James Roy Horner's father Harry was involved in movie making as a double Oscar winning set designer and occasional director of TV shows including several episodes of the acclaimed western series Gunsmoke. James showed an interest in and an aptitude for music as a child and started playing the piano at the age of five and later while the family were living in the UK he studied at the Royal College Of Music in London where one of his tutors was the Transylvanian composer Györgi Ligeti. Returning to California he gained his degree in Music from the University of Southern California and while working on his masters and doctorate he studied under the composer Paul Chihara. Although he initially taught music theory at UCLA his passion was composing and in 1978 he scored a number of films for the American Film Institute including The Drought, Fantasies, Gist And Evans, Landscapes, Just For A Laugh and The Watcher. After getting a break scoring the movie The Lady In Red (1979) he worked for director Roger Corman's New World Pictures on Humanoids From The Deep and Battle Beyond The Stars (both 1980). Subsequent movies including Oliver Stone's The Hand, Wolfen, Wes Craven's Deadly Blessing and The Pursuit Of D.B. Cooper (all 1981) preceded his first major scores with 1982's Star Trek II: The Wrath Of Khan and 48 Hours. The latter two movies established Horner's reputation and with his talents soon becoming much in-demand 1983 alone saw him composing the scores for Something Wicked This Way Comes, Krull, Brainstorm, Testament, The Dresser, Gorky Park and Uncommon Valor.
After scoring 1984's The Stone Boy he composed the music for his second Star Trek movie - Star Trek III: The Search For Spock. Hugely prolific Horner composed dozens of scores for some of the best and biggest box office successes of the next four decades including Cocoon (1985), Commando, (1985), Aliens (1986), The Name Of The Rose (1986), An American Tail (1986), *batteries not included (1987), Willow (1988), Red Heat (1988), The Land Before Time (1988), Cocoon: The Return (1988), Field Of Dreams (1989), Honey I Shrunk The Kids (1989), Glory (1989), The Rocketeer (1991), Sneakers (1992), Patriot Games (1992), Swing Kids (1993), A Far Off Place (1993), Jack The Bear (1993), Hocus Pocus (1993), Searching For Bobby Fisher (1993), The Man Without A Face (1993), Bopha! (1993), The Pelican Brief (1993), Clear And Present Danger (1994), Legends Of The Falls (1994), Braveheart (1994), Casper (1994), Apollo 13 (1994), Jumanji (1994), The Spitfire Grill (1996), Ransom (1996), The Devil's Own (1997), Titanic (1997), Deep Impact (1998), The Mask Of Zorro (1998), Mighty Joe Young (1998), Bicentennial Man (1999), The Perfect Storm (2000), How The Grinch Stole Christmas (2000), Enemy At The Gates (2001), Iris (2001), A Beautiful Mind (2001), The Four Feathers (2002), Radio (2003), The Missing (2003), House Of Sand And Fog (2003), Troy (2004), The Legend Of Zorro (2005), The New World (2005), All The King's Men (2006), Apocalypto (2006), The Life Before Her Eyes (2007), The Spiderwick Chronicles (2008), The Boy In The Striped Pajamas (2008), Avatar (2009), The Karate Kid (2010), Day Of The Falcon (2011), For Greater Glory: The True Story Of Christiada (2012) and The Amazing Spider-Man (2012). Horner became the go-to composer for several major directors including Ron Howard, Mel Gibson, Walter Hill and James Cameron with who he achieved his greatest success with the music for the mega successful movie Titanic. The soundtrack sold in excess of twenty-seven million copies and became the biggest selling essentially orchestral soundtrack ever, while the song 'My Heart Will Go On' (written with lyricist Will Jennings) and sung by Celine Dion topped charts around the world and with sales of more than fifteen million copies became one of the best selling singles of all time. Titanic also garnered Horner an Oscar, a Golden Globe and a Satellite Award for Best Original Dramatic Score while he and Jennings won an Oscar, a Golden Globe and a Satellite Award for Best Original Song as well as three Grammy Awards for Song Of The Year, Record Of The Year and Best Song Written For A Motion Picture Or For Television. Many of Horner's soundtracks other than Titanic became commercially successful and critically acclaimed when released as albums, including Star Trek II: The Wrath Of Khan, Cocoon, The Land Before Time, The Rocketeer, Apollo 13 and Bicentennial Man.
One of the most successful composers for the big screen of all-time, James Horner attracted much (often unfair) criticism, he was accused of being too 'old school' and much of his later work of being recycled versions of his earliest compositions. While his scores are full of warmth and emotion realised through the use of sweeping strings and rarely exclusively reliant on the synthesised and electronic sounds favoured by many contemporary composers, he was one of the first to successfully combine traditional and modern instrumentation.
Horner tragically died when a small aircraft he was piloting crashed near Santa Barbara, California in June 2015. There is little doubt that he was a true master in what he did and what he did was demonstrably popular with critics, movie directors and moviegoers alike.
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