A com­poser of scores that made films soar

JAMES HORNER, 1953-2015

Los Angeles Times - - FRONT PAGE - By Steven Zeitchik and Josh Rot­ten­berg

When James Horner was work­ing on “Field of Dreams,” the 1989 base­ball clas­sic star­ring Kevin Cost­ner, lawyers for Uni­ver­sal Pic­tures called the com­poser ask­ing him to send in the film’s mu­sic.

There was only one prob­lem: Horner hadn’t writ­ten any of it down.

“I must have got­ten three dozen calls. My agent got calls. They thought I was play­ing a game,” Horner re­called in a 1998 in­ter­view for a be­hind- the- scenes video about the f ilm. “But there was no printed mu­sic at all,” he added. “It sounds crazy but to get that kind of free­dom and flu­id­ity in the mu­sic you can’t do it writ­ing all the notes down.”

That brand of mav­er­ick unortho­doxy char­ac­ter­ized Horner’s ca­reer, which over nearly four decades pro­vided the mu­si­cal ac­com­pa­ni­ment — and the emo­tional beats — to some of the most mem­o­rable works of mod­ern cin­ema.

The Os­car- win­ning com­poser died Mon­day when his sin­gle- en­gine S312 Tucano tur­bo­prop plane crashed in Los Padres Na­tional For­est near the bor­der of Ven­tura and Santa Bar­bara coun­ties.

“Our thoughts and prayers are with James’ fam­ily at this dif­fi­cult time, and also with the mil­lions of peo­ple around the world who loved his mu­sic,” Horner’s agents, Michael Gor­faine and Sa­muel Schwartz, said in a state­ment late Tues­day.

“We ex­press our love and sin­cere con­do­lences to James’ wife, Sara, and his two daugh­ters, Emily and Becky. And we take com­fort in the belief that in his last mo­ments, James was do­ing some­thing from which he de­rived such great joy,” the state­ment said.

The sin­gle- en­gine craft was one of sev­eral planes reg­is­tered to the 61- year- old f ilm com­poser, who was a f ly­ing en­thu­si­ast. The Fed­eral Avi­a­tion Ad­min­is­tra­tion and the Na­tional Trans­porta­tion Safety Board will in­ves­ti­gate the crash.

While work­ing on more than 100 movies, Horner earned six Grammy Awards and 10 Academy Award nom­i­na­tions, win­ning two Os­cars for “Titanic.” Horner’s mu­sic un­der­girds the soar­ing bat­tles of “Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan” and “Brave­heart,” the el­der- age melan­cho­lia of “Co­coon,” the pa­ter­nal nos­tal­gia of “Field of Dreams” and the Space Age tri­umphal­ism of “Apollo 13.”

““Khan. 48 Hrs. Some­thing Wicked. Co­coon. Aliens. Amer­i­can Tail. Wil­low. Field of Dreams. Glory,” nov­el­ist and screen­writer Seth Gra­hame- Smith said on Twit­ter. “James Horner helped score my child­hood.”

Born to Aus­trian Jewish par­ents in Los An­ge­les on Aug. 14, 1953, Horner be­gan play­ing pi­ano at the age of 5. Af­ter mov­ing to Eng­land, he stud­ied at Lon­don’s Royal Col­lege of Mu­sic. Horner ini­tially planned on a ca­reer in mu­sic academia un­til, in the 1970s, he agreed to write the score for an Amer­i­can Film In­sti­tute stu­dent f ilm and in­stantly fell in love with the form.

“It was like light­ning,” he told The Times in 1995. “To me it was no dif­fer­ent than Haydn be­ing kept as a court com­poser, be­ing paid, hav­ing the piece per­formed and given an or­ches­tra.”

He is best known, per­haps, for com­pos­ing the mu­sic for James Cameron’s “Titanic,” in­clud­ing co- writ­ing the penny whis­tle- fla­vored megahit “My Heart Will Go On” sung by Ce­line Dion.

In­deed, it is his col­lab­ora- tions with the ex­traor­di­nar­ily pop­u­lar Cameron — Horner also scored “Avatar” and “Aliens” — that not only earned Horner his Os­cars but gave him his largest au­di­ence. The “Titanic” or­ches­tral sound­track sold more than 27 mil­lion copies, while “My Heart Will Go On” be­came a pop cul­ture sta­ple and one of the best­selling sin­gles of all time.

Cameron said in an in­ter­view Tues­day that Horner’s suc­cess is partly at­trib­ut­able to his un­der­stand­ing of the ma­te­rial.

“He got in­side the movie. He re­ally un­der­stood the f ilm and brought to the f ilm what it re­quired mu­si­cally,” the di­rec­tor said. “‘ House of Sand and Fog’ doesn’t sound any­thing like ‘ Glory’ or ‘ Brave­heart.’ ”

Horner seemed at times able to span these styles in short suc­ces­sion, main­tain­ing a fever­ish work pace. In 1995, for in­stance, Horner had f ive movies hit the­aters — “Brave­heart,” “Casper,” “Balto,” “Ju­manji” and “Apollo 13.”

But de­spite his many main­stream Hol­ly­wood movies, the com­poser had found suc­cess by draw­ing from un­ex­pected inf lu­ences.

The Scot­tish epic “Brave­heart” fea­tures not only el­e­ments of Celtic mu­sic but also Ja­panese drums and Ti­betan drums, part of what Horner de­scribed as an ef­fort to cre­ate an Im­pres­sion­ist paint­ing.

To fash­ion a f it­ting sound­scape for the ex­trater­res­trial set­ting of “Avatar,” Horner worked with eth­no­mu­si­col­o­gist Wanda Bryant and em­ployed a blend of in­dige­nous in­stru­ments and odd vo­cal­iza­tions.

And in “Field of Dreams,” Horner took an un­con­ven­tional ap­proach that had him f ly­ing in a cou­ple of pan­pipe play­ers from Eng­land to per­form a key piece of the wist­ful score. It came at a

sig­nif­i­cant cost — and caused ex­ec­u­tives to aim a small panic at di­rec­tor Phil Alden Robin­son — but Horner be­lieved the mu­si­cians were the only ones who could ef­fec­tively pull off the notes.

“I think peo­ple hire me for the slightly weird an­gle that I bring,” Horner told The Times in 1995. “Part of the trick is keep­ing it sort of sim­ple; you have to give the im­pres­sion of not that much mu­sic play­ing when there’s re­ally a lot.”

Still, his myr­iad inf lu­ences haven’t al­ways sat well with the mu­sic com­mu­nity. Some crit­ics over the years have taken Horner to task for re­cy­cling the work of fa­mous clas­si­cal com­posers; a New Yorker piece shortly af­ter the re­lease of “Titanic” was par­tic­u­larly hard- hit­ting.

One of the projects Horner was re­cently work­ing on was the up­com­ing Na­tional Ge­o­graphic doc­u­men­tary “Liv­ing in the Age of Air­planes,” a look at the history of f ly­ing nar­rated by fel­low avi­a­tion en­thu­si­ast Har­ri­son Ford, who sur­vived a solo plane crash in Los An­ge­les in March.

Among Horner’s other re­cent projects was “The 33,” a sur­vival drama about the 2010 Chilean miner res­cue that will hit the­aters in Novem­ber, and “Southpaw,” a box­ing drama star­ing Jake Gyl­len­haal that opens in July.

In a state­ment to The Times on Tues­day, that f ilm’s di­rec­tor, An­toine Fuqua, de­scribed a com­poser who took a whole­sale ap­proach to his craft.

“James was not only a com­poser. He was a true f ilm­maker. He cared about the mu­sic, but also about the story as a whole,” Fuqua said.

Horner de­scribed that skill as re­quir­ing, at times, two com­pet­ing im­pulses — a need for con­trol and a more im­pro­vi­sa­tional sen­si­bil­ity.

“You have to be right on top of it so that you know how it’s all go­ing to work out,” he said of his ap­proach to scor­ing in the “Field of Dreams” video. “But you have to be f luid enough that things will change.”

Hal Garb AFP/ Getty I mages

JAMES HORNER holds Os­cars for the “Titanic” score and the song “My Heart Will Go On.”

Mark Mainz

LOVE OF BASE­BALL For “Field of Dreams,” com­poser James Horner, left, with Kevin Cost­ner, brought pan­pipe play­ers from

Eng­land to get the sound he was look­ing for.

Mike Elia­son Santa Bar­bara County Fire De­par t ment

A FIRE­FIGHTER walks near the charred de­bris of James Horner’s sin­gle- en­gine S312 Tucano tur­bo­prop plane, which crashed in Los Padres Na­tional For­est.

Kevin Win­ter

I NNO­VA­TIVE James Horner used non- typ­i­cal in­stru­ments like Ja­panese and Ti­betan drums.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.