I was on holiday in Devon when, on Tuesday morning, the BBC’s Breakfast programme broke the news that James Horner had died in a plane crash in California. With no internet connection on my phone at our rural farm location I was left isolated in the knowledge that someone whose music had meant so much to me was gone. I was devastated. As I looked out over the beautiful green hills, the summer breeze carrying birdsong, my mind filled with notes and my eyes filled with tears. Of course I didn’t know him, but like so many others his music touched me deeply and over the years it has not only enriched my life, but been a cornerstone of it.
I never met James Horner, though I was fortunate enough to at least see him just a couple of months ago at the Albert Hall. That performance of his entire score for Titanic will remain a cherished memory, for his music has been so rarely performed live. It seems that he only very recently began to appreciate that his music had a life (and much love) beyond the films he composed for. Attending the ‘Hollywood In Vienna’ tribute to him in 2013, he was visibly moved and perhaps even surprised that people cared so much about him and his work. Putting the concert together was no mean feat as apparently he didn’t keep a great deal of paperwork or have concert suites of his music ready to go. In the last month a second night of his music was performed in Norway, with his ‘Pas de Deux’ the centrepiece of the programme. That work, written for Mari & Hakon Samuelsen and commissioned by the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra, received its World Premiere at the end of last year and marked a triumphant return to the concert hall for the composer. Just released on album, it was to be the start of a new creative phase. Classically trained, he wanted to write for the concert hall long before he ever imagined he would be a film composer, but movies took over and a film composer he would become. Now almost thirty years on he has composed and premiered not one new work but two, with his ‘Concerto for Four Horns and Orchestra’ receiving it’s World Premiere in London just a few months ago.
It seemed that Horner was finding great pleasure in being taken seriously as a composer and also at last sharing in the wealth of good feeling toward him around the world from fans. With all that, he had also continued his film work. Jean-Jacques Annaud’s Wolf Totem prompted a typically visceral, robust and beautiful score, moments of which truly hark back to his early days in Hollywood and with music for both Southpaw and The 33 already in the can, the future looked bright…
‘Pas de Deux’, which I think has literally just been released in the US this week, was to be a new beginning; instead it has a new-found poignancy. His music in this new work, unshackled from the constraints of film, is both earthy and airy as it takes on English classical sensibilities and the boundless, ethereal emotion that James Horner so eloquently delivers. Here is a man with a strong, confident artistic voice; a true composer. ‘Pas de Deux’ is a window into the composer’s artistic sensibility, his heart and soul, and as we are let inside he carries us with him to amazing places, shows us beautiful things and lifts us up off the ground. It truly is akin to flying.
On that day in Devon I realised I only had one piece of music by James Horner on my iPhone; the piece was ‘Write Your Soul’, which was derived of original music he had composed for ‘The Horsemen’ flying display team (see the video below). It brings about a sense of the thrill of taking to the air, soaring high… something he loved to do, until the end.
Thank you, James Horner, for the life you breathed into movies, and for the music that you have left us all to cherish.