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Farewell, James Horner

posted Jul 1, 2015, 1:07 PM by Kaya Savas

Kaya Savas (Founder/Executive Editor)

As this article posts, we've had time to reflect more on the loss of one of cinema's finest talents. James Horner means so much to so many, and by now you've probably read tribute upon tribute from people all over. But that's just how much the man and his music mean to people. From the people he worked with, his friends and family and of course the people he never met yet still affected deeply. 

I think every generation gets to a point where their idols and inspirations will begin to pass away, but it's always tragic when the death is untimely as it was with James. The man had so many more years left to live life and practice his craft, and that is the ultimate tragedy. For me personally, his music was a huge part of my childhood mainly because him and Don Bluth formed such a wonderful collaboration. Bluth's films were sort of the anchoring of my childhood animation. Sure there was Disney, but what Horner and Bluth accomplished with The Land Before Time and An American Tail were simply wonderful. His music echoed this rush of warmth that no other composer was able to capture. No matter what the film, Horner would give us this rush of love and nurturing through the music that would connect us to the characters, then he would take that away when the journey became scary, sad or dangerous. That stark juxtaposition made the emotions ring deeper than you'd ever thought possible. 

He was a bold and unique talent, the auteur of auteurs. Within a few seconds you immediately knew it was a James Horner score, and he bonded with so many great directors. His danger motif was so iconic it became something you'd look for in his scores like an easter egg. Then this man was so bold and good that he could take that motif and use it as a main theme like he did in Troy. He built his own sonic world, all his scores connected to one another and then to us. Nothing will replace James, but thankfully all the music lives forever. The one thing I regret is I never got a chance to speak to or meet him. I always imagined him to be a guest on Film.Music.Media one day, and that's something I wish I could have done. But his music will continue to inspire me to no end. Thanks, James Horner.

Koray Savas (Senior Writer: Articles, Reviews)

A lot has been said about James Horner ever since his untimely passing on Monday. Filmmakers and fans alike have all spoken out about his genius and important influence. Having often received criticism for his penchant for recycling material, Horner still prevailed as one of cinema’s great composers. For me, his most defining trait was his versatility and ability to service the picture. As he has stated himself, his goal was to always get to the heart of the film and focus on the emotion on screen. As a result, I don’t think I have ever heard a bad James Horner score. Sure, there are some less than stellar works, and his derivative nature isn’t necessarily something that should be admired, but at the very least his music achieved the basic function of supporting the films it was written for.

Then you have those special works that transcend the film and embody the dramatic sensibilities of it all. Putting aside his most popular scores for James Cameron, the Horner I fell in love with wrote for films like The New World, The Perfect Storm, and Enemy At The Gates. His work for Don Bluth were essential scores of my youth. There are the 80s classics such as Cocoon and Willow, with balls-to-the-wall actions scores like Commando and 48 Hrs. Star Trek II and III, a handful of scores for Ron Howard, and two of his best for Mel Gibson’s Braveheart and Apocalypto. The vast differences in genre and tone between these films is nothing short of immense, yet Horner was able to conjure up fantastic music that fit each one perfectly. The 80s and 90s were his domain, but even films as recent as The Amazing Spider-Man and 2010’s The Karate Kid were better off because of his music.

James Horner’s death is a great loss for both those that worked with him and those that were shaped by his music, but the legacy he left behind will serve as a testament to his unique talent and ability to affect our emotions and thoughts.

Michael Hollands (Writer: Articles, Reviews)

It is really difficult to express my feelings about a person I admire so much. When I heard the news that James Horner had died, I was shocked and I still cannot believe it actually happened. The music of this man means so much to me. I discovered his music at a very early age. When I was just ten years old, I saw the film Casper. While watching it, I became conscious of the musical score. It was so emotional and moving and simply a perfect match for the film. When I got the album, I listened to it several times right away and I greatly enjoy it to this day. Cues like “The Lighthouse-Casper & Cat” or especially the magnificent “One Last Wish” were so tremendously well written and James captured the essence of the story with his amazing score. No matter which movie he scored, I have always felt James knew exactly what to write. He used to right themes, the right instruments, the right sound, the right orchestration, everything seemed perfect. I love his music so much, because it is not just music that accompanies the film, but it reaches so much depth and emotion that very few composers can match. It is more than just a film score, to me, it takes on a life of its own. That is how brilliant this man was.

His ability to come up with the right theme and write an entire score was simply unique. Not only did he know how to write fantastic music but he knew a lot about movies, too. In order to support a film with a score, you have to understand the story and get inside the characters to tell the audience what to feel at any given moment and this is a gift of a brilliant composer. No matter which film he scored, no matter in which decade, you knew what you were gonna get from James Horner and that was quality. He could basically do any genre. He could, for instance, go the emotional way and write one of his all time greatest efforts “Legends Of The Fall”, a score that will always remain one of his crowning achievements. From the emotional main title “Legends Of The Fall” to “The Wedding” or the splendid “Alfred-Tristan-The Colonel- The Legend”, it hardly gets more emotional than this.

One year later, he was asked to write music for Braveheart. A score, considered by many, including myself, to be one of his very best ever. Watching the film and experiencing the marriage of visuals and music, has been absolutely mind-blowing. Pieces like “The Secret Wedding”, “For The Love Of A Princess” or “Freedom-The Execution-Bannockburn” are among the cues I listened to the most and I know them by heart. This has been and will always be a textbook example of how to perfectly support a filmmaker's vision. His 90s output was sensational. From Braveheart to Legends Of The Fall to Apollo 13 to Casper to Jumanji to The Spitfire Grill and of course Titanic. There was so much magic. No matter how many films he scored in all those different genres, I got the impression that James especially liked writing scores like Balto, An American Tail or one of the very best scores in the history of movie music The Land Before Time. The entire album is fantastic, but it is “The Rescue-Discovery Of The Great Valley” that I always loved the most. It is hard to pick a favorite score, when a composer like James Horner has given us so much to remember. His classic scores like Krull, Star Trek II - The Wrath Of Khan and Star Trek III - The Search For Spock, Aliens, Titanic, Braveheart, The Rocketeer, An American Tail, Apollo 13, The Man Without A Face, Glory, Willow, A Beautiful Mind and so many more, will always be remembered by his fans and colleagues alike.

I could write for days about how much I love his music and how much I really admire James Horner. I simply look up to him and to me one thing is for sure. He was not only one of the best composers of his but of any generation. A composer that knew how to serve the film and give it the score it simply deserved. There were no boundaries in terms of genre and or musical approach. He could tackle anything. His way of handling the orchestra was incredible. He could write such lush and romantic themes and at the same time he could take just a few notes and it was simply a great experience. He was a master of orchestral music, wrote beautiful parts for choir, incorporated solo voices and he also knew how to properly incorporate electronics. He was a true master of music and an absolute genius. In more than 35 years of writing music, he delivered some of the very best scores of all time. No matter which decade, James gave us stunning music and his unparalleled skill and dedication to the film and music world will be remembered for eternity. James Horner leaves a great legacy and I will treasure his music forever....!!

Devon Byers (Writer, Articles, Reviews)

I was ten years old when Titanic was released in theatres. My film appreciation and film score love were quite young at that point (as was I, obviously), but I remember that score and the power it had in the movie. I ended up seeing that film 4 times in theaters, and was still awed by the power of the music at every viewing. My dad purchased the score for me not soon after. It was that score, amongst a select few, that I began to notice the art of film scoring and power it had in a movie. It was amazing to see the soundtrack be loved by so many people who had normally not listened to film scores. In addition to "My Heart Will Go On", there was even a music video for the "Southampton" cue from the score they would play on MTV. While that was my introduction to Horner, my love for his music grew, as my love of film scores grew. Over the years I have very specific memories of some of my favorite score cues from him. Here's just a short list below.


The wonder of the ship and our hero's stories is brought to life with this cue. I remember when I was irritated later as a snarky teenager at the use of synths and a synth choir here, but it creates a magical quality and something quite unexpected, just like Titanic itself.


I was introduced to this score before I saw the film in an editing class in college. Someone used it in an exercise and talked about why he chose this theme (as many trailers had) and how exciting the music was in the edit, especially in being able to have cuts correspond to the amazing percussion hits. Once I finally did see the film, the tension he captured in the scene was amazing, but it once again showed me how his music was always listenable outside of the film it supported.


The circling melody and Charlotte Church's voice created such a beautiful representation of John Nash's mind and the mechanics of his thoughts. The accompanying song is also fantastic.


I always loved the part of this score, as the theme soars as Jake discovers the new world around him so suddenly and the chaotic beauty of this new place. Horner was also able to enhance the world of the film by infusing a sense of history in the use of the choir and singers. The music took you to a new world just as much as the film did.


We watched this film in US History class in high school, and beyond the excellent filmmaking, Horner kept the emotional through line of the film with this stirring and moving score.


As current scores for smaller dramatic films seem to become more minimalistic, this beautiful and moving score displays how much a full orchestra and melody can add to a film. This beautiful piece accompanies the end of the film, and perfect captures the beauty and darkness that befall the main characters.


As with many Horner cues, this one always gives me chills.The bittersweet lullaby accompanies Caspers wish to be human for one night, and adds gravitas to the emotional journey of our CGI hero.

TROY (theme)

While I'm not a fan of the film, this score provides the epic scale the film needs. Horner had an insanely small window to produce the score and knocks it out of the park.

Speaking of TROY, in my film score collector search, I came across a wonderful surprise in the recording sessions for the Troy score. They feature Horner giving instruction and joking around with the orchestra. Some of the audio is slightly distorted and heard much better with headphones, but please enjoy and hear what we will miss about Horner, his beautiful music and the passion for his art.




R.I.P Maestro Horner. Thank you for your work.