An appreciation of James Horner (1953 – 2015)

James Horner died in a plane crash a few days ago. He was one of the great film composers of our time and his impact on the history of cinema is very great indeed.

HornerThe first time that I wanted to have all the music of a particular movie together on one single CD was when I listened to the music of The Land Before Time. I noticed that every track of the movie score was beautiful, and together as they spanned the whole movie, they were like a symphony. They made a closed story of thematic material with themes and motives that were reused and revisited in different variations.

I started wondering why these composers were not referred and why their music wasn’t considered classical canon but later I learned that they were mostly reusing ideas from the romantic period, and their compositions could be quite lazy too now and then. Horner too was known to recycle motives.

land before timeBut of all the film composers, Horner perhaps controls the greatest emotional power. He is the man of the sweeping heartfelt themes. He likes sad music and pipes and ethnic instruments, and drawn out melodies. The scene of the mother dinosaur dying in The Land Before Time wouldn’t have such a strong impact without his music. It wouldn’t be as remembered as it is.

Film music has such an enormous influence on the emotional impact of movies. It would not be an exaggeration to say that many movies and many particular scenes in movies have become classics only because of the music. And you may not like choral work, or a lot of people singing oooh and aaah and a fragile piano or string playing, but Horner created the soul for movies like Braveheart, Glory and Apollo 13.

There was a time when I listened daily to his music and I should do so again. I should also familiarize myself more with his recent work. I heard that his music for The Amazing Spider Man was quite good, and the music for the more obscure film Wolf Totem, situated in Mongolia. Bring on the horns and the strings, Horner, one last time.

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