Wednesday, June 24, 2015


It is now confirmed that famed and infamous Hollywood composer James Horner has died in a plane crash. Horner was 61.

I have an ambivalent relationship with Horner's music. On the one hand, the man was capable of weaving together seemingly disparate strands of power and subtlety into a coherent, harmonious whole. You can hear both of these dynamics at work in the scores Horner prepared for, say, "Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan" or, much later, for "Apollo 13." On the other hand, Horner was a shameless self-cannibalizer—brazenly recycling themes, tropes, rhythms, and leitmotifs from previous movie scores in what can only be interpreted as sheer creative laziness. I heard the Klingon theme running through Horner's score for Arnold Schwarzenegger's "Commando," for example, as well as through James Cameron's "Aliens." Parts of the "Genesis Countdown" theme from "Star Trek II" were audible in Horner's music for Ron Howard's "Cocoon." The list of sins goes on.

But when Horner produced original material, it was undeniably majestic, and other composers seemed to crib from him, as I'm pretty sure Richard Gibbs did in crafting some of his themes for the "Battlestar Galactica" miniseries. Gibbs was definitely channeling Horner's "Braveheart." "Apollo 13," mentioned above, is some of Horner's best and most inspiring work. I have the album, which sits alongside his scores for "Star Trek II" and "Star Trek III." The "Brainstorm" soundtrack features moments of mystery and glory. The score for "Titanic" was, of course, memorable.

And now, it seems, James Horner is dead.

Despite the man's creative flaws, he was a composer that I had grown up with, whose music marked me deeply. I'm only a couple degrees of separation away from him, too: my brother Sean, a professional cellist, has an extremely talented violist friend named Katie who actually worked with Horner on one or more of his film scores. I wonder what that must have been like. But all of this is to say that I'll miss the man and his music. Very much.

RIP, Mr. Horner.


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