Tragedy: My friend James Horner has died

Tragedy: My friend James Horner has died


norman lebrecht

June 23, 2015

I was shocked and saddened to hear that the film composer James Horner died today when the small plane he was piloting crashed in California, north of Santa Monica. James was 61 and probably the most respected composer in Hollywood ever since his triumph with Titanic.

We spent a morning together in St John’s Wood, discussing the music for the film of my novel The Song of Names, which he was contracted to compose. He talked of his studies in London at the Royal College of Music and his fondness for Abbey Road studios, where we wound up. He was particularly interested in the rhythms and minor keys of chassidic music and pursued me for more information via email. He had one of those email addresses that are like a bank vault code – only close associates got to keep it, and he changed it from time to time. We kept in touch.

I liked him enormously. The film went into pre-production hell from which it is only just emerging, but James kept his name on the project because he was keen to see where it would take him creatively. He was dismissive of Hollywood, sating John Williams and he were the only composers who still submitted a full score for a film. The new directors, James said, knoew nothing about music. All they wanted was a quick hit for an emotional scene, and onto the next. Like porn, he said. James Cameron he exempted from criticism: a civilised man, he called his film partner.

I am so sorry to lose this brilliant, engaging and intensely human colleague and friend.

Le nouveau monde<br />
the new world<br />
2006<br />
real : Terrence Malick<br />
James Horner</p>




  • Martha Hart says:

    Sad news indeed and a loss for the creative film world… the time we spend with friends is a wonderful gift. My condolences to yo and all who knew Maestro Horner.

  • Hank says:

    This is sad news indeed, and brings to mind what Grillparzer said of Schubert, “Here music has buried a treasure, but even fairer hopes.” At 61, Horner had many creative years ahead of him.

    I first became familiar with James Horner’s music via his score for “Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan”, which premiered when I was all of 15 – the LP still graces my collection.

    James Cameron’s selection of Horner to score Titanic was counterintuitive – an epic film would normally call for a pompous, bombastic score. But Horner’s scoring, which used an orchestra lightly enhanced by female chorus and synthesizers, was decidedly briskly paced and in major keys (until the ship hit the iceberg) and helped the three and a half hour film move along.

    Horner always brought a special touch to each film he scored, and was more adaptable than today’s composers who seem to deal only in percussive hammering and empty gimmicks. I’ll miss his works.

  • David B says:

    Sad news. Film music is one of the few things that keeps the faint pulse of orchestral music going in mass culture. Too bad, as Horner himself noted, film music is going in the direction of anonymous synthesizer and digitally-sampled “orchestra” tracks instead of theme-based scores.

  • Rick says:

    Thanks for your comments Mr. Lebrecht. As someone who works in film scoring here in Los Angeles I can vouch for your kind words. I only met Mr Horner a few times and was privileged to attend some of his sessions. A very kind and intelligent man. Someone who cared deeply about those composers who came before. Very rare in hollywood to meet someone who completely understood the art form he worked in. I met him shortly before I was heading to Europe to try my hand at conducting for the first time. He gave me some very encouraging words. Ran into him six months later and reminded him of our chat. Perhaps he was being polite but he claimed to remember me and inquired as to how my conducting turned out. I was honest and told him I’d leave it to more talented people as I was barely adequate. He laughed and invited me to another session after complimenting my efforts to broaden my understanding of music and the orchestra. I couldn’t attend those sessions and never saw him again. Glad I had the chance to meet a master. Hollywood will never see another James Horner and he will be sorely missed.

  • Jorge Grundman says:

    Rest in peace. One of my favourite composers. Do you remember Brainstorm (1983)?

    If not enjoy it

  • Travis Starr says:

    One of the last great film composers who actually composed an orchestra to it’s full potential. No matter what the film was, a grand epic like Titanic or a simple kid’s cartoon like An American Tail, a war drama like Glory or a silly yet moving ghost story like Casper, Horner was all heart and made every piece of music rocket through time and space with majestic love and wonder that his death will make the music of the world now sound a little empty. I sat up last night unable to sleep and listened to random Horner pieces, until I broke down and cried over this sudden loss. I don’t think I’ve ever cried over a celebrity’s death before.
    The first film I ever saw in the movie theater was An American Tail. Aside from it appealing to me as a kid film, the one true gem of the film which was so memorizing it was impossible to shake it off and had such a profound impact on the way I view movies was hearing James Horner’s score. Just listen to the first minute and fifteen seconds of the film’s opening main title score. In that minute and 15 seconds I was a child forever changed.
    I don’t know what else to say? A man I unfortunately never met, but whose music meant so much to me the idea of realizing there will not be another Horner score in the theater again kind of crushes my heart. James, your music made me cry, it sent chills up and down my spine, it made the visuals of the film echo with shock and awe, and it filled me with so much joy and wonder all I can do is thank you greatly for opening up my ears and allowing my love for movies to soar to unlimited possibilities.