“Films speak to me right away. The atmosphere, the overall mood, dictates the kind of orchestra I will use. Watching a film the first few times, I make a charcoal sketch; later I put the colors in.”
Having composed the music for more than 130 film and television productions, including dozens of the most memorable and successful films over three decades, James Horner was among the world’s most prolific and celebrated film composers.
He earned two Academy Awards and two Golden Globe Awards for his music from James Cameron’s Titanic (one for Best Original Score and one for the Best Original Song “My Heart Will Go On”), eight additional Academy Award nominations, five additional Golden Globe nominations, and six Grammy awards, including Song of the Year in both 1987 (for “Somewhere Out There”) and 1998 (for “My Heart Will Go On”). In April of 1998, Horner’s Titanic soundtrack album on Sony Classical completed an unprecedented run of 16 weeks at number 1 on the Billboard Top 200 Album Chart, setting a new record for the most consecutive weeks at number 1 for a score album. It remains the largest selling instrumental score album in history, having sold nearly 10 million copies in the US and more than 27 million copies worldwide. Sony Classical’s multi-platinum sequel soundtrack album Back to Titanic featured additional music from the film as well as several new compositions by Horner based upon themes from his original score.
Known for his stylistic diversity, his other film credits include The Amazing Spider-Man, Black Gold, For Greater Glory, Karate Kid, Avatar, Apocalypto, Flight Plan, The New World, The Legend of Zorro, Chumscrubber, The Forgotten, Troy, Bobby Jones: Stroke of Genius, House of Sand and Fog, The Missing, Beyond Borders, The Four Feathers, Radio, Windtalkers, A Beautiful Mind, Iris, Enemy at the Gates, Dr. Seuss’ How The Grinch Stole Christmas, The Perfect Storm, Freedom Song, Bicentennial Man, Mighty Joe Young, The Mask Of Zorro, Deep Impact, The Devil’s Own, Ransom, Courage Under Fire, To Gillian On Her 37th Birthday, The Spitfire Grill, Braveheart, Apollo 13, Casper, Legends of the Fall, Clear and Present Danger, The Pagemaster, Bopha, The Pelican Brief, The Man Without a Face, Patriot Games, Thunderheart, Sneakers, The Rocketeer, Glory, In Country, Field of Dreams, Honey I Shrunk the Kids, The Land Before Time, Willow, An American Tail, The Name Of The Rose, Cocoon, Gorky Park, Cocoon and Cocoon: The Return, 48 Hours and Another 48 Hours, and Star Treks II and III.
Born in Los Angeles in 1953, Horner spent his formative years living in London where he attended the prestigious Royal College of Music. His initial interest was to become a composer of serious, avant-garde classical music. Returning to his native California, Horner continued his music education at the University of Southern California where he received a Bachelor of Music in Composition. He then transferred to the Masters program at UCLA where he earned his Doctorate in Music Composition and Theory. In 1980, Horner was approached by the American Film Institute and asked to score a short film entitled The Drought. It was then that he discovered his passion for composing music for film.
After scoring a number of films for the AFI, Horner left the academic world and began working for Roger Corman at New World Pictures. It was in this milieu of low-budget horror films (Brainstorm, Battle Beyond The Stars) that Horner developed his craft. It was also where he became acquainted with a number of young directors including Ron Howard, for whom he would later score such films as Willow, Cocoon, and the hit Apollo 13. Also during his time at New World, Horner met a young cameraman named James Cameron, with whom he would later collaborate on the hit sequel Aliens and, of course, Titanic. In the ensuing years, Horner has gone on to collaborate with many of Hollywood’s most noted and successful filmmakers, including Ed Zwick, Joe Johnston, Phil Alden Robinson, Steven Spielberg, William Friedkin, Mel Gibson, Oliver Stone, Philip Noyce, Michael Apted, Lasse Hallstrom, Norman Jewison, and Francis Ford Coppola.
Equally comfortable with lush orchestral scoring and contemporary electronic techniques, Horner likened his approach to composing to that of a painter, where the film serves as the canvas and where musical color is used to describe and support the film’s emotional dynamics. He is also noted for his integration of unusual ethnic instruments into the traditional orchestral palette in order to achieve exotic colors and textures. An accomplished conductor, Horner preferred to conduct his orchestral film scores directly to picture and without the use of click tracks or other mechanical timing devices.
James Horner composed several concert works, including “Spectral Shimmers” which was performed by the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra and “A Forest Passage” commissioned by the Cleveland Orchestra in celebration of the 25th anniversary of the Cuyahoga Valley National Recreational Area in Ohio. Among his final concert works is a double concerto for violin and cello entitled “Pas de Deux” premiered by the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra in 2014, and a concerto for 4 horns and orchestra entitled “Collage”, which was premièred by the London Philharmonic Orchestra in 2015.