Remembering Film Composer James Horner

James Horner (1953-2015)
James Horner (1953-2015)


Edit the music out of your favorite scene on the big screen and you’ll quickly understand how much a film’s emotional impact is tied to its score.

For nearly fifty years, the soaring, lushly romantic music of James Horner has added emotional punch to countless Hollywood blockbusters including Field of Dreams (1989), Apollo 13 (1995), Titanic (1997), The Perfect Storm (2000), A Beautiful Mind (2001), and Avatar (2009). Horner passed away suddenly on Monday following the crash of his turboprop plane in Southern California’s Los Padres National Forest. He was 61 years old.

James Horner was a master of expansive themes which reveled in the rich, vibrant sound of a full orchestra. We hear wide open ocean vistas in the main theme of Titanic, perhaps his most famous work. But there’s also an intimate side to the theme. Before blossoming into its ultimate soaring romanticism, the Titanic theme opens with alternating descending half steps which seem to evoke the initial tentative friendship of the main characters, Jack and Rose:

Horner’s music for the 1998 science fiction disaster film Deep Impact plays on the expressive power of irony. The film’s plot centers around efforts to deflect a seven-mile-wide comet on a collision course with Earth. While the worst is avoided, a fragment of the comet creates a 3,500 foot tsunami in the Atlantic Ocean. Much of the film’s atmosphere alternates between suspense and resignation. Horner’s noble and majestic main theme, heard towards the end of this clip, adds a powerful new emotional layer. Ultimately, it changes our perception of the film’s dramatic situation:

Throughout the years James Horner gave interviews offering a glimpse into the process of film scoring (watch here, here, and here).