It pains to read over The Hollywood Reporter (THR) article announcing the tragic passing of the film composer James Horner. Apparently, he died in a plane crash yesterday some sixty miles north of Santa Barbara. How this sad news escaped my notice beats the heck of out me given my activity on Twitter and Facebook. Horner is one my favorite film composers, who created two of my favorite movie scores for Glory and Field of Dreams. Most of my readers and followers will know this composer for his Oscar-winning music and song to James Cameron’s mammoth, soap opera, Titanic. This epic, motion picture remains an amazing technical achievement, but it is Horner’s score and song, “My Heart Will Go On,” that everyone remembers.
When I examine Horner’s body of work, he has few peers in Hollywood from his generation. Right off the bat, only two composers come to mind who match him stride for stride: Hans Zimmer and Danny Elfman. The great John Williams and the late John Barry, who scored the Oscar-winning music to Dances with Wolves, are from the previous one. One of the injustices with the Academy Awards has to do with their maddening inconsistency. Sometimes an artist wins an Oscar because of the work’s popularity rather than its artistry. There are times when those two intersect. In my opinion, Horner won his Oscar for his most popular work (Titanic) rather than his most creative (Glory). I realize that this might be a controversial statement, but so be it.
Joel Franco is a good friend of mine from our film school days. He runs a website that I have recommended folks check out in the past. Like me, Joel is a huge fan of Horner’s work. One of the things that he noted in our “text” conversation was Horner’s subtlety with his movie scores. I hold the same opinion. At his best, Horner exhibits artistic restraint, which only adds to the emotion of his work. One of the best examples of this is his music score to Field of Dreams from 1989. It is an emotionally, evocative composition that never goes overboard as it emphasizes the movie’s mysterious, spiritual undertones. Horner’s use of the piano is nothing short of masterful. It is a textbook example of artistic subtlety or restraint.
Horner has done rousing music scores, too. He is not one dimensional, but an artist who exhibits diversity. His musical score for Aliens in 1986 has been sampled countless times for action and suspense trailers and television commercials. Mel Gibson’s Braveheart would lack the emotional resonance without Horner’s music, and those battle scenes would fall flat rather than inspire. When it comes to the meaning of inspirational music, his score for 1989’s Glory is the zenith of his creativity. Horner should have won an Oscar for it. In fact, I contend that his music for Glory boasts the most haunting use of a choir on film. It overwhelms the viewer simply because the music and singing build to such a crescendo rather than forcing the emotion. Joel called Glory Horner’s masterpiece, and I agree with him.
I end this post with my condolences to Horner’s widow and their two daughters. We who live no longer look forward to future compositions from this great composer. That is profoundly sad. What we can do is revel in what he has left us to enjoy. Here are two samples from Horner’s scores for Glory and Field of Dreams:
Enjoy the music.