Tuesday, 23 June 2015

James Horner: Thank You For The Music

James Horner sadly lost his life in a plane accident yesterday, his contribution to film scores means that he will never be forgotten and neither will his work...

I have had many conversations and have written a few articles on the importance of music in films. I know that I share a love of soundtrack with a lot of people and James Horner wrote some of the finest examples. My personal memories of Horner's work can be traced back to Star Trek: The Wrath of Khan and the full soundtrack for this epic film features some of the finest examples of why Horner was such a master of his art. Horner was employed to write the music for the Enterprise's second big screen outing as the film makers could not afford to re use Jerry Goldsmith's equally anthemic music. It is one of those strange turns of fate that was to be seen as a wonderful choice, Horner's scoring eclipses Goldsmith's original work and I am a big admirer of Goldsmith's canon. Whether you highlight the attention grabbing opening theme with it's majestic, exploratory beauty or the haunting and tear jerking strains of "amazing grace" set to Kirk's equally moving eulogy, there is much musical treasure to be found just in this one soundtrack. Horner certainly knew how to compose suitably grandiose music to accompany hallmark movie moments.

Another favourite of mine is Horner's memorable scoring for the film, Alien. It's full of pain and sadness and again the opening music is a restrained work of genius that lives long after the film moves on. Like all great composers, Horner had an unerring knack of composing music that underpinned the action onscreen without ever overwhelming it. Here was an example of the balance between storytelling and the music that underpins what we see, a beautiful and wondrous musical symmetry. It is hard to imagine watching Ripley finally fall into deep freeze sleep without hearing Horner's music accompany the end moments of the film. That's how it should be, image and music align in our minds and in our hearts.

Many film score composers are still with us and are still creating evocative musical memories for film goers but we have lost one of the great masters this week. Horner had a special place in my heart because he soundtracked some of my earliest and fondest cinematic moments. Horner's fantasy score for the eighties film Willow and his work on Krull accompany some of the films that were hallmarks for my childhood. I own most of the films that Horner has overseen musical duties and this is no coincidence. It can be argued that inspired musical scoring can lift a "so so" film to a higher plain and Horner had that skill. Whether you like or loathe Titanic, Horner's film scoring was brilliant and his arrangements were just as memorable as his composition. Witness the scene where the string quartet are drawn back together on board the stricken ship. The strains of "nearer my God to Thee" are set as the accompanying music for many hundreds of people slipping to their icy, watery graves. Get's me every time and even the memory of it will instigate tears. 

That was the brilliance of Horner's work, it engaged the film goer and turned up the emotional response to overdrive. Horner was never a one trick pony and his scoring expertly charted the emotional highs and lows of any project he was involved with. Braveheart has soaring moments of sword wielding beauty and equally moments of heart wrenching sadness. It was an honour to hear his music and share in its beauty and I will miss him greatly. When a connection is made through film or music it is a strong and intense union. Although Horner's work will live on, that connection has been severed and I mourn the loss of a great man who has shaped my film going life. 

James Horner- August 14th 1953- June 22nd 2015

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