I woke up this morning to be greeted by the incredibly sad news that one of my favourite composers had died tragically in a plane crash in Santa Barbra, California. James Horner had, had an impact on me since I first had the pleasure of hearing his iconic music from Star Trek II: The Wrath Of Khan (1982) and its sequel, Star Trek III: The Search For Spock (1984) back in the early 1980’s. To this day, I love this music and they stand as my favourite Star Trek themes, even trumping Jerry Goldsmith’s excellent scores from Star Trek: The Motion Picture (1979).
I can still remember the glee as I managed to pick up a mint copy of the Star Trek III LP, complete with the very dated 12 inch single for just £5 back in the mid 90’s. I still have it to day and it is a prize of my vinyl collection.
His career, which began in 1978, would explode and he would leave his mark on so many blockbusters, hits and smaller films over his 37 year career, one which was so tragically cut short yesterday, with his passing at just 61 years old. He would collaborate with James Cameron with Aliens (1986), Titanic (1997) & Avatar 3D (2009); Ron Howard with Apollo 13 (1995) and A Beautiful Mind (2001).
He was nominated for ten Academy Awards and won 2 with Titanic and its song, “My Heart Will Go On”, but he also won and was nominated for many more.
His other notable scores include Enemy At The Gates (2001) and Braveheart (1995), Willow (1988), The Rocketeer (1991) & the sweeping tones of The Perfect Storm (2000).
There are too many to count, with a whopping total of 158 credits as composer to his name, but even though, as child, I had grown to love his work, namely with Star Trek, still disappointed that he did not come back for Star Trek IV: A Voyage Home (1986), it was Glory in 1989 which cemented by admiration for his work. His powerful score for a powerful story moved me, as did his change in tone. It would seem that with each decade came a new theme and the 90’s were all about bells.
This was all building towards his Oscar Winning score for Titanic in 1997, as moving as it was bombastic. Horner was not perfect, often and correctly criticised for self-plagiarism, but this is not that uncommon for the film music industry, but he would compose a new theme and use it in several films. But they were great themes so why not!
In 1998 the Mask Of Zorro, the old school actioner directed by Martin Campbell, exploded on to theatre screens, as did his old school score. Still bearing the hallmarks of a Horner score, he harked back to an era of cinema where the likes of Miklos Rozsa ruled and this score quite literally honours the composer of such epics as Ben~Hur (1959) and Quo Vadis (1954).
But Rozsa himself was the same, composing a series a themes and recycling them but again, they were great scores by a legendary composer and I have also found it ironic that Rozsa was his inspiration for this score, with clearly takes a lot of cues from another of Rozsa’s scores, El Cid (1962).
Then came Troy in 2004. Controversial as composer Gabriel Yared (The English Patient) was originally hired to compose the score for Wolfgang Peterson’s Homer derived epic, but the score was not right and Horner was drafted into compete the music at the last-minute and did so in just few days. To be honest, it was a decent enough score but was not his best and the Yared score is effectively lost as it stands today.
Then there is the fact that the Star Trek scores where partially lifted from Star Wars rip-off, Battle Beyond The Stars from 1980. But I don’t care. To me, I’m still the child who fell in love with this music and it still stands today, as does so much of his repertoire.
Today is very sad day for film music industry and the fact that we will never hear a fresh note from this iconic composer is something which is still hard to believe and a real tragedy. But his legacy is a catalogue of music which cannot be dismissed, with classic scores which match the very best composers.
Rest In Peace, James. He will be sorely missed but his work will live on for years to come and will certainly be a staple on my iPod, as well as the timeless memorial that his movie work will be, as it is accompanied so many movies which will be rerun for decades to come.