Carl Davis: The Piano Collection

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One of the most distinguished composers alive today, Carl Davis (b.1936) has scored almost 400 TV shows and films, winning several BAFTAs and Ivor Novello Awards. Davis has established himself as the number one choice to score silent films, and famously collaborated with Sir Paul McCartney in the creation of the Liverpool Oratorio.

In celebration of Davis’s 85th birthday on 28th October, his publishers Faber Music have brought out a beautifully presented, limited edition folio of his most cherished works, selected and reworked for solo piano by the composer himself.

Let’s have a look at The Piano Collection

Pictures of Success

A glance through the list of pieces in this collection is enough to provide a salient reminder of the scope of Davis’s impact in the world of theatre, ballet, radio, television and film music from the 1970’s to the present day:

  1. Aladdin: Cave of Jewels
  2. Alice in Wonderland: There is a Wonderful Garden
  3. Anne Frank Remembered: Theme
  4. Ben-Hur: Theme
  5. Buster Keaton: The Stoic Theme
  6. Champions: Theme
  7. Charlie Chaplin: The Inebriate Theme
  8. Cranford: Theme
  9. Cyrano: The Cadets of Gascoyne
  10. Ethel and Ernest: Theme
  11. The French Lieutenant’s Woman: Theme
  12. The Great Gatsby: City of Steel and Concrete
  13. Hollywood: Theme
  14. The Lady of the Camellias: Theme
  15. Last Train to Tomorrow: Two Themes
  16. Napoléon: Theme
  17. Nijinsky: At the Hotel de l’Europa
  18. Pride and Prejudice: Theme
  19. The Queen’s Nose: Theme
  20. The Town Fox: Theme
  21. The World at War: Theme

Davis’s arrangements here are as one would expect superb, pianistic both in terms of their use of the instrument and their physical ergonomics, while also retaining a sense of the more dramatic orchestration of his original scores.

Davis gives more detailed articulation and performance directions than many of his peers, these scores often alive with detail. And while several pieces convey bigger textures through the use of large chords and left hand tremolos, Davis equally doesn’t shy away from using stark simplicity to powerful effect, several of the melodies uncovered here in their barest form.

This is perhaps most striking of all in the Theme from 2016’s Ethel and Ernest, presented here in just 19 bars of music which could easily be played by an early intermediate player (though perhaps not with the focused expressive intent it deserves). For the most part however, these transcriptions would be suitable for players at an established advanced level (around Grades 6-8 in the UK).

The Publication

Faber Music’s publication is a 72-white-page book with matt soft cover. This is beautifully presented and is dominated by a reproduction of a stunning painting of the composer by his friend Philip Sutton.

In a brief Foreword the composer tells us that during the Covid-19 pandemic of 2020-21 he turned inwards, thinking about how to maximise this lonely time, and returned to his first love: the piano. He remembers that prior to embarking on his career as a composer from the mid 1950’s onwards, he had started his musical life as a rehearsal accompanist for the New York City Opera.

“This pandemic brought me back to the piano and this volume reflects some of the fun I’ve had in arranging and reimagining these works for piano solo.”

The scores themselves are clearly engraved, nicely printed and well spaced. No fingering suggestions are given, and pedalling is only occasionally specified.

In addition to two photographs of the composer by Trevor Leighton and a lovely line drawing depicting ballet dancers by Sue Blaine, the book includes facsimile images of three of Davis’s hand-written scores, which (as ever) offer a fascinating glimpse of a brilliant composer at work.

This is a truly lovely volume, testament to the special relationship between composer and Faber Music enjoyed over many years.

End Titles

These solo piano transcriptions offer a vivid, varied and memorable survey of Carl Davis’s outstanding body of work, and are brought together in a gorgeous publication which is an essential purchase for any Davis fan, as indeed it is for all advanced players who enjoy incidental and film music.

Carl Davis: The Piano Collection really is very special – but you will need to snap up your copy fast, as Faber are releasing this strictly as a limited edition.

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Published by

Andrew Eales

Andrew Eales is a widely respected piano educator, writer and composer based on Milton Keynes UK. His book HOW TO PRACTISE MUSIC is published by Hal Leonard.