You are indisputably a legend when you compose the highest-selling orchestral soundtrack of all time, as well as Celine Dion’s signature song.
Such was the success of James Horner and his masterpiece score for Titanic, which won the composer his first 2 Academy Awards after the first 5 nominations.
Of course, a man with his talent is known for a lot more than “just” Titanic. During his 36-year career – which included a long partnership with “King of the World” James Cameron – Horner gave us the music behind everything from sci-fi classics like Star Trek II, Aliens and Avatar, to dramas like Apollo 13, Braveheart and A Beautiful Mind.
Unfortunately, Hollywood lost the 61-year-old composer when a plane crash ended his life on June 22, 2015.
But such is the beauty of art – and certainly timeless art like Mr. Horner’s – that fortunately, we can continue to be moved by his work to the end of time.
To celebrate the composer’s illustrious career, here are 5 film scores and 2 original songs through which we can relive James Horner’s revered cinematic achievement:
“Somewhere Out There” from An American Tail (1986)
James Horner certainly burst onto the Oscar scene in 1986 with not one, but two nominations. While his nomination for Best Original Score was for his work in James Cameron’s Aliens, it is undoubtedly the classic Best Original Song nominee “Somewhere Out There” that Horner is better remembered for.
Co-written with Cynthia Well and Barry Mann, the song is performed in the animated film An American Tail by siblings Fievel and Tanya Mousekewitz as they long for each other after separation. While it did not win the Oscar, the song won two Grammys and remains one of the most popular songs from an animated feature.
This famous melancholic tune proved early on that Horner was able to compose music that would continue to move people for decades. And he certainly continued to do so later in his career.
Apollo 13 (1995)
It was not simply the direction of Ron Howard that allowed Best Picture nominee Apollo 13 to capture the glory and terror of outer space. Equal credit goes to Horner for providing the chilling score, which effectively captured the emotional roller coaster that was the successful rescue of astronauts from the failed Apollo 13 mission.
If the swelling tune of “The Launch” (Track #3) does not inspire you to become an astronaut, nothing will. Apollo 13 was Horner’s fourth overall Academy Award nomination, and third for Best Original Score.
There is something undeniably magical about a score that makes you feel proud of Scotland even when you do not have one ounce of Scottish blood in you.
From the inspiring and patriotic use of bagpipes in “Making Plans/Gathering the Clans” (Track #8) to the romantic orchestral piece “For the Love of a Princess” (Track #11), the heroic journey of national icon William Wallace during the Wars of Scottish Independence are almost experienced first hand by the audience.
Along with Apollo 13, Braveheart made Horner a double nominee for the Academy Award for Best Original Score in 1995.
No mystery why this is one of the best-selling albums of all time (of any genre). It really does not get more magical than the timeless and haunting tune of Titanic.
Easily Horner’s most famous work, this score captures the journey of star-crossed lovers Jack and Rose on board the ill-fated RMS Titanic. Save for the occasional uplifting pieces like “Southampton” (Track #3) and “Take her to Sea, Mr. Murdoch” (Track #6), the entire soundtrack is essentially a tear-jerker that will move you no matter how many times you listen to it.
As expected, Titanic won Horner his first Oscar for Best Original Score.
As an elderly Rose said, “Titanic was called ‘The Ship of Dreams’. And it was. It really was.”
“My Heart Will Go On” from Titanic (1997)
The mostly instrumental pieces from Titanic are timeless enough, but Horner also gave the movie its legendary love theme.
Composed by Horner, written by lyricist Will Jennings and sung by Celine Dion,”My Heart Will Go On” received global success and achieved a #1 chart rating in all corners of the globe. To this day, it remains one of the best-selling singles of all time. Naturally, it was also Dion’s most successful single and has become her signature song.
“My Heart Will Go On” won the Academy Award for Best Original Song, giving Horner his second Oscar of the year.
A Beautiful Mind (2001)
The film’s title could have easily been referring to James Horner.
In this biographical drama about the Nobel Prize-winning mathematician John Forbes Nash, Jr., Horner brought to life Nash’s fascination with mathematics and his struggle with schizophrenia.
The beautiful score was nominated for both an Oscar and Golden Globe, but lost to The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King and Moulin Rouge respectively.
While not as memorable as Titanic, Horner’s final collaboration with James Cameron produced a soundtrack that was literally otherworldly.
The magic and awe of the planet Pandora, with its Na’vi inhabitants and bioluminescent flora and fauna, were elevated with this adventurous score. Highlights include “Becoming One of “The People”, Becoming One with Neytiri” (Track #5), “Jake’s First Flight” (Track #7) and “Shutting Down Grace’s Lab” (Track #11).
Horner’s music for the highest-grossing movie in history gave the composer his final Oscar nomination for Best Original Score to date.
Mr. Horner’s farewell
While the curtain has closed for one of the greatest film composers of all time, James Horner will always live on through his timeless work.
Such is the genius of this man that even his passing is effectively captured in one of his compositions; “Unable to Stay, Unwilling to Leave” from Titanic. Appropriately titled for Mr. Horner’s farewell, this gripping masterpiece appropriately captures the loss that Hollywood currently feels for one of its musical geniuses.
Bon voyage, Mr. Horner. Thank you for 36 years of magic.