Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Remembering Mr. Horner

Two nights ago, I was saddened to read the news that legendary film composer James Horner had died in a tragic plane crash. I wrote on my social media feeds that the music world was less for having lost such a masterful talent. I write here to attempt to pay tribute to one of my favorite contemporary composers.

When I was 13, my parents took me to see Braveheart (with a brother who was five years older than me, I grew up pretty fast). Suffice it to say, at 13, I had never before seen a movie like it. I was completely blown away by the size of it, the power of it, the Arthurian-style story and the depth of meaning & philosophy the film conveyed.

And it was just as impossible to be unmoved by the music.

Horner's magnificent score for Braveheart served to lift and further empower an already outstanding movie. He not only bolstered Mel Gibson's grand vision, he encapsulated it within the music. He captured the very heart of Braveheart with his concepts of melody, his instrumentation, and his amazing sense of texture and vibe. He somehow managed to pack Scotland, warfare, romance, heartbreak, heroism, freedom, and sacrifice inside the very notes he wrote and to this day the music stands as some of the most powerful and well-loved Horner ever conceived.


The 13-year-old me was clued into the music of James Horner that day, and it was a clue I've followed ever since. Aliens. Apollo 13. Glory. Deep Impact. A Beautiful Mind. Titanic. Legends of the Fall. Clear and Present Danger. Quite simply put, Horner wrote some of the greatest soundtrack music in the history of motion pictures. He was a master at using music to make films better (even if, as with Braveheart, the film was already great), and sometimes, as is the case with Titanic, stole the show by writing music that wound up becoming the very best part of the film.

Horner's melodies were beautiful constructs, sometimes heartbreaking, sometimes haunting, often epic and most always memorable. His soundtracks were ones you could (and wanted to) sing, and yet he always managed to retain certain elemental characteristics of the films within the music itself. The militaristic drums in Aliens; the Scottish whistles and pipes in Braveheart; the turn-of-the-century frontier at the heart of Legends of the Fall. As Edward Zwick, the director who hired Horner for both Legends of the Fall and Glory put it, the goal of the film composer is to "give voice to [the] inner life [and] soul... of film". And this is exactly what James Horner spent his career doing: uncovering and displaying the soul of the stories the films were made to tell.

I will always appreciate and love the music James Horner brought into my life and I love the movies he worked on that much more for his contributions to them. So, here's to the memory of a man who's work will (and should) always be remembered and emulated by those who come after him: it's been nothing less than a privilege to get to listen to such wondrous and unforgettable music.


(photo credit)

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