James Horner 1953-2015
June 23, 2015 12:07 AM   Subscribe

Academy Award-winning composer James Horner died in a plane crash Monday. He was known for the scores to Titanic (the soundtrack for which sold 27 million copies), Braveheart, Apollo 13, and A Beautiful Mind among many others.

Horner will undoubtedly be remembered most for his work on Titanic's "My Heart Will Go On", for which he shared an Oscar, and that film's Oscar-winning score, but his career brought many other highlights. Among them:
"For the Love of a Princess (From "Braveheart")" and "Braveheart: End Credits" (complete score)

The score to Glory: Soundtrack Suite, "An Epitaph To War", "Charging Fort Wagner" (complete score)

The score to Apollo 13: "All Systems Go / The Launch" (complete score)

"Early Victories" and Josh And Vinnie from Searching for Bobby Fischer (complete score)

"Epilogue - End Title" from Star Trek II: The Wrath Of Khan (complete score)
A YouTube user has posted many many more for those looking for the really deep dive.
posted by zachlipton (84 comments total) 18 users marked this as a favorite
 
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posted by Meatafoecure at 12:09 AM on June 23, 2015


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posted by J.K. Seazer at 12:13 AM on June 23, 2015 [4 favorites]


I'll add that appreciation of Horner's work has been controversial in some critical circles, especially due to his tendency to reuse and adapt musical themes and techniques both between his many scores and from other composers. For instance, there's a pretty obvious lift (even TV Tropes noticed so it's legit) from Orff's Carmina Burana into Horner's "Charging Fort Wagner".

Alex Ross discussed this in the New Yorker in 1998 following the record sales of the Titanic soundtrack, essentially crying for the state of film music if Titanic won the Oscar. Film Score Monthly has an incredibly extensive series of letters on Horner's work and borrowing habits, which I haven't finished reading yet, but they include some thoughts from people who knew and worked with him along with some of his detractors.
posted by zachlipton at 12:20 AM on June 23, 2015 [5 favorites]




Khan is bloody great though.
posted by Artw at 12:22 AM on June 23, 2015 [16 favorites]


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posted by condour75 at 12:30 AM on June 23, 2015


Well, this is terrible news. He was pretty young, and this kind of death is always such a shock. My best wishes go to his friends and family and professional partners during this time of sudden loss for all of them.

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posted by hippybear at 12:34 AM on June 23, 2015 [1 favorite]


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posted by Jubey at 12:42 AM on June 23, 2015


Not to trample on the man's grave, and I really do appreciate his works (and classical music has a long tradition of appropriation), but for a stunning example of borrowing in Horner's work, compare this portion of the choral theme from Glory here with this theme from Prokofiev's score for Ivan the Terrible.
posted by zachlipton at 12:58 AM on June 23, 2015 [5 favorites]


Bishop's Countdown and the main theme to Krull satisfied my thirst for thrilling sci-fi themes in the 80s.
posted by Quaversalis at 1:15 AM on June 23, 2015 [2 favorites]



posted by pjern at 1:19 AM on June 23, 2015


I'll always remember him for the Rocketeer soundtrack, which Disney reused relentlessly in trailers for other films.
posted by Muttoneer at 1:24 AM on June 23, 2015 [8 favorites]


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posted by Mister Moofoo at 1:44 AM on June 23, 2015


I remember being enraptured as a kid by the score of Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan -- it had really exciting chords, tritone modulations I'd never heard before. It really influenced my sense of tonality.

And Aliens -- such a gut-wrenching, exciting score.

Not to endorse plagiarism necessarily, but I probably would never have investigated Prokofiev had Horner not lifted Romeo and Juliet for Star Trek III.

RIP James.
posted by TheAlarminglySwollenFinger at 1:50 AM on June 23, 2015 [11 favorites]


Oh, yes, the Aliens soundtrack is great. Matches the suspense perfectly.

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posted by zardoz at 2:07 AM on June 23, 2015


there's a pretty obvious lift (even TV Tropes noticed so it's legit) from Orff's Carmina Burana into Horner's "Charging Fort Wagner".

On listening to that, though, he's definitely kept the Carmina Burana-ness, which, no doubt, he inherited from the temp track, but created a piece which is, in terms of the notes and rhythms used, quite different. I presume that's what the director asked for. It's something that requires a not inconsiderable amount of skill.
posted by Grangousier at 2:11 AM on June 23, 2015 [2 favorites]


I remember when I first watched Wolfen being surprised at how much the score resembled Aliens... In one of the extras on the Aliens Quadrillogy Horner said he was really pushed for time to get the score done (due to Cameron spending so much time on the post-production). Still it's kinda shocking just how similar they are.

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posted by fearfulsymmetry at 2:26 AM on June 23, 2015


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He was incredibly prolific, and by all accounts a good guy to work for - even if he wasn't that great at crediting his employees for the work they created.
posted by Anoplura at 2:49 AM on June 23, 2015



posted by Smart Dalek at 2:57 AM on June 23, 2015



posted by Gelatin at 3:12 AM on June 23, 2015


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Definitely not the most consistently original composer, but I found most of his soundtracks very pleasing. Aliens is a great soundtrack, but I think my favorite is probably the Sneakers soundtrack.
posted by selfnoise at 3:40 AM on June 23, 2015 [11 favorites]


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posted by doctornecessiter at 3:40 AM on June 23, 2015


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posted by gauche at 3:59 AM on June 23, 2015


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posted by AlonzoMosleyFBI at 4:12 AM on June 23, 2015


I had the Aliens score CD with me at summer camp in the early 90s...A camper must have brought little portable speakers, because at some point I played "Bishop's Countdown" not through headphones and within earshot of a couple of my bunkmates, who then demanded to hear it over and over again. The following summer I was back at the same camp again, I visited one of the other cabins and one of the guys from my cabin the previous year was in there...The first thing he asked me: "Did you bring that song again?? Bring it over, let's play it!"

This is pretty shocking...RIP.
posted by doctornecessiter at 4:19 AM on June 23, 2015 [2 favorites]


Battle in the Mutara Nebula still gives me goosebumps.

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posted by whuppy at 4:28 AM on June 23, 2015 [1 favorite]


A favorite guilty pleasure, Legends of the Fall, melodramatic story of three brothers all in love with the same woman, made more pleasurable by Horner's romantic soundtrack.

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posted by marsha56 at 4:34 AM on June 23, 2015 [4 favorites]



posted by Halloween Jack at 4:44 AM on June 23, 2015


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posted by grumpybear69 at 4:46 AM on June 23, 2015


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posted by Iridic at 4:48 AM on June 23, 2015


Another small Horner anecdote: My brother and I saw Sneakers together in the theater in 1992...When it was over, he asked me where Branford Marsalis was in the movie. "Well, he was all over the soundtrack," I told him...My bro had sort-of caught that Marsalis was credited at the beginning, but he thought it was as an actor (we'd been fans of his brief acting role in Throw Momma From The Train so it wasn't so outlandish). He'd missed that the acting credits were over and "featuring Branford Marsalis" had appeared after James Horner's composer credit. What a fantastic score that was.

Incidentally, while we're naming favorites, I heard his Cocoon main theme on a compilation album long before I finally saw the movie, and in my opinion the movie as a whole doesn't quite achieve the wonderful melancholy of that piece on its own.
posted by doctornecessiter at 5:00 AM on June 23, 2015 [2 favorites]


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The Legends of the Fall soundtrack is one of my favorites.
posted by JohnFromGR at 5:01 AM on June 23, 2015 [1 favorite]


A favorite guilty pleasure, Legends of the Fall , melodramatic story of three brothers all in love with the same woman, made more pleasurable by Horner's romantic soundtrack.

I had a housemate in college who would only study to that score. No matter how much other James Horner I'd try to introduce her to, not to say that other stuff was better, but just to help expand her study-music repertoire, she wouldn't have it...It was Legends of the Fall or it was nothing.

(I actually had almost the same dilemma with another housemate at the same time, trying to introduce Randy Newman's orchestral movie scores to a fan of his 70s-80s pop music.)
posted by doctornecessiter at 5:08 AM on June 23, 2015 [2 favorites]


Just a note about how movie scoring works: the director says, "For this scene, I want a piece that sounds like (insert famous classical piece or composer here)." The original composer working on 2001 put himself out of a job by finally telling Kubrick, "If you're so adamant, why don't you just use the original pieces you're telling me to emulate?" So Kubrick did.
posted by jabah at 5:12 AM on June 23, 2015 [12 favorites]


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posted by allthinky at 5:25 AM on June 23, 2015


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posted by lucien_reeve at 5:27 AM on June 23, 2015


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posted by Cash4Lead at 5:36 AM on June 23, 2015


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posted by Fleebnork at 5:47 AM on June 23, 2015


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posted by grimmelm at 5:53 AM on June 23, 2015


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posted by Foosnark at 6:17 AM on June 23, 2015


He borrowed with style, and in death from John Denver.

Borrowed, schmarrowed, I like what he did with a lot of what he output.
posted by tilde at 6:27 AM on June 23, 2015 [1 favorite]


I photographed James Horner for a magazine interview in the 80s in a very nice house in Chelsea, London, probably rented for him while he worked on a movie in England. He was sitting at a piano while I photographed him and he started to play this really beautiful piece. It had a haunting melody, drama, light and shade and as I listened I could almost see the movie running alongside it. When he stopped playing I said "That's lovely, James. What movie is it from?" and he laughed and said "I was just making that up as I went along.".
posted by w0mbat at 6:31 AM on June 23, 2015 [23 favorites]


There are several ways to judge how well a film score composer does his job, but to me the most important one is that the music supports the film and helps the audience understand a scene's emotional underpinnings. Seeing as how the end of Field of Dreams always leaves me choked up, I would say James Horner was very good at what he did.
posted by underthehat at 6:36 AM on June 23, 2015 [2 favorites]



posted by numaner at 6:40 AM on June 23, 2015


His music is like the soundtrack to crying and victory and the emotions in between. He was great at capturing those emotions simply. RIP, sir.
posted by resurrexit at 6:53 AM on June 23, 2015


Horner was my absolute favorite film score composer. I don't even mind the self appropriation, especially since the cues he would reuse were some of my favorites. If I knew more about music I could describe them, but Apollo 13, ST II, and Sneakers all use some of the same great cues.

Sneakers is my favorite movie, and a big part of that is his score.

I would love it if Giacchino would "appropriate" some of Horner's Star Trek work in the next film!
posted by Fleeno at 6:53 AM on June 23, 2015 [4 favorites]


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Titanic was released when I was 11 years old, so the mania hit me like a laser-guided missile. I was obsessed with "My Heart Will Go On,' of course, but repeatedly listening to the Titanic score began my exploration and enjoyment of film music, which has lasted far longer than my preteen crush on Leo DiCaprio.

Later on, working to the score from A Beautiful Mind could magically turn college studying into IMPORTANT LIFE ALTERING GENIUS WORK, so Horner is probably responsible for a couple points on my GPA as well.
posted by castlebravo at 6:58 AM on June 23, 2015


After going over my favorite Horner scores today, I realized I don't even own Rocketeer. Unfortunately, it doesn't seem to be available, physically or otherwise, except for a $63 copy on Amazon.
posted by Fleeno at 7:01 AM on June 23, 2015


It's interesting that the guy has sucha rep for borrowing when I've always thought of him as a composer who didn't make that generic Hollywood soundtrack sound, knowing him as I do from his Aliens and Wrath of Khan soundtracks. Aliens in particular is just masterful, perfectly in tune with the film in a way that enhances rather than being overbearing, while being noticeable and delightful all on its own, which is the holy grail of soundtrack work.
posted by Palindromedary at 7:03 AM on June 23, 2015


It's always fascinating to find out there was someone specifically responsible for a major portion of the background music in your life without realizing it for years.

Rest in Peace, movie music score man!

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posted by surazal at 7:05 AM on June 23, 2015


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posted by Fizz at 7:16 AM on June 23, 2015


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He did The Wrath of Khan, Aliens, and Glory, so I will no longer hold Avatar and Titanic against him.

(Still, it would have been appropriate had he sacrificed his parachute for the woman he loved, wouldn't it?!)
posted by markkraft at 7:26 AM on June 23, 2015 [1 favorite]


I have him playing now. I went around my office this morning explaining to everyone how we'd lost one of the best composers in Hollywood and received generally blank stares until I started listing off the movies he'd worked on. Music can play such an instrumental role in a film, but it's incredible how many people rarely keep track of who's responsible for it.

We have some good up and comers, but he will definitely be missed.

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posted by Atreides at 7:33 AM on June 23, 2015 [1 favorite]


More on his Sneakers score here.
posted by Xavier Xavier at 7:34 AM on June 23, 2015 [2 favorites]


You can see an interview with James about the scoring of Khan here, where he talks about hanging around the Star Trek I scoring sessions with Jerry Goldsmith which led to his first big break.
posted by RobotVoodooPower at 7:42 AM on June 23, 2015 [2 favorites]


This made a brief blip appearance on my Facebook feed on Sunday. Talk about unfortunate timing.
posted by Lucinda at 8:00 AM on June 23, 2015


For instance, there's a pretty obvious lift (even TV Tropes noticed so it's legit) from Orff's Carmina Burana into Horner's "Charging Fort Wagner"...

Not to trample on the man's grave, and I really do appreciate his works (and classical music has a long tradition of appropriation), but for a stunning example of borrowing in Horner's work, compare this portion of the choral theme from Glory here with this theme from Prokofiev's score for Ivan the Terrible.


Eh, this is stuff that modern composers do all the time. Compare Darth Vader's Imperial March (by John Williams) with Chopin's Piano Sonata No. 2, for instance.

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posted by a lungful of dragon at 8:21 AM on June 23, 2015 [5 favorites]


Oh hey, he did The Land Before Time! I loved that movie as a kid, and the music was a big part of that. (I even liked the Diana Ross song at the end, and as a rule I never enjoyed Oscar-bait-end-credit-ballads.)

This review of one of his last jobs, Wolf Totem, almost functions as a unconscious obituary:
Horner, of course, has found himself at odds with Hollywood in the 2010's, his style of music not considered by some studios and filmmakers as viable in this era (a notion that The Amazing Spider-Man in 2012 should completely dispel for those paying attention). Nevertheless, his musical capabilities and sensibilities have not been diluted over that time, and Wolf Totem wipes away any worries that the composer's collectors may have about his relevance after awkward departures from Romeo & Juliet and Enders Game in the preceding years. For Horner, this assignment was a grand opportunity to return to the concept of "expansive" film scoring, allowing broad strokes of melody from a large ensemble to convey not only scope and grandeur, but the intimacy of a heart-warming story. While the result may not be as heavily orchestrated as something like Legends of the Fall, it is still a vintage Horner entry in this sub-genre that is undeniably attractive in a swoon of nostalgia.
posted by Iridic at 8:36 AM on June 23, 2015


My father and I both love the Legends of the Fall soundtrack. We've spent hours and hours in my dad's shop "puttering" listening to the soundtracks from Last of the Mohicans, Rob Roy, and Legends of the Fall. When my dad is long gone and I'm an old woman, I will hear that soundtrack and think of how many times while doing this my father has turned to me, removed the pipe from his mouth, and said, "Well, daughter dear, what do you think of the world?" and I replied, "It's pretty fine, Daddy, it's pretty fine." But today I'm thinking of how at some point we always stop working to sit in lawnchairs in front of the shop so as to watch the sun set over the Wyoming prairie, with the long shadows cast from the fence and the grasses reaching towards the mountains, absolutely quiet except for occasional meadowlark singing from a fence post and the soundtrack playing behind us, and my dad will always say with absolute awe at some point, "Somebody, with their brain, managed to capture all of this with music."

Thank you, James Horner.
posted by barchan at 8:41 AM on June 23, 2015 [9 favorites]


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posted by Going To Maine at 9:11 AM on June 23, 2015


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posted by Faintdreams at 9:46 AM on June 23, 2015


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posted by oceanjesse at 10:04 AM on June 23, 2015


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posted by scaryblackdeath at 10:05 AM on June 23, 2015


Oh no. :(
posted by Salieri at 10:11 AM on June 23, 2015


Krull will forever be his most magnificent score to me. That it is mostly ignored by the news outlets doing their top ten lists to celebrate his life is a travesty.
posted by linux at 10:32 AM on June 23, 2015 [2 favorites]


It has to be said, most of what I like of his is at the trashy end of the spectrum. Battle Beyond The Stars is great.
posted by Artw at 10:34 AM on June 23, 2015 [1 favorite]


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posted by seyirci at 10:53 AM on June 23, 2015


His music added so very much to the movies he scored, but rarely took center stage.

He died far too young.

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posted by dbiedny at 11:26 AM on June 23, 2015 [1 favorite]




James was by far my favorite artist of all time. He had a profound influence over my music and how I experienced the stories of my youth. He was one of the greats who inspired me to become a composer myself. Dedicating my life to music would only be a fraction of the thanks I owe him. He will always be a part of my music and our shared cultural history. Wherever you are, James, play on.

My Impromptu Tribute
posted by Markarian at 12:02 PM on June 23, 2015 [3 favorites]


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posted by DevilsAdvocate at 1:58 PM on June 23, 2015


For me, James Horner was really a cornerstone of the creative explosion that 80s cinema was: I always relished the fact his 'in' was fringe, better-than-it-should-be schlock like Wolfen, but by god his music utterly underpinned Wrath of Khan and probably directly saved the Star Trek franchise in the process.

Now and again in later years you'd glimpse that same, innate understanding of film and on occasion he could flip the most mediocre of scenes into something magisterial. Too young, of course, but his legacy will endure.
posted by specialbrew at 2:36 PM on June 23, 2015 [2 favorites]




So I've decided to kick off Week of Horner on my YT channel. Don't know if this is the right place to link it, but I just wanted to share with others who treasured his music. Starting today, I'll be doing some solo piano impressions from his various scores.

Impressions From Braveheart
posted by Markarian at 3:35 PM on June 23, 2015


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Dark DIscovery from Aliens is burned into my brain.
posted by smidgen at 3:52 PM on June 23, 2015


Hells yes.
posted by Artw at 4:30 PM on June 23, 2015 [1 favorite]


🎼🚀
posted by clavdivs at 4:47 PM on June 23, 2015 [1 favorite]


His soundtrack to Glory was heartbreakingly beautiful. And so stirringly American, if that makes sense, similar to Aaron Copeland. Thank you, James Horner, for your work.
posted by It's a Parasox at 6:00 PM on June 23, 2015


He will be remembered along with some of the greats of film composers like Steiner, Goldsmith and John Barry, just to name a few. We have lost a true giant.
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posted by Seekerofsplendor at 7:05 PM on June 23, 2015


KRULL, DAMMIT. KRULL.
posted by linux at 8:58 PM on June 23, 2015 [1 favorite]


I appreciate as much as anyone the charges of self-borrowing and plagiarism that Horner was plagued with throughout his career - but those film score guys - they under a lot of pressure - even the greatest of them all, Bernard Herrmann lifted. I mean, growing up the Vertigo soundtrack was my greatest all time astonishing piece of film music. But then I heard that Wagner. What? Yep, the Herrmann had a listen to Tristian and Isolde.

My favorite ‘lift’ of all time though is John Williams Jaws theme. Made him a star. Hit the big time. But a few years earlier there was a middle-brow picture that did a lot of business called In the Heat of the Night - score by Quincy Jones. And in that show gosh darn it there’s a couple of scenes where the evil ‘good ol boys’ of the south drive through the frame in a menacing fashion in their giant 1950’s/60’s car. And when they do there’s a distinctive ‘dah-na…dah-na’ riff - what the Jaws theme would become. And what do we see when the good ol boys drive through in their big ol’ car? THE GIANT FINS of the vehicle.

We’re all just doing the best we can.

Horner will be missed.
posted by jettloe at 9:17 PM on June 23, 2015 [4 favorites]


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posted by datarose at 9:48 PM on June 23, 2015


Wow jetloe! Awesome comment. I learned something today. Can't wait to go back and rewatch both movies.
posted by marsha56 at 11:58 PM on June 23, 2015


Listening to Wrath of Khan right now and holy hell is it still go great. It's so integral to my memory of that film that I can see the action play out in my head just listening to the music.

I had no idea how many essential soundtracks he'd written until this thread. It's hard to imagine that many of them would have done nearly as well with out his contributions.
posted by octothorpe at 4:41 AM on June 24, 2015 [1 favorite]


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