In some ways James Horner may be compared to Jerry Goldsmith, sharing his ability to turn his hand to many different types of film with relative ease, and of course they share an association with the Star Trek franchise having both penned more than one Trek movie. Whereas Goldsmith studied in the US, Horner studied at the Royal College of Music in London before moving to Hollywood, which has kept him in steady employment ever since.
Horner's scores seem to belong a number of different categories. There are the science fiction movies like these Star Trek ones for which "Battle beyond the Stars" was a warm-up. There are a number of children's or family films where Horner's sweet and sentimental mode is to the fore such as the dinosaur cartoons "Land before Time". Some of these family movies also tread into sci-fi or fantasy territory for example with "Casper", "Batteries not Included" or "Cocoon". These latter two movies display a talent for Glen Miller style themes to represent the older generation. One mustn't forget his comic book venture in the form of "The Rocketeer" with its soaring theme. Then there are the action movies, and a few which display a leaning towards a Celtic tradition including "Legends of the Fall", "Braveheart" and Titanic. In "Legends of the Fall" the theme is similar to that used by Alex North in Cheyenne Autumn. In Horner's hands the extended Celtic themes bring a sense of home and family, despite the events which break them apart. In this film the characters' ancestral origins are not Ireland but Celtic Cornwall.
It has to be said that Horner is not averse to borrowing ideas from other composers such as the music from Kachaturian's ballet Gayaneh, first used to represent the loneliness of deep space in Kubrick's 2001. Horner has used this music on several films and on his recent score to Troy, the Achilles heroic theme is taken from Shostakovich's 5th Symphony. Nevertheless, Horner is clearly a capable tunesmith who can deliver scores for any occasion, and his popularity is assured with the blackbuster successes of The Titanic and Avatar. Many of his main themes have a kind of homely feel to them, whether it's the gentle family tunes or those with a Celtic flavour. His real skill is in building excitement and tension into enormous climaxes.
Although he is still frequently scoring action movies, with "Apocalypto" being one recent example, Horner seems very much at home in recent years also with character driven movies. Stories like "A Beautiful Mind" and "Iris" have allowed his lyrical talents to display great freedom of expression, and it is easy to imagine film makers coming back for more of this caliber. While "Avatar" was good but functional, Horner's take on the "Karate Kid" story is delightful - a traditional and instantly likeable soundtrack, and it also has much of that lyrical quality. A new double-album called "The Music of James Horner" celebrates 3 decades of the composer's career from those recent scores "The Karate Kid" and "Avatar" through many highly-regarded scores to his earliest successes with "Star Trek II: The Wrath Of Khan" and "Battle Beyond The Stars" in 1980. The double-album can be found at Amazon.co.uk and Amazon.com.
It seems that superhero films get rebooted with amazing regularity these days and "The Amazing Spider-Man" is no exception. With James Horner as the composer rather than Danny Elfman, it seems as though the filmmakers are taking an old-school approach. Although we've only heard small samples so far, the music does indeed sound refreshingly old-school and the soundtrack album is available at Amazon.co.uk and Amazon.com.
Many soundtracks are available on CD including Braveheart, Apollo 13, and Titanic and there are many inclusions on compilation albums including some dedicated to the Start Trek music. Here are some specific soundtrack recommendations which we think you'll enjoy:
Sheet music for piano and other instruments exists covering "The Titanic" including the popular title song. See also "The definitive James Horner collection" which has a good selection from Horner's popular scores.
Here are some CD covers signed by James Horner. Our thanks to Petr Kocanda for permission to use his collection of autographed CDs. Click any thumbnail below to see the image full size in a separate window.