Around the time I started writing in high school, I became a fan of film composer James Horner, a man most of you probably best associate with the film Titanic. While I can’t remember for certain which of his movie scores I first bought, odds favor it was Star Trek II: The Wrath of Kahn. There’s no telling how many times I’ve listened to that score. No matter how much Jerry Goldsmith might be the composer most associated with Star Trek (and deservedly so with five Star Trek films to his credits), I still believe Horner’s score to Star Trek II from way back in 1982 remains the best of all the films.
I’m going down memory lane here, because James Horner died on Monday. Even though I never met him, it saddens me, because he provided musical inspiration to a lot of my writing in high school and college (and beyond). A few of those ideas would go on to get published in vastly different forms much later in my adulthood. Among those short stories, I include The Deadlands and Crossfire. I still listen to his music quite a bit, even though my tastes have gone on to include composers like Marco Beltrami, Hans Zimmer, and David Arnold.
As a tribute of sorts, I want to post some of Horner’s music for you to enjoy. I’ve already mentioned Star Trek II, so here’s one of the really kickin’ songs from it, Surprise Attack. This accompanied Kahn’s first attack on the Enterprise.
My favorite score by Horner is one of his lesser known credits. He provided the music for the 1992 film Sneakers which starred Robert Redford and Sidney Poitier. The film was suspenseful, packed with some of the best one-liners ever, and provided a frighteningly accurate prediction of the dangers posed by the information age which was in its infancy. While Horner employs a lot of his common themes within this score, he added a little something different by bringing in saxophonist Branford Marsalis. My favorite songs from this album are Too Many Secrets and Cosmo…Old Friend. I came across an article posted today on Slate by composer Nicholas Britell who does a fantastic job explaining what makes this score Horner’s best.
In 1995, Horner composed the scores to two films that both earned him Academy Award nominations, Bravehart and Apollo 13. It’s not a stretch to think he was cheated out of an Oscar that year, because the two nominations split his votes. Of the two, I think I enjoyed Braveheart more. I can point to several favorites in that score, and among them would be The Princess Pleads for Wallace’s Life. It’s haunting, a quality Horner had a skill to evoke better than most composers.
I could post a dozen videos with Horner’s music and still have plenty left worth sharing, but I’ll stop at the hat trick. Horner might have lost out on an Oscar for Braveheart and Apollo 13, but he made up for it two years later with Titanic.
I’m sad at his passing, but I’ll be happily playing his music for many decades to come.
James Roy Horner
August 14, 1953 – June 22, 2015