James Roy Horner (August 14, 1953 – June 22, 2015) was an American composer, conductor and orchestrator of film scores, who was known for the integration of choral and electronic elements, and for his frequent use of motifs associated with Celtic music. Horner was born on August 14, 1953, in Los Angeles, California, to Jewish immigrants. His father, Harry Horner, was born in Holíč, then a part of Austria-Hungary. He immigrated to the United States in 1935 and worked as a set designer and art director. His mother, Joan Ruth (née Frankel), was born into a prominent Canadian family. His brother Christopher is a writer and documentary filmmaker. James started playing piano at the age of five. He spent his early years in London, where he attended the Royal College of Music. He returned to America, where he attended Verde Valley School in Sedona, Arizona, and later received his bachelor’s degree in music from the University of Southern California. After earning a master’s degree, he started work on his doctorate at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), where he studied with Paul Chihara, among others. After several scoring assignments with the American Film Institute in the 1970s, he finished teaching a course in music theory at UCLA, then turned to film scoring. Horner was also an avid pilot, and owned several small airplanes.
Horner’s first credit as a feature-film composer was for B-movie director and producer Roger Corman’s Battle Beyond the Stars. As his work gained notice in Hollywood, Horner was invited to take on larger projects. One of his first major scores was for 1979’s The Lady in Red. Horner’s big break came in 1982 when he was asked to score Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan. It established him as an A-list Hollywood composer. Horner continued writing high-profile film scores in the 1980s, including 48 Hrs. (1982), Krull (1983), Star Trek III: The Search for Spock (1984), Commando (1985), Cocoon (1985), Aliens (1986), *batteries not included (1987), Willow (1988), Glory and Field of Dreams (both 1989). Cocoon was the first of his many collaborations with director Ron Howard. In 1987, Horner’s original score for Aliens brought him his first Academy Award nomination. “Somewhere Out There,” which he co-composed and co-wrote with Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil for An American Tail, was also nominated that year for Best Original Song.
Throughout the 1980s, 1990s and 2000s, Horner wrote orchestral scores for family films (particularly those produced by Steven Spielberg’s Amblin Entertainment), with credits for An American Tail (1986); The Land Before Time (1988); The Rocketeer and An American Tail: Fievel Goes West (1991); Once Upon a Forest and We’re Back! A Dinosaur’s Story (1993); The Pagemaster (1994); Casper, Jumanji, and Balto (1995); Mighty Joe Young (1998); and How the Grinch stole Christmas (2000). Horner scored six films in 1995, including his commercially successful and critically acclaimed works for Braveheart and Apollo 13, both of which received Academy Award nominations. Horner’s biggest critical and financial success came in 1997 with his score for James Cameron’s Titanic. At the 70th Academy Awards, Horner received the Oscar for Best Original Dramatic Score, and shared the Oscar for Best Original Song with co-writer Will Jennings for “My Heart Will Go On.” The film’s score and song also won three Grammy Awards and two Golden Globe Awards.
After Titanic, Horner continued to compose for major productions, including The Perfect Storm, A Beautiful Mind, Enemy at the Gates, The Mask of Zorro, The Legend of Zorro, House of Sand and Fog, and Bicentennial Man. He also worked on smaller projects such as Iris, Radio, and Bobby Jones: Stroke of Genius. He received his eighth and ninth Academy Award nominations for A Beautiful Mind (2001) and House of Sand and Fog (2003), but lost on both occasions to composer Howard Shore. Horner composed the 2006–2011 theme for the CBS Evening News, which was introduced during the debut of anchor Katie Couric on September 5, 2006. He wrote various treatments of the theme. Horner collaborated again with James Cameron on his 2009 film Avatar, which became the highest-grossing film of all time, surpassing Cameron’s own Titanic. Horner worked exclusively on Avatar for over two years. Avatar brought Horner his tenth Academy Award nomination, as well as nominations for the Golden Globe Award, British Academy Film Award and Grammy Award, all of which he lost to Michael Giacchino for Up.
After Avatar, Horner wrote the score for the 2010 version of The Karate Kid, replacing Atli Örvarsson. In 2011, he scored Cristiada (also known as For Greater Glory), which was released a year later; and Black Gold. In 2012 he scored The Amazing Spider-Man, starring Andrew Garfield. In early 2015, after a three-year hiatus, Horner wrote the music for the adventure film Wolf Totem, his fourth collaboration with director Jean-Jacques Annaud. At the time of his death, Horner had scored two films yet to be released. They were Southpaw, a boxing drama directed by Antoine Fuqua, starring Jake Gyllenhaal and Rachel McAdams; and The 33, for director Patricia Riggen. Horner’s scores are also heard in trailers for other films. The climax of Bishop’s Countdown, from his score for Aliens, ranks as the 5th most commonly used soundtrack cue in trailers. In addition, Horner wrote the theme music for the Horsemen P-51 Aerobatic Team, and appears in “The Horsemen Cometh,” a documentary about the team and the P-51 Mustang fighter plane. The theme is heard at the team’s airshow performances.
In October, 2013, Horner received the Max Steiner Award at the Hollywood in Vienna Gala, an award given for extraordinary achievement in the field of film music. In 2014, Horner wrote Pas de Deux, a double concerto for violin and cello. Horner also composed Collage, a concerto for four horns. On June 22, 2015, news services reported that Horner, age 61, was presumed to have died when his Short Tucano turboprop aircraft crashed into the Los Padres National Forest near Ventucopa, California. On June 25, the Ventura County Medical Examiner’s Office confirmed Horner’s death and ruled the crash an accident. In July 2015, a month after his death, it was discovered Horner had also written the score for the 2016 remake of The Magnificent Seven, planning it as a surprise.
My collection includes the following works by James Horner:
Braveheart (1995): End Titles.
Titanic (1997): My Heart Will Go On (Main Theme).