it in her mouth. She is seen wonderfully in the light of his match-glow, and then blows the match out. I have tried to portray some of this 'smoking' passion in my music."
Famous and highly acclaimed for his television and film music, Carl Davis also has a career as a conductor, often of his own works. He has composed theatre music, working extensively with the Royal Shakespeare Company and the National Theatre, ballet scores, an opera, and orchestral works.
Born in Brooklyn, New York on 28 October 1936, he attended the New England Conservatory of Music and Bard College, studying composition under Paul Nordoff and Hugo Kauder. Further study followed with Per Nørgård in Copenhagan, where he also worked with the Royal Danist Ballet.
In 1961, following the success of his off-Broadway revue Diversions, Davis moved to England, writing the music for the landmark satirical television series That Was the Week that Was. Film and television work has since flooded in, and his scores include: The French Lieutenant's Woman (1981, for which he won a BAFTA and an Ivor Novello award); Napoleon (1980, for Abel Gance's silent film); Pride and Prejudice (1995); and, most famously, The World at War (1974) .
Much of Davis's music reinterprets existing musical styles, even re-using themes of Tchaikovsky in his 1995 ballet Alice in Wonderland, and appeals to a wide public. He collaborated on Paul McCartney's Liverpool Oratorio in 1991 and continues to conduct all over the world, often programming deliberately popular music.
Carl Davis's permanent home is now in London. He is married to actress Jean Boht, and they have two daughters.