To celebrate the release of Titanic in 4 CD edition by La-La Land (see our exclusive review here) we publish an archival interview of James Horner published in 1998 in the French magazine Dreams To Dream. This interview was originally published in French, English and German in issue 10 of Dreams to Dream…s.
Two other unpublished interviews in English and related to Titanic will follow: one very short on the conception of the album Back To Titanic, the other dating from 2005 at the release of the Special Collector's Edition DVD of the film by James Cameron.

Recall: The Words of James Horner is a series of articles intended to republish some twenty interviews Didier Leprêtre and Jean-Christophe Arlon conducted between 1997 and 2006 and published only in French in the magazines Dreams To Dream and its successor Cinéfonia. We are immensely grateful for the chance we have been given to publish the colossal work done over the course of an entire decade and to give the interviews a new lease on life, all the more since we think they are an invaluable and unique window into the oeuvre of James Horner.

DtD) How much time have you had for the Titanic score and sessions ?
JH) Well, Titanic was a different proper kind of thing because he (James Cameron) kept postponing the dates, but initially, I first saw 36 hours, he was still shooting, still filming, and I saw 36 hours of film.

DtD) 36 hours !
JH) And he was still shooting, still filming ! I saw 36 hours at the end of March, and they were gonna all come out… they were gonna be in the theatres by July 4th. So I was seeing 36 hours in the middle of March, he's still filming, backing up for 4th July, which is his release date, you have to back up 3 weeks just to get all the mixing done, 3 or 4 weeks, so that puts you back into 4th June more or less, beginning of June, and I have to write the music, which 4 weeks earlier than that puts you back at April-May, the beginning of May, I have to start writing to a finished film. And here we were almost at the end of March, and he hadn't… I mean he was nowhere! And I was saying to everybody: “You know we're never going to make it, this is insane.” And they told everybody they were gonna be in the cinema by July 4th and I was the first one to say: “You're never gonna do this. This is never, ever gonna happen !" And all those people would say: “Oh, yes, we did it on Terminator II, we did it on Terminator, it's not a problem, this is the way Jim works." And I said: “Yeah, but this is a different film, this isn’t Terminator, you're never gonna get this done.” But we geared up to do it, and I had 4 weeks to do the score, 5 weeks to do the score, not all the footage, it was a mess ! But I had to be ready.
DtD) Strange conditions !
JH) Very. Then you put it off by two weeks, then you put it off by a week, then 2 weeks, and it went back, back, back, till finally the studio said: “Jim, here’s December 19th, you can’t go later than December 19th because then the film doesn’t qualify for the Academy year”, then it becomes a 1998 movie. So they gave him a last possible date to be in the cinemas. But you know he was still working with 10 days to go. Two days before the British première, world-screening, he was still at LucasFilm in San Francisco, doing last-minute things. Flew with the print to London. And this is somebody who said: “Don’t worry, we'll be in the cinemas by July 4th.” So with each time the movie got delayed, there'd be more footage, he'd make more changes, much more editing, everything would have to be redone. Over and over, we kept redoing the cues, and they got bigger and bigger and bigger. There's almost two hours of music in the movie.
DtD) Some of the Irish sequences are not on the CD !
JH) Oh, god ! All the Irish music that I wrote. There's lots of music that's not on the CD. There's probably on the CD less than half of what I wrote for the film. There's two hours and eight minutes of music in the movie, something like that – an astronomical amount of music. 138 minutes of music in the movie. And in the CD you can only put 72 minutes. So I had no choice of everything, and what I tried to do was make it more than emotional, very focused – the CD is very focused from beginning to end, it doesn't mirror Irish music.
DtD) Very coherent.
JH) Yes, very coherent. Taking the most important emotional feeling that I felt about the film, and putting it to music, as opposed to… I put in one piece of music where they hit the iceberg, and another big piece of music where it literally goes down. I was only really interested in the things that are most interesting to listen to, that are most emotional. And that’s what I put in the CD. It was very coherent and very focused that way. And I wanted it to have a feeling… at the beginning with the pipes and Sissel's voice, I wanted it to feel very wistful and elegiac. I wanted it to end that way, as a memory. It’s very important, and that's how I sort of think about Titanic, I don't think about it as being a big special effects film, I think about it as being that love story, and the emotional impact of all those lives. When Jim and I first started talking about Titanic, he was all… much less emotional. The script is a stunning script. That's really why I wanted to do the movie. I read the script, it's brilliant. And when we started talking about the music, he was much more interested in making sure that I would score this sinking, the ship leaving port, I mean all of that stuff was less important to me than the heart And he was more nervous about… it's funny: he wasn’t planning to focus so much on the love, the heart of it.
DtD) Really ?
JH) Yes, he was more to be hard-edged, like Jim Cameron is known for. The steel plates of the ship and the engine room, and stuff like that.
DtD) Beautiful scenes !
JH) Beautiful scenes ! But they all got changed slightly. The balance of the film changed, as he grew more comfortable, I think hearing the music along the way, he was always experimenting with it, putting stuff that I would give him in several places that I never intended music to be, he'd try it. And the scene would get bigger. He just thought it was a learning thing for him, trusting the heart, which is something he'd never done before. And I think, I say it modestly, but I mean I think the most important thing about the film is the heart of it, and the music does that. All the special effects are brilliant, but anybody could’ve scored those special effect scenes with orchestra. I know it sounded differently but it would've been bigger orchestra, and they look spectacular, it would've sounded very impressive. It was the other stuff that I was interested in, and that's what I tried to put in the CD.
DtD) You were not very glad with the Aliens experience, were you ?
JH) Yes, Aliens was horrible, for both of us. For a lot of reasons, but there was no time on Aliens, and there were picture changes and huge deadlines, I mean I had a week or less to write the score, it was horrible ! We were both different, I was much more arrogant, Jim was much more arrogant, and we both said: “I'm never working with Jim Cameron" and he's not gonna work with James Horner. And it's funny, a lot of time went by, and I'd heard he loved Braveheart, just loved it, he played it over and over again, but we never talked. And then I read about Titanic, and read the script… and asked to get a script, and he didn't know I was going to and I read it, and then I called him. And so, after six years, somebody you hated, you know, never gonna work with, "Hi, Jim !" I mean we saw each other every time now and then but it was never professional and I told him what I thought, and he said: “Well it’s funny you say that because you're the person I was thinking about to do it”. And we agreed to meet and we talked about it. I did not want to do it – you know how the English do these recreations like Jewels in The Crown, and those wonderful English period pieces. I mean they're brilliant with that, the BBC shows. I desperately did not want to do musically one of those – Brideshead Revisited or one of those epic period things that the English do so well. And he didn't want to either. I also did not want to do a big Hollywood spectacular 1940s-type big disaster-movie score. I wanted to find something that was quite unique, and I told him the way to do that is with voice, I was convinced I could do it with one voice. You know he was a little nervous, this is all new territory for Jim. He’s used to these synth scores with Schwarzenegger or True Lies. And here we were talking about the most delicate details, but he completely understood what I was asking him, was talking about. And he knows a tremendous amount about music; he ignores a lot of it when he makes his own movies, but he knows a tremendous amount. And I told him what was most important to me in the score, and he said: “That’s something you're not gonna get with anybody else" – I’m good at that. I said the big stuff – as I said to you before – the big stuff you could get all kinds of other people to write, and you'd be happy, but the intimate stuff, I said that has to be very very unique, and we both sort of agreed that it should be done… all the flashback things should be done with synth and voice, so that it would go against all the things, the period, the BBC thing, all the period thing that you expect to hear. The only thing that was done with orchestra for the most part was going through the ship in real time… real present day, and the actual big sinking things, which need the power of an orchestra, which I couldn't do with my little, delicate ensembles, that had to be a big thing. That's really the only part though that's scored, the rest is synth and voice.
DtD) Is it a kind of artistic evolution ? You told me twice that you’re not so fond of the big orchestra. Are you looking for something more, how do you say, "epurate" ?
JH) Yes, I am. It's a very good way of putting it. I’m looking for something that I can’t quite describe. I think I know what it sounds like. I've been around orchestras all my life, and all of those instruments down there, I know so so well. When I see a film, to me, I already know in the first five minutes, what the film… how progressive the film is gonna be. Not always, there's some surprises. But 90% of the time, you know how the film's gonna be when you hear the opening notes. You know immediately the style of the film, the style of the composer, what the director's asked the composer to do, and I try very hard, especially in the opening scenes, to cast a spell, so you don't really know how it's gonna turn out. And it may be that it will be very conventional later on, but I can try and keep that in suspense a little bit longer, so it doesn't make the film so recognizable. I try and do that a lot in a movie I did for Ed Zwick called Courage Under Fire; Originally, it was like Visconti's The Damned, and instead of black locomotives in slow motion with the steam… when I see that, there's only one place on the planet that that happened like that, that looks like that, and that's in a sort of Nazi… You know what I mean, there’s a look of those locomotives all in black and the guys walking round in black. He opened his film, it's a story about the Iraq war, with the images of the burning…
DtD) derricks…
JH) derricks, in slow motion, and the sun almost completely blocked out by the black, and the whole sequence was this. And I was trying to think what would be wonderful. The worst thing I could do was to put an orchestra against that, because immediately the magic of that image that says to me the only place on the planet this image has ever been like this, is uniquely Iraq. And I wanted to find some sound. I didn’t want it to be anything to do with orchestras, as I said. What I did was I used a helicopter engine turbine, and it starts with “Tchvw…" and you start with “Fff, fff, fff", while the turbine sound is “Vvvvv…" and this thing “Tch, tch, tch, tch” became a rhythm “Dinga-dinga-ding, dinga-dinga-ding, dinga-dinga-ding, dinga dinga-ding", and it was like this place of doom. But it was using the hardware of… it was like, great, it was unbelievable. And again it was not so much the idea, it was just when you look at it, you were so transfixed by what you’d heard and you weren't giving away that you were scoring it in the Main Title. You were somehow saying in sound exactly what you were saying… seeing. And those are the kind of things I look for. They're very amorphous, very abstract.
DtD) You can even borrow sounds that don’t belong to instruments.
JH) Oh, absolutely !
DtD) In Titanic, I think it's during the sinking, there's these metal sounds, I suppose it's a kind of bell…
JH) Yes.
DtD) It is ! It's really great because you know right away that you're in the machine, and it's nothing.
JH) No, it's just a tiny thing. If I taught you how Titanic originally was, at the beginning: we had a main title, and Jim put in this piece from Holst's The Planets, Mars, (James sings). It's so Jim Cameron to do that, you know, hard-edged, it's the ship at night going to… It is so typical. This is a really good example of a Jim Cameron decision early on, and we scored it. I didn't use Holst, but I did something that was sort of mechanical and military, this big Leviathan going through the ocean at night like a ghost. And we lived with that. He loved it, that was going to be the Main Title. Everybody was crazy about it, it was great, perfect.
DtD) Everybody except you !
JH) Except me. I felt it was horrible. Because the first thing I’d said when we met, I’d said, “You know, I don't know how you feel, but the beginning of the movies should be very very wistful, sad and elegiac". So, everybody was sort of happy with this, but when I first talked to him about Titanic, I said if I was ever to do a World War I story, it would be my idea to have some very very simple one instrument, one voice, whatever it was, all very simple, a boy soprano, a piano piece, an English piano piece, whatever, over the images, slow motion images of the soldiers going off to war, because I said it’s so dramatic. As a contemporary audience we know how the war, the song, we've got all of that stuff worked out, we know from history how terrible that was. But the images we’re seeing, those young kids don't have a clue, and I say that's what makes it heartbreaking. And you put music in, but not sad music, but it's music that's sort of… emotional music, nostalgic music, and then those images of the kids who are all gonna lose their lives, I say that's what makes it heartbreaking. And he said: “No, no, I don't wanna do that." So months would go by. And then we do this Main Title, and he was happy, and I still felt the same way but it was Jim Cameron's movie, not mine, and we did this work with his vocalist, and he invited me down to his house one day and said: “I want you to see something". And I said: “Oh God, it's another change, it's gonna be some other thing he doesn't like somewhere, whatever”. And he played me the ending on his Avid system. He edits everything on hard disk, on an Avid system. He had assembled a whole new title sequence with the music that I used elsewhere in the movie. And I said: “That’s it !" He said: "Do you like that ?" I said: “That's it, that’s what we talked about 5 months ago when we met. That's it !". He'd put in sepia-coloured pictures of the ship leaving harbour. I said: “That's it ! That’s exactly the mood this movie should open with." And we worked it out, I wrote a piece for it, so it worked out that the music did what it was supposed to do over the word "Titanic". But finally, that represented more than anything else, how he had come round to accepting the real story of the film and not relying on the “Terminator Jim Cameron" part of the story.
DtD) You brought the Celtic coloration on Titanic. Where does it come from ?
JH) It’s not so much the Celtic, it's… Well Celtic music has that sort of modal quality, a very wistful quality which I'm very fond of, but it’s also in early English music and Irish music, it’s used a lot. There's a certain sadness… even though it's a pretty tune there's this very profound, deep sadness in some of those type of things, just because of the way they kind of sound. I needed to do that in a very elegant fashion, and that music, for me, was the best way to do that. With a voice. I said there is one notch more precious, it would've been to use a soprano or something, but I thought a woman's voice, very pure, no vibrato, singing these tunes, was the way to sell it. And it wasn't too self-conscious, it was just very emotional. Also the ship was built by Irishmen and the focus of the story is of an upper-class girl who meets a third-class boy, and the life of the ship was in the steerage, it was in the third class, it wasn't in the Edwardian. And I wanted to somehow convey that emotionalism, that life, with the Irish music, but also [these] Celtic, slightly sad tunes that I wrote.
DtD) You never talk about your dreams; instead you try to realize them.
JH) Slowly. That’s one of the nice things about film. I don't have any big ambition to write a requiem, or a mass, or a fifth symphony, or a concerto or something. I love writing for film. I think, as I said before, that to me, what happened on night premiere when we saw Titanic, is so fulfilling, and I know as an artist, I could never get that reaction from just my music, no matter how brilliant. I might be able to get that reaction from my music after it had been in a movie – if I’ve done E.T. or Indiana Jones, with John Williams, and done a concert, everybody would be enthralled with every piece, but that's because of the marriage of the movie and they already know the movie. But those experiences… When I saw Braveheart or Apollo 13, there have been a few experiences like that with the end of the movie. In Apollo 13, you know, when Tom Hanks says: “Houston, this is…", the whole room applauds. It didn't matter how many times an audience saw that 'cause I saw at the previews, with the music, everybody was in tears. Every man, every woman, it just is one of those human emotional things, you cannot not be moved by that, when the whole room stands up for “mission control”, and it's those kind of things that are much bigger than the music and much bigger than the film, it's the marriage of the two that really makes it magical.
DtD) Last word about John Williams you quoted a few times during the interview. You’ve met him, I suppose ?
JH) Oh, I know him, yes I do. And I’ve great regard for him. He is considered the grand sort of “statesman" – that's the right word – of movie scoring. He's done, I don’t know, 180-200 films in his career. And the most successful films in history, you know, consecutively. Part of that of course is due to Steven Spielberg and George Lucas. But he and I are very similar in a way, in that he's interested in writing serious music, which I’m not right now. He's also older than I am, but we both come from a classical background and we both understand how powerful film is with the music. We share that. Because I’m younger, because I'm probably at the point in my career that I can afford to take a few more chances than John. You know. I think that comes with age and where you are in your career, and the people who work for Steven are very conservative, he will… You know, like this dancing thing, even if the director likes it, Steven is still gonna, as I said, still gonna be the one that calls me up and say: “Can we put an orchestra in there ?” Probably John's a bit more conservative than me, but he's a brilliant musician. It's just interesting that he can do things, whether it be the American Olympic music, the Olympic music for the Olympics, the theme or Schindler's List, or Indiana Jones. I really understand and admire [him]. So I use him as a very good example. And he’s really in the movie book the only guy with Ennio Morricone – I have to be careful – but he’s really the only guy I really respect, and it's maybe because he comes out of my sort of world. I just don’t understand people doing it for money, I don't understand people coming from rock 'n' roll and doing it…
DtD) like Danny Elfman !
JH) Yes, I mean that sort of thing, I just don’t get it. I mean he comes up with interesting approaches and interesting sounds, but emotionally, there’s nothing very deep for me there, and a lot of the composers are like that. But with John, give him the vehicle, he always does something special to it – in a conservative way, but always quite unique.
DtD) Do you talk sometimes with actors ?
JH) You know, most people don't come to scoring sessions. Anthony Hopkins was here quite a lot, which is sort of unusual, I think partly because he loves the director, he likes the director, he liked the movie, he liked working on the movie, that helps. I did Legends of the Fall, which he of course starred in, and he was here for 10 minutes, partly maybe because of the director, who knows. He was here for 4 days, just sitting all day long, even though we did some cues over 10 minutes long. He would be sitting there, and we would go over it, over it and over it, and finally do it to picture, and then this, and then I need another one, and da-da-da. He was fascinated. He was sitting there like this the whole time.
DtD) It’s pretty unusual to have an actor…
JH) It is, it is. You know he’s also becoming a director, and maybe he’s sort of starting to think about learning about how the process works, and how flexible or not flexible it can be.
DtD) How to talk with the composer.
JH) Yes, maybe how to communicate with the composer. But it’s an interesting business, and it's funny you get very attached to the people who play the music… in a funny way, and I always love coming to London. I'd do everything here if I could. L.A. is much more about schedules… I don't know, people coming in, but they play movie music all day long, or commercials, or whatever. You have to really lead them to get them to understand you want something very special. Here, it's different: they’re playing, you know, Monteverdi, they're playing whatever, and it's a more unique experience with them. And also having grown up here makes it like coming home as opposed to being in Los Angeles.
DtD) I would like to talk about My Heart Will Go On.
JH) For Titanic, the funny thing, I wanted the film to have a very contemporary feel in a way, without it being "Danny Elfman” contemporary. I wanted it to feel a little more timeless, and again you get to the end credits and what you hear is a reprise, a suite of old themes, and I felt: “The last thing I want is a reprise", that stuff. I want to do something different. And for me, for an audience, the thing that would do it would be a song, if it was elegant and tasteful, it had to be contemporary of course if it’s gonna be a song. But it was a different way of saying an end credit, it was another way of doing it without having an oboe and a violin playing a theme… I sort of did all this without anyone knowing about it because I was afraid that if the studio found out that I was trying to put a song in, suddenly there would be 15,000 songs from every corner trying to get into the movie Titanic ! So I didn't tell anybody what I was doing, and Jim Cameron didn't have a clue what I was doing. We were always just gonna go with an end credits for the film, and I knew Céline Dion from something I’d done with Spielberg a few years ago (Fievel Goes West – DL), before she was Céline Dion, still just a French Canadian singer. And I went to her because I thought even then she was like Sissel, the woman I used – she's a very unique voice, it’s a very special instrument, and it's a song that has a very good range, and I thought she was the only person that could sing it. Not because she's famous, I just thought she was the person to do it. And it helped that she was famous. And she loved the song, and she agreed to sing the demo. So I made a demo of the song and took it to Jim, at his house. I waited until he was in a good day, and played it for him, and he said: “What is this ?". And I said: “Well, instead of an end credits, this is what I'd like to do, but no one knows about this." And he said: “This is great ! This is unbelievable !" And he was totally surprised. And I said: “Well, as soon as you tell anybody that Céline Dion is gonna sing a song for this movie, everything's gonna change, I mean the whole planet’s gonna change. You’re gonna get the marketing department all over you, it's gonna change. Are you sure you want to do this ?" And he said: “Oh, yeah." And that’s how the song happened. It’s totally one of those things that just: “Why don't you put this in the movie, try this instead ?’’ And I just waited for the right time. It was very carefully done.
DtD) You know James Cameron well now !
JH) I know him well. Very well ! We would meet every two days. Four, three, four months, five months. We worked probably on that movie more closely than any other person in that movie: his editors – because he does all the editing himself – his cameraman, everything. He’s a lot like me. I mean you haven't seen how I really work when I work with synth and instruments. Sometimes I just grab them all and I do it myself, because I can do what I want right away, without offending anybody, and it’s not being a maniac, it’s just the fastest way to do it the way I hear it. And he would tell me… he’d laugh about it, because he’d do the same thing: he’d be lighting a scene, and the strobe lights would be going crazy, and the cameraman just didn't get it. And he said: "Just give me that thing !" And he'd put the camera on him and he would do it himself ! Because it was just… he could move the camera just the way he wanted – you can’t say that to somebody – and he did two thirds of the camerawork in the movie.
DtD) Really ?
JH) Yeah. So in a sense, even though it's a huge, expensive movie, in a certain sense for him it’s no different than making a small documentary about a calamity – Bosnia, Titanic, that's the way he thinks about it. That’s the way he approaches it. The music was the one thing he had no idea how to do. Which is why we worked so closely, so it worked out.
DtD) Is it OK with you if we start looking at Titanic in depth now ?
JH) Sure, let's start.
DtD) We talked just now about the whole genesis of the Main Title to get to what we actually hear in the film. Can you explain this overture to us ?
JH) OK. I won't go back over the musical sensitivity that was needed to accompany its images of different eras. I think that's quite clear. Afterwards, I had to transcribe that with my own approach: Sissel's voice. More than any other passage, the tragedy had to be sensed, guessed at, and already accepted. Sissel managed to find the right mood to communicate this.
DtD) How did you come across Sissel Kyrkjebø ?
JH) I listened to her records in Norwegian and I felt just the right mood. You know, there is a sort of Nordic, Scandinavian side to that style of singing. Not singing, in fact, but rather seeing and feeling the natural elements. In her last album, there is a song with an unpronounceable title (Eg Veit I Himmerik Ei Borg – DL) where all that is completely explicit. It's a prayer, but sung in a very different way from what you would expect with a Continental or an American singer. Sissel has a depth of soul, a natural elegiac side. You know, a continuous sense of tragedy that gives her voice its fullness.
DtD) Let's move to the scenes of the wreck with Distant Memories.
JH) First there are the scenes from the submarine, where we needed to create an atmosphere of disturbance and desolation. I used the synthesizer as it were to accompany the submarine, with the orchestra for the image of the wreck. The orchestra or what remained of it, like a quintet: it’s as if one or two instruments were coming back up to the surface, just a sound here, a sound there. It's very brief, very, how can I put it, like flashes that are brought back to life again. And done discreetly, of course.
DtD) We see a piano in the wreck at one moment. Like in Ennio Morricone's The Mission, with the floating violin.
JH) In effect music never dies, it passes down through human minds, through the fashions and ages. It’s also the combination of the instruments: time and mind. You know what I mean, Distant Memories is like an entity that reduces time to an abstraction, I keep the human mind but the time dimension fades. The music is the connection, the link that creates this unity. Rose is just one entity, the ship just one, too. Time has changed the forms but not the essence. That’s the meaning of Distant Memories; of An Ocean Of Memories, too. You understand, the orchestra is but a single entity, too. Whether it’s the piano when the drawing, the memories of Rose are revealed, or the synthesizer, the horn, the clarinet, the bassoon. The memory is gone but the elements remain.
DtD) We go back in time, it’s Southampton.
JH) Yes, and there I suddenly swing back from what Jim calls intentional "anachronism". I transcribe the unity of time in contradiction with the Hollywood tradition, with the differences of historical era. It’s very important. Jim and I spent a lot of time working on it. Jim's idea of music is very different from Steven Spielberg's, for instance. He dislikes completely everything conventional. He is almost afraid an orchestra will destroy his images. We talked this over [at] length and Southampton is halfway between our two sensibilities. The synthesizing aspect causes time to fade, like in The Name of The Rose. Music has to be timeless, like a painting. If a painting is too rooted in its own time, it loses some of its universality. It’s the same with music. Between 1997 and 1912 there is just an image, a reduced space of time. I'm back to unity again. A linear dimension, one that is anachronistic because it is atypical, particularly here in the States. A desire to lose one's reference points, too, of course.
DtD) James Cameron asked you use the Enya style as the source of inspiration for the embarkation scenes. Was that a problem ?
JH) No, why should it have been ? I don't understand the question. As I said, I don't like surprises and with a maximum of discussion you can avoid all the post-production problems. Jim wanted the style, a thing like The Book Of Days. For my part, I had to maintain this unity in the music, the tone. The synthesizer gave me that, a type of youthfulness in contrast to the old-fashioned, bygone feel of an orchestra. You understand, I had to follow my own line. Then, Enya or no Enya, it’s all the same to me. It’s a special style that doesn’t let you think of anything else, once you adopt it. Regardless of changes, or the music in itself, you are bound to be close to the effect it creates if you keep this style.
DtD) In the last Madonna album, Ray of Light, more particularly in the song The Power Of Good-bye, there are the words: "Creation comes when you learn to say no". I don’t suppose you agree !
JH) That depends on the sense of the song, but in my case I obviously don't agree. Using a style or a writer as a source of inspiration is a form of creation, and a good thing too, otherwise there'd be no 20th century musicians. At the outset, making your own something that isn't yours originally is a true creative act; you have to understand the original writer, understand his approach and his sensibility at the same time as his technique. That’s what Southampton and Leaving Port come down to: adopting a known style you have chosen and incorporating in it your own themes and technique.
DtD) Exactly, 'cause all the elements in Southampton resemble you !
JH) Right ! I particularly like the tempo and all its changes. And Kate's arrival, when she gets out of the car with this triple movement. (James Horner sings the movement; 1:05 – 1:10 on the CD – DL) then it blurs into Rose's perplexity about the liner. A mixture of synthesizer, which we mentioned just before, and full orchestra: the theme of the ship with or without the combined choirs and a duo of clarinet and oboe for this perplexity. Once again, unity conceived in musical terms.
DtD) Then the embarkation of Jack and Fabrizio accompanied by a Celtic movement/sound, music that is not on the CD.
JH) I really love that. Jim wasn't very keen at the start, and then he followed me. The Irish music was in total contrast to the contemporary electronic style and above all to the over-staid orchestra. It has a sort of positiveness all of its own. It’s exactly the same thing with sadness and emotion. Irish music goes further and touches people much more deeply. It truly represents Jack, Fabrizio and all the 3rd class passengers who, from an emotional point of view, relegate the 1st class ones to the engine-room! The Titanic would never have seen the light of day without the 3rd class, without all those Irish workmen. Irish music is really "life", a hymn to life, to hope, to love and to sorrow.
DtD) I think the Irish side really makes your music even more beautiful, a touch of extra sincerity !
JH) I think so, too. And so does the public. Titanic gave me the possibility for this combination of musical forms. It shows the true meaning of unity in diversity. The critics often treat it in mathematical terms. There are stereotypes and conventions you have to respect. It’s very stupid. It’s a Cartesian as well as a rational approach, whereas I need to reason in irrational terms in order to be personal, don't you see ? I pushed the approach further in Titanic. The ship itself was a rational element launched into the irrational, which is what nature is, and nature came out on top.
DtD) Just the way you came out on top !
JH) I think so. Because music is an art, not a science. Like nature, it is an irrational "matter" and you give it a rational form if you have the talent to do so.
DtD) Once embarkation is over, we come to Take Her To Sea, Mr. Murdoch.
JH) I explained just before how in Courage Under Fire the propeller noises had suggested first a rhythm, then a theme, to me. It’s the same here. Jim had done long shots of the engine-room with its huge turbines. Something progressive and pretty "heavy" was required. It's like the Apollo 13 takeoff except that I had only a few seconds here. I needed the orchestra to copy the noise and the speed of the turbines. Jim breaks [this heavy side] immediately with the dolphins leaping out of the water. Their lightness contrasts with the turbines, but there’s a sort of communion between the two elements. That's why there was never any question of accompanying the dolphins with a flute or a clarinet. On the contrary, I needed to keep the emphatic side, even in the lightness of the leaping dolphins. That's a real contradiction, which I think you French and Europeans understand. And that’s the proof that "à la Enya" is meaningless, because I follow the logic of the music while remaining completely in line with the film. Musically, it would have been possible to present dolphins in a different light, but not for me.
DtD) The piece ends on a fortissimo when Jack cries: "I am the king of the world". Is James Horner the king of the world, the Master of Music ?
JH) No, no. (Laughs.) Simply, Jack, at that moment, is. No personal metaphors like the ones you find some composers using. Not with me !
DtD) When Jack looks at Rose for the first time, we are plunged into a reminiscence of To Gillian, synthesizer and piano.
JH) That’s exactly right. Love never dies; Gillian, her memory. That was what To Gillian was about. It’s quite similar in Titanic. Death wins over life, but not over love. Love is eternal. There is a sort of emotional link between the sequences, Gillian-Jack, I love that sort of parallel. My music always works on that type of relationship.
DtD) The suicide attempt.
JH) There's a reminiscence there, too. Of A Promise Kept and Distant Memories, in fact. The first for Jack, the second for Rose. You know, the themes are opposed, are reversed, then come together again. After, just the scoring has to be done. But the idea is there from the start. In fact, that's what is important to me: playing with the themes, adding variations, opposing them, bringing them together again.
DtD) After that, there are long moments without your music. I Salonisti and Gaelic Storm take over. Then, it's time for the masterpiece: Rose !
JH) Yes, you close your eyes just as Jack asks, and you're flying. Sissel is magnificent, her voice seems to come straight from Heaven, like an angel who will protect the two lovers. In fact, Sissel is one path and the synthesizer another, and the piano brings them together. What was interesting was to put the two instruments of Sissel’s voice and synthesizer together. At the start, in accordance with the conventions, they are opposed, but those are just preconceived ideas. The thematic material accepts the differences and insists on the combination. Jack and Rose embrace, and the music soars upwards. I really love the metaphor. The whistle starts and ends the piece as if to close the loop. A parenthesis opens within the conventions of the time (and the musical conventions), then closes again.
DtD) Tony Hinnigan really is an outstanding musician !
JH) He's a fabulous musician, full of ideas, full of talent. He's a very important friend.
DtD) We've met Sissel, Eric Rigler and Céline Dion but Tony Hinnigan seems to be more distant.
JH) You've met all these people and now you're hounding me ! (Laughs.) Tony doesn't like being at the front of the set, just like Jim Henrickson. But without him my music wouldn't be what it is. He'll talk to you soon, I'm sure.
DtD) Do you realize that Rose is one of the most beautiful love themes of the 20th century ?
JH) It’s a theme that breathes emotion. I like sculpting emotion with notes. There is a difference between emotion and love. And the difference is Rose. It’s romantic and melancholy, but not like in a romance. I make a big distinction between romance and romanticism. You have to be simple to touch people deeply. Anybody could have used a sheet of chords to explain this love. But that would have destroyed the scene, you understand.
DtD) Like in Braveheart, during the scene where Wallace is executed. The children's choirs are unconventional and therefore even more moving and fantastic.
JH) Exactly, I like the comparison. Hollywood is so full of sugariness. It’s not even conventional, it's grotesque. Either there are 50 chords and you end up with absurdity. Or it’s just synthesizer music, and the music lacks soul. You come back to the Cartesian side, the obvious. Rose lies between the two: there's a thematic unity and a unity of thought. It’s my European side coming out, I think.

DtD) What you say is even truer in the portrait scene where Rose is played on the piano.
JH) Of course, and that’s the real work of the film music composer. That’s what being there to help the film means, not just being there to help yourself or your own ego. The piano is the instrument of creation, the instrument on which your ideas assume a "sound" for the first time. And this sound is like clay. Afterwards, it becomes a sculpture or it goes back to being clay.
DtD) One of our subscribers, Alexandre Tylski, pointed out to me that via the piano you are designer, sculptor and painter. The notes accompany Jack's stiletto.
JH) Well yes, it’s true. You all seem very familiar with my music, I'd even say with my approach. Your team is French, English, German, European in fact. I'm not surprised. It’s good that it’s like that. In effect I'm a sculptor. I think you people in Europe can understand that. I take an emotion and I try to translate it. Emotion is an intangible feeling that I try to transform into something concrete. Music. I like painting, the palette, expression. There are colours that are mine, and an empty canvas. The scene. In the film I have to translate a personal feeling into a universal one, like Monet or Picasso. One of them did it with landscapes, the other in opposition to the existing forms. I search for these colours as deep down inside myself as I can get, so that I can touch as many people as possible. I express my emotions on the canvas, my piano, then I give it the most realistic form for the scene. I paint an expression, or an impression. Impressionism like Debussy, Britten or Sibelius.
I totally forget the Hollywood rules that prevent that type of approach. My classical training has taught me to be extravagant in order to be true to myself. You know what I mean. I paint my music the way Jack draws. At the piano, because Jack refuses artifice. As I said, you have to know how to be simple so that you can be convincing and share what we call an "emotion" with others.
DtD) You are an "emotionalist” as well as a composer ?
JH) In the European sense of the term, because here in the States I am sure nobody understands the combination !
DtD) Jack's Celtic theme returns as Jack and Rose race through the ship, then it’s the scene where they make love.
JH) Yes, the piano comes back, and the synthesizer too, in the form of To Gillian. I remain as discreet as the scene. Rose returns again, delicately. Both Jim and I think the passage is great. Here again, there's no emphasis. Discreetness, and I like that.
DtD) Then the collision, the iceberg. Hard To Starboard.
JH) Yes, a long piece and a long sequence. It ties up with what I was saying a little while ago about Courage Under Fire. First Rose ends, then silence, expectation. The "tabadabada, tabadabada", like in the opening scene of Courage Under Fire. Expectation of confrontation, like in Falkirk. Then a rush of action: the impact. There's a fast, percussion motif that you recognize from Al Bathra. then the "tabadabada, tabadabada" tempo like a countdown.
DtD) The ostinato accompanying this "tabadabada, tabadabada" makes me think of Strauss and not of Capricorn One, which is what I read here in the States.
JH) Oh, really ! I'm not surprised. Here music starts in 1930, before, people only know the classical "hits". (Laughs.) The ostinatos of Strauss, Britten or Berlioz, to them it's all Goldsmith, North and the like. Capricorn Two would make more sense ! That's the whole problem of American musicians who know only Korngold, Steiner and Rozsa but aren’t familiar enough with Britten, Berlioz and Part. It's laughable in Europe, but people believe in it totally here.
DtD) As far as I'm concerned, I don't like Jerry Goldsmith being credited with what he has borrowed from the classics !
JH) You can't admit to the art of quotation here in the States. I know a bit about it, believe me.
DtD) But why insist on the way you quote Prokofiev in Glory, and say nothing about Rachmaninoff in Masada, Britten in Star Trek V, or even Shostakovich in Basic Instinct, to name but one or two obvious examples !
JH) What’s obvious to you isn’t what’s obvious here. You know, people like Britten, Satie or Part don’t have the reputation they have in Europe. What's more, the people who quote certain classical composers do so rather shabbily, like Jerry Goldsmith, to avoid any guilt feelings. If I quote 8 notes, it's because the theme I'm interested in has 8 notes. Some writers will take only 7 and change the 8th to give themselves the honour of paternity. That's not the approach music history taught me. Quoting isn't the same as cheating, you understand. You don't appear to have a good opinion of Jerry Goldsmith …

DtD) No, because over the last 10 years his music has lost its significance. What he did between 1970 and 1985 was impressive, but now it’s musical soliciting.
JH) I am no longer the young man who was once his friend. Times changed a long time ago. I am a rival now.

DtD) Let's get back to Hard To Starboard. There is an explicit quote from Al Bathra.
JH) Of course. It’s what I just explained to you. There is a different, faster tempo, and the scenes are shorter. Then, there is Al Bathra; the Al Bathra colour. I take the motif up again because it was needed just the way it was. I don't play about with the motif, I give it another life in a similar context, just the way Berlioz explained with his Symphonie Fantastique. What you mustn't do is take a motif and stick it in somewhere just because it’s easy to do so. Every quotation needs to have a thematic or an emotional sense. In this particular case, it's a combination of the two.

DtD) Some people won't understand what you mean.
JH) I think you do, though. I'm not interested in the others. And even less in their theory of music. I am satisfied with the work I did for Titanic. If people side with me and understand me the way you do, so much the better. As for the others, I don’t give a damn. What matters is that it is good for the film, good for the audience, good for me. Afterwards, there are the CD and the CD sales, which act as a barometer. I know the figures for Legends of the Fall and Braveheart, and Titanic's record. There's no point quibbling about it.
DtD) Then Rose leaves in search of Jack, who is imprisoned, in the style of the chases we heard in The Devil's Own.
JH) Yes, I love that sort of long synthetic movement punctuated by Tony's panpipes. That’s where the percussion instruments start their ballet, and their destructive power. Jim wanted it as a metaphor for the shipwreck. As if the hand of God was crashing with all its might against the ship. You'll notice the long silences in the corridors. The music returns at times, but only in terms of atmosphere, of dissonance. The percussion instruments wipe out the slightest feelings. We spent a long time working with Ian (Underwood – DL) on all those passages. It is very long and represents more than 15 minutes, I think. Ian did a tremendous piece of work.
DtD) There are sometimes passages from Distant Memories or Hard To Starboard, too.
JH) Yes, Jim took these passages and tried out their effects on the editing bench. Extract A went with moment B, and vice versa. At the start it looked as though it would change the character of the music, but on the contrary it gave it a sort of youth that even I wouldn't have thought possible. Here too, it links up with what you were saying about Courage Under Fire. Except that it was Jim holding the conductor’s baton.
DtD) And then there's the poignant Unable To Stay, Unwilling To Leave.
JH) Imagine the same piece without Celtic orchestration, without Eric, Tony and Sissel. It would lose all its depth, all its emotional impact. The lament cannot have the force it does without the Irish connotation. That's why I orchestrate my work myself. Nobody else should take decisions that would wipe out the impact of the music. Only Don (Davis – DL) can read my thoughts well enough to avoid destroying the unity. And like with Rose, the whistle opens the piece, the parenthesis. Only here it doesn’t close again.
DtD) Compared with the CD, what follows is more confused. There is the long percussion movement of a little while back, then extracts from The Sinking, and it closes with the high point of the score: Death Of Titanic.
JH) Jim put in a lot of time here too, with Death Of Titanic in particular. As the water floods the ship, we move towards Death Of Titanic, there's Nearer My God To Thee (cf. I Salonisti), then it starts up again. Jim and I added a theme here which is overshadowed in the CD and even in the film. You know what it is ? (James Homer sings the motif.) The people run towards the stern of the ship, then we return to the waves of The Sinking. The sea unleashes its full force and engulfs the Titanic. Then comes Death Of Titanic, which begins …
DtD) Tony's whistle, as in Patriot Games. An instrument as the harbinger of death.
JH) Exactly. Like in Patriot Games. I suppose you noticed the dissonances in Death Of Titanic, too ?
DtD) It’s a homage to your teacher Ligéti, or even to Penderecki ?
JH) To Ligéti certainly, not really to Penderecki. In fact, it’s not really a quotation because as far as the art of the abstract and of dissonance is concerned, Ligéti and Penderecki invented it all. If you adopt their structure, you are necessarily obliged to quote them. There are several melodic lines when the ship goes down: the trumpet as final countdown, the brass as a whole, and its voices from beyond the grave. You talk of a "high point": I think that’s something particularly rare in American film music. It’s not the sort of experiment some people have tried to do, that ends up just as an experiment. That happened to me in Streets of Fire. There's a complicity between a culture, a precept and creation. The audience is transfixed. In such cases, or often, the film music has to play on the unconscious of the audience. Death Of Titanic is a direct attack on the audience's consciousness. It’s not a metaphor of Death, it is Death.
DtD) A Promise Kept sounds then almost like Mozart's Requiem.
JH) The Lacrimosa. I find the parallel very flattering. No, no. After the nervous stress of Death Of Titanic, a time for readaptation is needed, with A Promise Kept. It is preceded by a long period without any music, perhaps 7 or 8 minutes. And then, O.K., you've seen the film. Jack leaves.
I accompany him with Tony's whistle. Discreetly. Very discreetly. A Promise Kept weaves around this tragic moment. Jim and I put in a few voices from beyond the grave, then Sissel, more brilliant than ever. It’s quite hard to talk about this scene. Sissel was knocked out when she saw the pictures. All of us, in fact. They were very emotional moments. It went beyond the context of the work. We were all moved by the pictures.
DtD) At that moment, and again with A Life So Changed, you touched people's hearts.
JH) Very possibly, and that is the beauty of film music. That’s why I want to carry on in this voice. The impact of the images makes my music more poetic, and conversely I think that in some scenes, particularly Jack’s death, it transcends the power of his death even more. At times Jim imposed silences to make the music stand out more; that’s how you reach people's hearts. Then, you have to understand people, the audience. Titanic and my music record a whole consciousness. When you hear the CD, and this was what I wanted, you go from remembrance to love, to death, then continuing life, without mentioning absolution: Never An Absolution. It’s human consciousness with all its qualities and defects. It’s A Promise Kept… Hope, life, remembrance, love.

DtD) The film closes with a variation on An Ocean Of Memories.
JH) Ocean and memory are such evocative words. I'm not sure there's anything more to say. There is no dialogue at the end of the film. Just images and my music, Rose, Unable to Stay, Unwilling To Leave and My Heart Will Go On. The rest is just appearances.
DtD) You, Sissel, Tony and the others reduced the whole world to tears.
JH) There are some values I'm proud of. Shared emotion is one of them.
DtD) It certainly was shared, I can tell you. There is respect, too. Respect for your listeners, because on the CD you wrote an End Title whereas it does not appear in the film because of My Heart Will Go On.
JH) I respect my music, and the people who listen to it, too. I often rework my scores for CDs. Titanic is a good example, with Hymn To The Sea, Leaving Port, etc. There are others too where I went even further, like The Pelican Brief or Searching For Bobby Fischer. It’s firstly a matter of self-respect.
DtD) It’s something Jerry Goldsmith would never do ! The less he puts on a CD, the better !
JH) That’s his problem and that of his listeners. That’s not the way I see it. Length is the essential factor with CDs, it's up to the listener, not the musician, to choose. Or else he doesn't really want people to listen to his music that much. Which is not the case with me.
DtD) Titanic goes against certain traditions, as did Willow and Brainstorm in their time.
JH) I'm attached to emotions and attitudes. Jim didn't take me on so that there would be a theme for Jack, a ship theme, a theme for Rose and one for the baddie. Star Wars had a bad influence on the critics in that respect. The leitmotif should remain a leitmotif with all its variations. That’s the way people think in the States: the theme then its variations and its combinations with other melodies. A linear and, I repeat, a very mathematical conception. No counterpoint, you know the style I mean. Just now you mentioned Ennio Morricone, and I know that his idea of the leitmotif is focused on the scene, not on the characters like in Star Wars. When he writes a theme for The Good, the Bad and the Ugly, it's the same theme for all three characters. That's the way Titanic works, you know. So does Once Upon a Time in the West. And…
DtD) The Man with the Harmonica. Written for Charles Bronson but used right from the start of the film for Henry Fonda.
JH) Exactly. People in Hollywood are a bit dim as far as that sort of musical approach, is concerned.
DtD) Not us, though ! I would like to take you back to The Spitfire Grill, which I particularly appreciate and which I would advise all our subscribers to make a special point of seeing.
JH) Yes, I think The Spitfire Grill is really great. The music and the film. Alison Elliott is tremendous, in osmosis with the scenery, nature, the forest. I really love the scone where she sits in the grass, singing. She is surrounded by greenery, trees and music. I'm completely enraptured by her. The theme played on the piano, supported by a violin. (A Healing Balm – DL). It's a different form of emotion and of stylistic purity. Opportunities like The Spitfire Grill are very rare.
DtD) I often say that to create a masterpiece like that, you took your piano and went off into the forest to write.
JH) That's not quite the way it happened. (Laughs.)
DtD) The Spitfire Grill came just after Braveheart. I still think that with Brainstorm, The Spitfire Grill, of course, and The Land Before Time, Braveheart is your absolute masterpiece. Do you agree, and what did the snub you received at the 1996 Oscars represent for you ?
JH) There is no such thing as an absolute masterpiece, you know. For my part, I like Cocoon, In Country, and The Spitfire Grill very much indeed. Braveheart, yes. I know the music had a strong effect on people; on me, too. The Oscars are a bit different. I took a beating a couple of years ago. So I’m more cautious now. I try not to get caught up in the impact of the ceremony. Sure, I hope to get an Oscar for Titanic; and I'd have liked to get one for Braveheart, it's true !
DtD) Do I hear what I think I hear ?
JH) Yes !
DtD) If I say: Titanic, Gone With The Wind, Star Wars.
JH) The three greatest successes in the history of the cinema.
DtD) If I say: Bach, Mozart, James Homer.
JH) That’s not for me to say.
DtD) So I can say it, then.
JH) Posterity will say it.
DtD) Posterity and Didier Leprêtre.
JH) If you like. (Laughs.)
DtD) Usually, we always ask the composer we are interviewing to wind up the interview. I'd like to make an exception this time and do so myself, so that I express my gratitude to you.
JH) It’s up to you, I guess.
DtD) First, I'd like to thank you for the time you've given us. Secondly, I'd like you to understand the great esteem and affection I feel for you and your music. As well as the millions of albums of Titanic that have been sold, there are people like me in France, in Germany, in Europe and throughout the world for whom you represent musical excellence, sophistication and genius, which you ceaselessly give proof of in your works. For all that and for much more too, I should like to thank you for giving our lives, my life a sense. Thank you, maestro.
JH) You're too kind. It was a pleasure talking to someone who understands my music.
DtD) Thank you again, maestro, for the honour.
JH) Thank you.

Sources: Interview with James Horner by Didier Leprêtre,. Dreams to Dream … 's 1998.
Special thanks to Didier Leprêtre, Javier Burgos, John Andrews and Nick Martin




  1. Wow this is a wonderful piece of work from JHFM. I will take time to digest it all. Amazing, how lucky we are to have your team to keep the magic alive. Thank you very much. Pamela

  2. Thank you very much for the interview! In Russia a very large number of admirers of the Maestro! We love his wonderful music! The pain of loss we are experiencing very hard. We miss him very much! So let the music sound!

  3. An amazing read, as always. Thanks for this one JHFM! I really enjoyed spending a few minutes just curled up on my couch reading this.

  4. It’s really great to see Horner discussing every cue of the movie, what he wanted them to tell the audience, etc.

    Except for one thing: your childish attack over Goldsmith. I really don’t know from where the interviewer got so much hate from Goldsmith, one of the greatest film music composers of all time.

    This interview was conducted in early 98, and you said that Goldsmith’s music by then had lost all of his relevance 10 years ago. But you forgot that, on that period, he wrote:

    -Rambo III
    -Star Trek V: The Final Frontier
    -Total Recall (until today one of the greatest action/sci-fi scores of all time)
    -Gremlins 2: The New Batch
    -The Russia House
    -Medicine Man
    -Basic Instinct
    -The Ghost and the Darkness
    -L.A. Confidential
    -Air Force One

    A rather impressive body of work for a composer that, like you said, “lost his relevance”, right?

    Therefore, your attack over Goldsmith during the interview came out as rather petty and immature, and tainted what otherwise could’ve been a great interview.

    1. Technically the interviewer was not ‘one of ours’ so to speak, as these interviews have all been republished with permission of the original authors.

      But I do understand your sentiment.

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