James Horner was one of the top film composers of the 1980s and 90s, achieving massive success and recognition through collaborations with directors James Cameron & Ron Howard, as well as his breakout work on two Star Trek films. A pianist from an early age, Horner studied at the Royal College of Music in London, as well as USC and UCLA. His initial work in film scoring came from the American Film Institute, leading to his working for Roger Corman on several films. The most notable of these was 1980’s ‘Battle Beyond the Stars’, which foreshadowed the action-driven science-fiction films he would frequently score for years to come.
That work brought him to the attention of director Nicholas Meyer, who was informed by Paramount Pictures that they would not be able to rehire Jerry Goldsmith due to budget limitations. Horner’s bombastic and energetic work on 1982’s ‘Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan’ inaugurated his Hollywood career with what still remains one his finest scores. He would return to score the next Star Trek film, 1984’s ‘The Search for Spock’, a more operatic and melodramatic entry overall.
His rising fame brought him the chance to score the sequel to the blockbuster sci-fi horror film, ‘Alien’. With up-and-coming writer-director James Cameron in charge, the stronger action element suited Horner’s tendencies perfectly. However, delays in post-production left him a fraction of the expected time to complete his score. The combination of inexperience and perfectionism led to extremely strained relations with Cameron and producer Gale Anne Hurd. The final ‘countdown’ cue was written overnight. Despite his thinly-veiled reuse of several Star Trek cues, and a haphazardly-edited score, Horner’s work earned him his first Oscar nomination.
Horner did not intend to work with Cameron again, and they reportedly did not speak again until after the Horner-scored Braveheart was released to an Oscar nomination in 1995. Settling their differences, Horner would go on to create the Oscar-winning score (and original song in ‘My Heart Will Go On’) for ‘Titanic’. They would re-team a decade later as Horner spent nearly two years exclusively on research and development of elements that would go into his score for Cameron’s ‘Avatar’.
Horner also had notable collaborations with Ron Howard, scoring seven of his films. Their connection began with the sci-fi dramedy ‘Cocoon’, culminating in his Oscar-nominated work on ‘Apollo 13’. He would gain an additional Oscar nod for Howard’s 2001 biopic ‘A Beautiful Mind’.
Although Horner had many film projects on his plate, including a trio of Avatar sequels, all of that was cut short two years ago. Horner, an avid aviator, died in an accidental plane crash on the morning of June 22, 2015. His final two film scores, for ‘Southpaw’ and ‘The 33’, were released posthumously that same year.
Fifty years ago, the UK introduced three of its most enduring pieces of popular culture. In music, it was the debut album of The Beatles; in television, it was "Doctor Who"; and in film, it was James Bond. The globetrotting exploits of Ian Fleming's secret agent have endured through twenty-three official films and six different actors in the lead role.
John Barry was asked to supplement Monty Norman's score for the first film ("Dr. No"), ultimately arranging the legendary "James Bond Theme" that became the highlight of the soundtrack. Barry continued to define the "Bond sound" for nearly twenty-five years, composing the scores (and many of the title songs) for eleven of the subsequent fourteen films.
The son of Italian immigrants, Mancini learned piccolo and piano as a child, eventually earning admission to The Juilliard School in 1942. His training was interrupted after a year when he was drafted into the Army. Following his discharge, he earned a spot in the new incarnation of the Glenn Miller Orchestra, serving as pianist and arranger.
This would lead Mancini to the music department at Universal Pictures, where he would contribute to over one hundred films in just six years. He then began working independently in 1958. One of his first jobs during this era was creating the music for detective TV series "Peter Gunn". In addition to the iconic theme tune, Mancini provided original music during the show's run of three seasons and one hundred and fourteen episodes. His orchestra rendered the jazz themes that helped the show stand out and made a lasting impact on soundtrack music.
"Gunn" was also the beginning of working relationship between Mancini and series creator Blake Edwards. During the subsequent thirty-five years, Mancini would compose for thirty films directed by Edwards, including the successful "Pink Panther" series. He also continued to write songs and record his own albums, with more than ninety releases to his name. Mancini also toured as a concert artist, including hundreds of conducting appearances with many of the world's top symphony orchestras.
By the time of his death in 1994, Mancini had amassed a stunning seventy-two Grammy nominations (twenty wins), as well as eighteen Oscar nominations (four wins). His legacies as a film and television composer, as a songwriter, and as a recording and performing artist, have set a standard few could approach, let alone surpass.
Where Mancini helped solidify Jazz as a key influence on American film scoring, John Williams led the resurrection of symphonic orchestration in film music. In his early years as a Jazz pianist, he performed in clubs before working for the movie studios. Perhaps his most notable job during this time was as a pianist in Mancini's orchestra. In fact, Williams is the piano performer in the original recording of the "Peter Gunn" theme!
After spending much of the early 1960s as an orchestrator and pianist for several top film composers, he began his own composition career. He scored television series and a handful of films in the late 1960s. By the 1970s, he was increasingly in demand, following his first Oscar win for arranging the film score to "Fiddler on the Roof", as well as his contributions to several successful disaster films.
Williams also began his association with director Steven Spielberg in 1974, scoring the director's debut feature, "The Susoon Express". Except for 1985's "The Color Purple", he has composed the scores for all of Spielberg's feature films. Perhaps his most famous scores, for the "Star Wars" franchise, will resume with J.J. Abrams' upcoming "Episode VII".
Although not as career-defining as his earlier scores, Williams' work on the first three "Harry Potter" films were well-received, and his theme tune ("Hedwig's Theme") appeared in each entry of the series. He took over the composition role on "The Patriot" following a rejected demo recording from David Arnold, who had composed for director Roland Emmerich's previous three films.
With numerous projects scheduled for the coming years, Williams shows no sign of stopping anytime soon.
The Sea Hawk
Erich Wolfgang Korngold
Arranged by Jerry Brubaker
Korngold initially found great success with his classical compositions. Writing orchestral works, vocal pieces, solo and chamber music, and creating several operas, his music became quite popular. He was supported by praise from fellow composers, including Richard Strauss and Giacomo Puccini.
Invited to Hollywood in the mid-1930s, Korngold quickly found himself at the forefront of a new genre - film music. His Romantic style worked well in the context of feature films. He utilized leitmotifs (melodic ideas applied to a particular character, grouping, or location) to help drive his strongly melodic scores. Soon after World War II, Korngold stopped writing film scores, preferring to focus on composing for the concert hall.
Although Korngold's music fell out of style by the end of his life, interest was revitalized following newly recorded performances of his scores. It was also a key influence on John Williams, who utilized Korngold's style, particularly notable in "The Sea Hawk", in writing his score for "Star Wars". The success of that score helped revitalize Korngold's standing as one of the originators of the film score as we know it.
The Lord Of The Rings: The Two Towers
Arranged by Jerry Brubaker
These scores form the defining achievement in Howard Shore's composition career. Spanning more than ten hours, Shore effectively utilizes the leitmotif technique to drive the grand symphonic and choral sound at the heart of each of the three films. More than ninety unique themes can be identified throughout the scores. Shore worked for over three years to compose, orchestrate, and conduct this epic work.
In an era that has frequently seen film music lose much of its complexity, Shore's work on "The Lord of the Rings" is a memorable testament to the power of music written for film, when in the right hands.