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James Horner 1953-2015

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Heartbreaking news, and more deeply affecting than I might have thought. You kind of prepare yourself for this with someone of Williams' age, but I never considered what it would be like to mourn the loss of James Horner. He had become one of my top two or three absolute favorites, particularly over the last five years or so. Even in his most routine scores, there was always something to enjoy. And at best, he soared to heights few could match. I'm just grateful there are still a good number of his works I have yet to discover.

Listening to some of his many great pieces today has been a comfort, as has reading the words in this thread.

Rest in peace, Mr. Horner, and thank you.

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I've been reading this thread all day taking solace in everyone's thoughts and recollections on one of our best composers. Reading the headline was a truly shocking experience and required genuine double-take due to myself being completely oblivious to his piloting experiences. "That can't be him, he's a composer not a pilot", I thought to myself.

Growing up in the '80s and '90s and becoming interested in film music there are two guys that for me in my lifetime dominate the category of 'great films with great film scores'. They are John Williams and James Horner. Following Willow and Field of Dreams, that mid '90s period saw a series of scores; Legends of the Fall, Braveheart, Titanic, The Perfect Storm, that cut straight to the emotional core of the films they were in and in the process Horner had created music that could get my tear ducts activated both inside and outside of the movies. I thank him for this and though there will be no more creation from him, I will continue to enjoy his works that I have cherished over the years and no doubt I will find some new gems that I haven't as of yet had the good sense to listen to.

RIP James Horner.

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24 hours later, this news is still sinking in. Like others, I was keeping vigil, hoping that he wasn't involved in the plane crash. But with little in the way of updates, it became grimmer by the hour. It's all the more tragic because he still had many more years of creativity in the making. The passing of like Goldsmith, Rosenman, Poledouris, etc., were at least "easier" to accept because they were in ill health and you knew eventually time would catch up. But this one really stings..

For me, the two scores of his that made me take notice of him were Star Trek II and Cocoon. I remember how some would refer to Horner as "that young guy that writes like John Williams" back then, and I could see why. Horner certainly was the "Three J"s that others have discussed that really made my film music appreciation what it is today. He could write big soaring overtures with the best of them, yet when it was needed, the more sensitive and intimate themes, too. But I remember being especially impressed because he was just a young gun starting out, doing that at a time when Goldsmith and Williams were the go-to composers. It was fun to follow Horner's career, with all the highs and lows (not to mention those online discussions of how he constantly repeated/borrowed), and see what he would accomplish at the same age. Alas, we will never know. But he's already left a full legacy that will be with us forever. I know that Giacchino, Tyler and McCreary mentioned in their tweets the impact that Horner had on them. And perhaps as with Williams and Goldsmith before him, someone will discover Horner the same way and become a film composer, too. (I'm sure that's already happened, but I'd like to see more on the way all the same.)

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I've been out of the loop around here, and haven't really gotten news on anything from anywhere recently, so I didn't hear about this until this morning. I was thunderstruck. I've had to spend the day carrying it around, numb, distracted, somehow not connected to reality the same way I was yesterday.

James Horner was my second film composer. The first, having grown up as a fortunate member of the Star Wars generation, was naturally John Williams. When first encountered the fascinating concept of listening to the music from the movie away from the movie, I celebrated the novelty by picking up a few scores I already knew by heart from seeing the movies three dozen times—Superman, Close Encounters, Star Wars. I was a Williams fan before I knew I was a Williams fan.

What I still didn't know was that I was a closet fan of other composers as well. I learned this from a friend who, when I told him about the new JW-centric hobby I was picking up, said to me, "You should check out James Horner." The name didn't click—even though the two movies I used to watch nearly every day after school were Close Encounters and Star Trek II. The next time I picked him up at his place, he brought the cassette for TWOK and played it on my car stereo. I could already whistle the theme, of course, but (being the slow-moving dope that I am) I hadn't yet connected the dots between that new hobby of mine and films scored by other composers. I was instantly hooked. We move on to other things that evening, and when I dropped him off later that night he forgot to take his cassette with him.

Poor bastard never got it back.

I just about played that thing off its reels before I got around to a CD copy of the score. From there it was on to Aliens, and Cocoon, the SCSE edition of Krull, and the twenty or so others I nabbed over the next couple of years. Horner would not keep his second-favorite status indefinitely—the eventual development of my love for Goldsmith in later years would move him back to the unfortunate position of close third—but I never fell out of love with his music. And by some odd twist, in those early years I managed to compile a collection that largely avoided his most repetitive habits. I mean, they were always around; there was never a time when you could listen to a Horner score and not know you were listening to a Horner score. But the redundancies in my collection were limited to motifs and effects for the most part: the rumbling bass echo following a melodic line, the high tinkling piano, and—of course—the danger motif. It wasn't until I really set my mind to becoming a Horner completist that I encountered the longer and more blatant examples of his copy-and-paste habit (as featured in scores like Bicentennial Man pretty much in their entirety). So in those formative days I couldn't quite understand why people made such a big deal about his "self-plagiarism." I did come to understand it later, yes, but . . . I've never been able to hold it against him to the extent others do. Partly because I couldn't hope ever to come up with one theme or melody to match with any of his, and if I did, then hell if I wouldn't use the damn thing over and over again myself; and partly because most everything he repeated was so damn beautiful and inspiring and deep and meaningful (and full of shakuhachi!). At least he was replaying great stuff. (Y'never hear this sort of complaint about rappers, for instance, whose every "song" sounds exactly like all the others, do you?)

Ultimately, he was just so perfect for so many of the films he scored. As great as Williams and Goldsmith are and were, they just couldn't have done what James did with movies like Field of Dreams. (I don't care how big a fan you are of those two, either--you know I'm right.) For all the variety in my now-pretty-vast collection of film music, and for all I appreciate in that variety, it would not be the same if it lacked the Horner scores. It would be missing something vital, something intimate, something comforting and familiar (in the best way). Like everyone else has said, I hate that we won't get more from him . . . but I would've hated far more not having anything at all from him. He may be gone, but he's still with me in exactly the same fashion he's been with me for the last three decades. At least I can hang on to that. And I intend to do just that--though I have to think listening to his stuff is going to be a whole different experience, at least for a while.

One less-pleasant thought has been pressing on my mind all day, one I've been trying to push away with only mixed success: I can't helping imagining what his final moments must have been like--the fear, the helplessness, the likely understanding that he wasn't going to make it through this. Whenever that threatened to take over my mind's eye today, I made myself think instead on what the moments just after may have been like:

Light. Lots of light.

Then the beginnings of clarity emerging from illumination . . . a magnificent, gleaming city, with the largest concert hall in the universe at its very center.

Then awareness of another kind. A presence. Someone standing next to him. Someone in robes, someone he hadn't even realized was there.

He isn't startled. Everything is peaceful. A wondering grin spreads over his face.

"Is this . . . is this heaven?" he asks.

The figure beside him crosses his arms. "No," he says, in a deep, rich voice. "It's Iowa."

He gives him a bemused look. The robed man smiles. "Just kidding," he says, nudging him with his elbow. "It's heaven. But you have no idea how long I've been waiting to say that to you." He reaches into his robe, pulls out a baton, and nods toward the concert hall. "Would you mind? As it happens, a lot of people have been waiting a long time for this. . . ."

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One less-pleasant thought has been pressing on my mind all day, one I've been trying to push away with only mixed success: I can't helping imagining what his final moments must have been like--the fear, the helplessness, the likely understanding that he wasn't going to make it through this. Whenever that threatened to take over my mind's eye today, I made myself think instead on what the moments just after may have been like:

Light. Lots of light.

Then the beginnings of clarity emerging from illumination . . . a magnificent, gleaming city, with the largest concert hall in the universe at its very center.

Then awareness of another kind. A presence. Someone standing next to him. Someone in robes, someone he hadn't even realized was there.

He isn't startled. Everything is peaceful. A wondering grin spreads over his face.

"Is this . . . is this heaven?" he asks.

The figure beside him crosses his arms. "No," he says, in a deep, rich voice. "It's Iowa."

He gives him a bemused look. The robed man smiles. "Just kidding," he says, nudging him with his elbow. "It's heaven. But you have no idea how long I've been waiting to say that to you." He reaches into his robe, pulls out a baton, and nods toward the concert hall. "Would you mind? As it happens, a lot of people have been waiting a long time for this. . . ."

That is beautiful. It may have happened that way.

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I think this thread is a wonderful lesson in how social animals we are even in our tastes. Hang around enough people spewing negativity about something or someone and you grow ambivalent about the something or someone.

Then that person is gone and you play the music for the first time in years and the janitor has to mop your melted remains off the floor.

Didn't know what we had till he was ripped out of our lives.

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One less-pleasant thought has been pressing on my mind all day, one I've been trying to push away with only mixed success: I can't helping imagining what his final moments must have been like--the fear, the helplessness, the likely understanding that he wasn't going to make it through this. Whenever that threatened to take over my mind's eye today, I made myself think instead on what the moments just after may have been like:

Internet being internet, my comment may rub somebody up the wrong way but it is an attempt to up the mood a little as more than a few comments sound almost suicidal over what is a very unfortunate event but no more than others going on daily around the world. Myself, a part of me would hope that the 'Danger Motif' came up, as it would very fitting : ) Or, the later part of Combat Drop from Aliens or something. Unlikely in the extreme, but yes, a 'nice' thought.

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Just released today, a portion of James Horner's TED talk:

Very interesting, thanks. Is there more of this?

Thought that a good night's sleep would help. Well, it didn't. I've listened to his music all day yesterday, with almost no pauses. Kind of feel exhausted now.

Karol

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Very nice talk. Though it does highlight one of the odd things about Horner.

He claims that because the propriety nature of film music, he is never able to take an idea from one film and expand on that in another.

His filmography is laden with instances where he took themes or strong melodic ideas from one project and used them on another. It's one of his defining threats as a composer actually.

Also, the accent is slightly awkward. Not quite English, certainly not American.

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Accents tend to be funny when you move around in your life.

I always thought it was interesting that he thought of writing music as painting. He once pointed out (even here) that it's strange that recurring ideas are accepted in almost every artform as norm (they certainly do in painting) and yet in music world it's seen as a disgrace.

Karol

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I guess I must like James Horner's music more than I ever admitted to myself, because when I first heard this, my heart was crushed. I never collected many of his albums, but I always thought of him as a very emotionally effective composer, and would find myself playing his themes on the violin, and choosing to watch movies just because I knew he composed the score. My wife and I were very effected by this bad news. We'll be watching plenty of his movies and collecting more of his music now that he won't grace new movies with his heart and talent anymore. Nobody can deny the deeply touching beauty of his best dramatic music, and the exhilerating adventure of his best action music.

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I love the Joe Johnston-James Horner relationship. Too bad Johnston didn't bring him along for JP3. I'd love to hear that (or perhaps it would be another THE LAND BEFORE TIME?).

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I chime late in with my own personal remembrance, as yesterday I had to sift through many things at work and I needed time to digest the news. I got the news from a friend yesterday early in the morning when I was literally waking up. It felt like a bad dream, truly.

James Horner was, right after JW, the composer I got acquainted with very early since childhood, so for many years his name has been truly synonymous of film music. Hence his music has been part of my life since then until now that I'm 36. It's really like losing a friend and the fact he went away so tragically and prematurely makes it even harder. I've been critical of Horner's methods in several circumstances through the years, but I always admired him deeply and several of his scores are really some of the best film music of all time. He was a master dramatist and a true musical storyteller. And his craft was impeccable, like very few can claim in this field.

For some people, he was the emblem of what is wrong with Hollywood film music (sentimentalism, excessive orchestrations, emotional manipulation, borrowings from the classical repertoire, etc.), but those feelings were usually clouded with prejudice. The truth is that he was one of the real best in his field, who helped to forge the sound of a generation of movie buffs. I very much agree with Jeff Bond's heartfelt words he wrote yesterday on Facebook: Horner reached millions with his music and helped to introduce a lot of them to the sound of a symphony orchestra.

It feels particularly bad that this happens when he was entering into a new and interesting phase of his career which looked very promising. The history of music and arts in general is full of great artists gone away too soon, but this doesn't make it less painful.

Let's cherish his great achievements and let's honor his memory listening to his music, which surely will live on in the hearts and minds of many people around the world.

Here's my own tribute I wrote for my website (in Italian, sorry. I plan to make a good translation soon):

http://www.colonnesonore.net/extra/1m1-blog/3810-1m1-field-of-dreams-james-horner-1953-2015.html

Goodbye and godspeed, James.

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Why did many of Horner's fruitful early collaborations come to an end exactly? i.e. Johnston and Zwick

And Ron Howard

Horner gives a reason for that in the Empire interview:

Ron did a Western called The Missing. He wanted to try and do something that the movie didn’t do. I knew from day one that it was never going to happen but I didn’t know how to tell him. No matter if God wrote the music, it wasn’t going to happen. The movie wasn’t spun right. Too safe, not gritty enough, I could never solve that problem for him. I think he resented it, although I told him I couldn’t. We went on separate paths. I think it was unfortunate.

source: www.empireonline.com/interviews/interview.asp?IID=2049

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Why did many of Horner's fruitful early collaborations come to an end exactly? i.e. Johnston and Zwick

And Ron Howard

Horner gives a reason for that in the Empire interview:

Ron did a Western called The Missing. He wanted to try and do something that the movie didn’t do. I knew from day one that it was never going to happen but I didn’t know how to tell him. No matter if God wrote the music, it wasn’t going to happen. The movie wasn’t spun right. Too safe, not gritty enough, I could never solve that problem for him. I think he resented it, although I told him I couldn’t. We went on separate paths. I think it was unfortunate.

source: www.empireonline.com/interviews/interview.asp?IID=2049

That's a huge pity. I wish he would have scored the Dan Brown adaptations.

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I really like The Missing score. The film itself is really bad, though.

Not quite sure what Horner is talking about in this quote, though. What was it that Howard resented? The score?

Karol

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Like many other 'longer-term' posters here this very sad event has drawn me back to the boards after an absence of many years. It's nice to see so many familiar usernames from the past gathered to seek comfort in one another's company and to pay respects. Usually I'm not overly bothered by the passing of a 'celebrity' but this was quite upsetting, for the reasons that so many here have already mentioned: he was still so young, the manner of his passing would have been quite traumatic, and he still had so much to give! What a great loss. To think of all the great music left uncomposed and all the films yet to be made that are now left worse off for want of his score.

Tonight I've been listening to "Field of Dreams" and "The New World" especially "Of the Forest", one of my very favourite Horner tracks. So peaceful and beautiful. I've just put in an online order for as many of his soundtack CDs as are still in stock (and not already in my collection!). Was great to hear that a rare concert piece of Horner's has just been released on CD: Pas de Deux. I heard the first movement on the radio this morning and have ordered this as well. We'll ALWAYS have his music. I just wish that we would have had yet MORE of it.

RIP, THANK YOU and my condolences and sympathies to those you leave behind.

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Very sad news, he was my third favorite composer. I've recently became a father of twins and was playing Rocketeer and Land Before Time the other day for the boys, they seemed to like it, but who knows, they're very little.

Even sadder I think he still had it, in these times of fairly generic film music, Amazing Spiderman was one of the last times I came out of the theater humming the main theme.

Thank you Mr. Horner

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I really like The Missing score. The film itself is really bad, though.

Not quite sure what Horner is talking about in this quote, though. What was it that Howard resented? The score?

Karol

I read it as Howard resented Horner not being able to fix the movie's problems with music. Or bring the atmosphere he wanted but wasn't there in the movie to begin with. I don't know, it's kind of a weird statement and possibly unfair to Howard. But who knows, bottom line is they must have had some sort of falling out on that film and I think Horner was just doing his best to talk around it.

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He never had to "talk around" because the interviewer never asked him about it. They were talking about A Beautiful Mind and then Horner started talking about The Missing. Out of the blue.

Karol

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