James Horner

Remembering Film Composer James Horner

Cinema has lost one of its best. James Horner, composer of more than a hundred film scores, died Monday, June 22, 2015 when the plane he was piloting crashed in southern California. Horner had been working steadily in Hollywood since the late 1970s, getting his big break in 1982 with Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, and later picking up two Oscars (Best Score and Best Song) for the 1997 James Cameron epic Titanic.

If John Williams was the composer of my childhood, then James Horner was that of my adolescence. I certainly knew of Horner early on, thanks to his work on Star Trek II and III (I was a big Trekkie), but it was Horner’s scores for Glory, Field of Dreams, Braveheart, and Titanic that most affected me. Horner was known for his ability to combine orchestra and choir in a way that evoked feelings of longing and melancholy, which my daydreaming, somewhat angsty young adult self-identified with on a deep level.

In interviews, James Horner has always struck me as a gentle, sensitive composer, aware of what was happening on the surface of the story—what you see on screen—but also very tuned in to what was happening beneath the surface, the tensions and motivations of the characters. Below are some clips of James Horner talking about his work.

Tune in Friday, June 26 at 9pm for Reel Music: Remembering James Horner.


Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan (1982)

Field of Dreams (1989)

Titanic (1997)

Karate Kid (2010)

The Amazing Spider-Man (2012)

Reel Music: James Horner & James Cameron

Film score composer James Horner has had some of his greatest successes working with director James Cameron, but it was not always a happy union. The two got off to a bad start in 1986 working on Aliens. With just six weeks to the movie’s release date, there was still no final edit of the film, and therefore, nothing for Horner to score, since, in the movies, timing and cues are everything, and the music has to match. Aliens

By the time James Horner was able to get to work, time was so short he had to record the film’s score in just four days. But the result was perhaps proof that sometimes the pressure of a deadline is good for the creative spirit because James Horner picked up his first Academy Award nomination for Aliens.

After the film was finished, tensions between the director and composer were so high, that Horner assumed he and Cameron would never work together again. And for ten years, they didn’t. Then, in 1995, James Cameron heard the score Horner wrote for Mel Gibson’s epic, Braveheart, and realized Horner was perfect for his own epic, Titanic.

On set, much of the cast and crew got a dose of what Horner had endured on Aliens. Director Cameron was known for his explosive temper and screaming rants. Actress Kate Winslet said, “There were times when I was genuinely frightened of him.” When the film was running long and well over budget, studio execs suggested a full hour of specific cuts, to which Cameron responded, “You want to cut my movie? You’re going to have to fire me! You want to fire me? You’re going to have to kill me!”

Composer James Horner, having learned from his experience on Aliens, waited until James Cameron was in an acceptable mood to present him with the now-classic song, “My Heart Will Go On.” Director Cameron wanted no songs in the film, particularly at the end, which he felt might be perceived as “going commercial.” After hearing the song several times, however, Cameron consented, and the rest is history. The song and the score won James Horner his first—and so far, only—Oscars.

Enjoy a tribute to James Horner on the next Reel Music, Friday, August 29, at 9pm, on 89.9 and WDAV.org. And to hear music from Aliens and other classic films, listen to this recent concert by the Brevard Sinfonia: