The first time I ever heard the name James Horner was out of the mouth of my friend, Lisa. Lisa worked, for about fifteen years, as music producer for Ogilvy & Mather WW. She was also my college housemate at SUNY@Fredonia, my listener, and the most discerning ear I ever knew.
After she drew my attention, I began to pay the same to James Horner. I waited through the credits, always ’til the very end, for the film to finally acknowledge its composer. As a performing orchestral musician myself for most of a lifetime, I never could understand why music was nearly last on the list – past gaffers, catering? it seemed, past most everything considered worth any recognition. A movie without great music was a predictable flop, and one lucky enough to secure James Horner, I concluded, was a sure thing.
The first film music he composed which captured mine was BRAVEHEART. Clearly, I was late to the party. I would learn to expect the solo motives and sweeping harmonies to carry me across the miles and miles of heart-rending grief, grisly violence, climactic action, tragedy, heroism. I doubt, seriously, whether we watchers would have held out to the end for William Wallace were it not for the rich sonorities which alternately drove us, seduced then succoured us, buoying us through. Perhaps Mel Gibson, himself, would agree.
Like, I suspect, Horner’s personality, the real beauty of his offering lay in his unassuming presence. One who notices the music in a movie is already distracted; rather, as true underscoring, music should always be the ship that carries us so expertly so as to make us forget we are even on the sea.
And, importantly, Horner was true to the symphony. While so many aspiring film composers were rallying around the latest technological short cuts, James was a real musician’s musician. He understood the enduring value of full orchestration – strings, winds, brass, percussion. His music both honored, and preserved, this art form for so many of us.
James Horner’s credits are legion, and most of them have to be searched to find. For every film he fully composed (118 in all, including the aforementioned Braveheart; Titanic; Troy; A Beautiful Mind; Spider Man et al), there are an equal number of those for which he served as uncredited conductor, or merely instrumental soloist. All these contributions, taken together, defined his role; he was everywhere, yet probably rarely noticed.
I don’t know why so many icons in their own generation need small planes. Maybe these seem, at first glance, to be the ultimate, autonomous liberation; not much bigger than a pick up truck, yet capable of providing hours of solitude and comparative silence and a view so expansive so as to take one outside of all one’s own confinements, real or imagined. Yes; I suppose the temptation is strong.
I just wish they were a reliable vehicle for transport. Too many of them fail, for too many unforgivable reasons. And, they bail on the very ones who would not dream of failing anyone.
All I know is, the world lost yet another precious artist, self-effacing giver of the kind of beauty that sought to preserve the true romance of an heroic age we may never know again. He was always about the story, rather than his own musical self-promotion. James Horner transported us, effortlessly, with every lone melody, with every rich texture, with every phrase that took flight.
I will miss him as I do the beauty of my own, receding generation. I hope his soul soars high above us, ready to release droplets of symphonic splendor into eager, fledgling hearts.
Our stories always needed the kind of music James Horner gave us. And, we ever will.
© Ruth Ann Scanzillo
6/28/15 All rights those of the author, whose name appears above this line. Share with permission. Thank you.