Past Columns

Soundtrax Extra
June 22nd, 2015

By Randall D. Larson

Composer James Horner Killed in Plane Crash in Southern California.

Film music fans were grieved to learn of the death of James Horner today.  He was killed when his private plane crashed sometime after 9:30 AM in a remote area north of Santa Barbara, California. 

Horner’s personal assistant Sylvia Patrycja confirmed his death on her Facebook page Monday evening.  “We have lost an amazing person with a huge heart, and unbelievable talent,” she wrote. “He died doing what he loved.”

Horner was a passionate enthusiast of flying, and in 2012 he became an associate member of The Flying Horsemen, a trio of P-51 aerial acrobatics pilots with whom Horner occasionally flew. He composed a 4-minute concert piece, “The Fourth Horseman,” reflecting on his experiences flying with the trio, as well as a longer, 12-minute piece, originally called “Write Your Soul, which was written as background music to which The Flying Horsemen choreographed some of their air show routines.  That piece was later retitled “Flight” and premiered in concert in 2014, performed by The Pacific Symphony in Orange County, CA. One of Horner’s most recent scores was a documentary on flying, LIVING IN THE AGE OF AIRPLANES, currently being shown in IMAX theatres. 

The composer of than 150 film scores, Horner began at New World Pictures, scoring a fistful of low-budget sci-fi, horror and action films for Roger Corman.  His lavish symphonic score to BATTLE BEYOND THE STARS and his electronically-tinged, atmospheric music for WOLFEN brought him attention, and with his ensuing score for 1982’s STAR TREK II: THE WRATH OF KHAN, Horner broke into the A-list.  A catalog of masterful and much-loved scores followed through the end of the decade – KRULL, BRAINSTORM, TESTAMENT, GORKY PARK, STAR TREK III: THE SEARCH FOR SPOCK, COCOON, ALIENS, WHERE THE RIVER RUNS BLACK.   These scores were largely known for their large form symphonic anthems and their sensitive, impassioned melodies, not to mention the blood-freezing discordance of ALIENS, which reunited Horner with one of the art directors from BATTLE BEYOND THE STARS – James Cameron, now an accomplished director; an association that would be very auspicious in the coming years. 

During the 1990s Horner’s musical focus ranged from intimate dramas like SEARCHING FOR BOBBY FISCHER and THE SPITFIRE GRILL, action thrillers like PATRIOT GAMES and A CLEAR AND PRESENT DANGER, and the occasional fantasy like JUMANJI.  He began an association with Mel Gibson when the actor turned to directing, scoring THE MAN WITHOUT A FACE, BRAVEHEART and later, 2006’s APOCALYPTO. He maintained a recurring collaboration with Ron Howard, scoring eight films for the director, among them COCOON, WILLOW, APOLLO 13, and THE BEAUTIFUL MIND.  Rejoining James Cameron, Horner was on top of the world in 1997 when he won Oscars for both best score and, shared with lyricist Will Jennings, best song for TITANIC (Horner totaled eleven Oscar nominations between 1987 and 2010; the Golden Globes followed suit, with two wins for TITANIC out of ten nominations during the same time period).  Horner rejoined Cameron with a lavish, choral/orchestral score for AVATAR in 2009, and he would have composed AVATAR 2 and 3, currently still in pre-production.

Through the 2000’s into more recent years, Horner scored a variety of pictures, while becoming a little more selective on what or for whom he would work.  He scored Joseph Ruben’s sci-fi thriller THE FORGOTTEN, Martin Campbell’s THE LEGEND OF ZORRO, Terence Malick’s THE NEW WORLD, and Mark Herman’s poignant adaptation of John Boyne’s THE BOY IN THE STRIPED PYJAMAS.  He spun a splendid super-hero score for Marc Webb’s reboot THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN, and revisited Striped Pyjama territory when he scored the documentary A DAY IN AUSCHWITZ.  Even in the modern age of rhythm and drone, Horner’s music remained solidly orchestral and magnificently melodic, 

Known for sweeping melodies – many of these have circulated across the Facebook landscape as fans and associates remember Horner through YouTube postings of his meaningful scores and cues – he was also especially adept at creating intimate music that spoke from the heart and enriched the emotions.  “First Tears” from COCOON… “Reading the Letters” from THE SPITFIRE GRILL… “Hymn” from COURAGE UNDER FIRE… “The Widow’s Lullaby” from KRULL… “Lunar Dreams” from APOLLO 11… “A Call to Arms” from GLORY…. “Remembrance, Remembrance” from THE BOY IN THE STRIPES PYJAMAS… “You Don’t Dream In Cryo,” from AVATAR, and so much more.

The year 2015 was shaping up to be a very good year for Horner.  He completed and recorded his first live concert in 30 years last April; the French film WOLF TOTEM, which he scored in a fourth collaboration with director Jean-Jacques Annaud (THE NAME OF THE ROSE, ENEMY AT THE GATES, DAY OF THE FALCON) had been receiving talk about Oscar potential, and the last score he finished, for Patricia Riggin’s THE 33, the true saga of 33 miners trapped underground for 69 days in a mine collapse in Chile, gave him a final opportunity to score the kind of heartfelt, yearning, and passionate music he has always been best at.

The sudden loss of James Horner this morning is a huge and a personal loss for film music, and music in general. More than one generation of film composers and aficionados have been touched by his music for nearly 40 years, as evidenced by the very palpable grief and dismay over his death that’s been shared on social media. 

James Horner was 61 years old.  May he and his music continue to fly in our hearts and memories.


Randall D. Larson,

June 22, 2015



Randall D. Larson was for many years senior editor for Soundtrack Magazine, publisher of CinemaScore: The Film Music Journal, and a film music columnist for Cinefantastique magazine.  A specialist on horror film music, he is the author of Musique Fantastique: A Survey of Film Music in the Fantastic Cinema and Music From the House of Hammer.  He has written liner notes for more than 120 soundtrack CDs for such labels as La-La Land, FSM, Perseverance, Silva Screen, Harkit, Quartet, and BSX Records.  A largely re-written and expanded Second Edition of Musique Fantastique is being published: the first of this four-book series is now available.  See:

Randall can be contacted at