In Death, Portrait of James Horner Points Beyond His ‘Titanic’ Success

For those who equate James Horner with his Oscar-winning “Titanic” score — and many more think of that blockbuster’s signature hit, “My Heart Will Go On,” as a Celine Dion song, even if Horner composed it — a much more rounded portrait of the movie maestro emerged in the wake of his death in a plane crash on Monday.

In terms of social media alone, Horner was remembered as a sensitive, giving, highly versatile composer who was branching out into new territory as a musician before his untimely death at age 61.

In one tweet, Ellen DeGeneres observed: “Think of your favorite music from a movie. Odds are it was composed by James Horner. What an incredible talent. What an incredible loss.”

For every James Cameron blockbuster like “Titanic” and “Avatar” in Horner’s ouevre, there was more character-driven fare like “Searching for Bobby Fischer” and “Iris.”

On Facebook, Robert Townson, head of soundtracks for the Varèse Sarabande label, warmly recalled his time with Horner when the composer was being honored at the annual Hollywood in Vienna showcase in 2013. The label chief and producer pointed out that Horner was “beginning a whole new chapter of his musical life.”

“Since this very special event, James has actually been turning his creativity toward the concert hall,” Townson said in his post. “While still scoring films, he has also composed a double concerto for violin and cello called ‘Pas de Deux’ (2014) and a new concerto for four horns and orchestra called ‘Collage.’ This was a new frontier he was only starting to explore. And films still held limitless challenges.”

At that Viennese event, Horner talked to Townson about his approach to scoring the Ron Howard film “A Beautiful Mind” (2001), about the math genius John Nash. Horner’s score presages Alexandre Desplat’s math-inspired music for last year’s “The Imitation Game.”

“There’s something lovely about this sequence about the beauty of mathematics,” Horner told the audience after they were shown a clip from the film, “and what I was trying to do with the music is create music like a kaleidoscope… The music has no key, the music could just go on forever through all the different keys.”

That heartfelt, complex score — utilizing voices, woodwinds, strings, harp and piano — points to a range of which many were not aware. Horner wore that heart on his sleeve in other ways.

The indie producer-exec Jonathan Dana, also on Facebook, recalled Horner’s gracious contribution to the 1996 Sundance entry “Spitfire Grill.”

“He came to the rescue and did the score for ‘Spitfire Grill’ totally on spec, giving all the money to the 70 local union musicians who performed his magnificent music,” Dana wrote. “He was amazing to watch work, conducing the orchestra without a ‘click track,’ and making modifications to the score, as needed, on the spot! Could not have been more gracious or inclusive, and was more thrilled than anyone at the success of the film and its Sundance Audience Award.”

Other pockets of the Web talked about Horner’s gifts in the most seemingly unlikely places, like the 1992 early cyber-thriller “Sneakers,” work a Variety colleague pointed to as having turned him on to Horner’s gifts as a film composer. Slate reprinted a 2012 appreciation of the film’s music by Nicholas Britell, himself a composer and Juilliard grad who contributed music to such films as “12 Years a Slave.”

“The music in ‘Sneakers’ is hauntingly beautiful and written in a sophisticated and understated manner,” wrote Britell. “But part of what makes the score special is that it doesn’t necessarily sound like what you’d expect for a film in the ‘computer-hacking/spy-game’ genre. It features unlikely elements — choirs, folk themes, minimalist piano, the saxophone of Branford Marsalis — that lend the film an unusual emotional richness and depth. The score does a great job of making you ‘feel’ all of the mysteries that Robert Redford’s Martin Bishop and his merry band of hackers must unravel.”

That emotional richness is something that Oscar-winning songwriter and ASCAP president Paul Williams touched upon in a statement: “James was masterful at creating music that moved us in the most heartfelt ways, with depth and passion.”

More Music

  • Chaka Khan arrives at the Vanity

    Chaka Khan Joins Fergie in Pantheon of Memorable NBA National Anthem Performances

    It takes a lot to make a performance of “The Star Spangled Banner” before the NBA All-Star Game trend higher on social media than the game itself, but Chaka Khan has managed what Fergie was able to two years ago, with a unique rendering of the National Anthem that threatened to render anything that followed [...]

  • Adam Lambert and Brian MayGlobal Citizen

    Watch Queen & Adam Lambert Re-Enact Band’s Live Aid Set at Australia Wildfire Benefit

    Queen + Adam Lambert rocked Australian fans with a re-enactment of the band’s iconic 1985 Live Aid performance at a benefit aiding those affected by the country’s recent bushfires. The band performed Sunday at a benefit for Fire Fight Australia at Sydney’s ANZ Stadium, raising funds for bushfire relief, and gave concert goers an extra [...]


    Wiz Khalifa Surprises L.A. Middle School Students With Musical Instrument Donation

    Rapper Wiz Khalifa surprised a group of students at Los Angeles’ Eliot Arts Magnet Academy on Feb. 13 with a donation of musical instruments. The Grammy-nominated artist partnered with national music education nonprofit Little Kids Rock for the reveal. Little Kids Rock’s mission is to bring inclusive and culturally relevant music education programs to schools [...]

  • TobyMac, Toby McKeehan. TobyMac performs during

    TobyMac Shares Emotional Tribute to Late Son at L.A. Forum Concert (Watch)

    TobyMac was not about to make anyone wait for him to address the elephant in the room as he started his set Saturday night at L.A.’s Forum. Ten concerts deep into his “Hits Deep” arena tour, the Christian singer-rapper was clearly aware that fans want to hear him speak sooner rather than later about the [...]

  • Kobe Bryant Dead

    Queen Latifah, Jennifer Hudson Give Kobe Tributes at NBA All-Star Game

    Grammy-winning singers Queen Latifah and Jennifer Hudson paid homage to the late Kobe Bryant while singing at the NBA All-Star Weekend in Chicago on Sunday. First, Latifah performed Stevie Wonder’s inspirational ballad “Love’s In Need of Love Today” and changed some of the lyrics in honor of Bryant, who died in a shocking helicopter crash [...]

  • Sir Elton JohnElton John in concert,

    Elton John Cuts Concert Short Due to Walking Pneumonia

    Elton John was forced to cut short a concert in New Zealand after falling ill with walking pneumonia, according to the BBC and multiple news outlets. The singer, who is continuing his multi-year farewell tour, lost his voice mid-way through his set at Auckland’s Mount Smart Stadium on Sunday. “I’ve just completely lost my voice. [...]

  • Freestyle Love Supreme review

    'We Are Freestyle Love Supreme': Film Review

    For any Lin-Manuel Miranda fans whose hearts sank almost as quickly as they rose upon hearing that, yes, there’s a “Hamilton” movie, and no, it won’t be out for another 20 months, succor may be on the way in the form of a probably faster-arriving movie that features Miranda in almost as big a role, [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content