Photo credit: © Etienne Walter
We had a chance to sit with David Pyatt, one of the four horn soloists for James Horner’s Collage, a concerto for four horns and orchestra.  As is apparent from the words themselves and the tone of the interview, this interview was conducted before James Horner’s death this summer.  We spoke with David on March 27, 2015 at Royal Festival Hall, the day of the premiere performance of Collage.
JHFM: We want to know a little bit about the story, how this work came to life.
PYATT: We've worked with James Horner–I've probably worked with him first about 15 years ago on the soundtrack for Iris in fact, before that I worked with him on Back To Titanic which was an album recording with James Watkins as well, and obviously Jim Thatcher has worked with him for many, many years in L.A.  And over time we just discussed this crazy idea of getting a performance of a Konzertstück-style piece for four horns and orchestra, and a couple years ago I said, ‘Why don't I contact the RPO?’, as I was moving orchestras from the LSO to the RPO, and suggested this would be the sort of thing they'd be open to. They love doing new music and they're always willing to take a risk, so how about it? James said 'yeah lovely, let's do it'. So it was sort of willed into existence.
JHFM: It's a kind of unique piece, and you were talking about Schumann as a previous example, and there aren't many scores today for four horns and orchestra.
PYATT: No there's a Michael Tippett horn quartet, with four horns and no orchestra, and I can't think of anything else that would use these forces.
JHFM: So it's a unique opportunity for four players to be on stage before the orchestra.
PYATT: Yes, exactly.
JHFM: Why is it called Collage? It's quite puzzling.
PYATT: Well you know what 'collage' means in English? It’s almost like a pastiche sort of thing but obviously slightly different.  I mean, certainly having rehearsed it the last two or three days, I didn't understand why he called it "Collage". It's because of the fact of many different elements he interposes and interjects amongst the four different horns and you end up with this amazing sound picture, if you like, with all of us playing often in canon and then coming together for those glorious moments when everything comes together in one body.
JHFM: So when you discovered the score for the first time, each of you worked his own part and then you had to be together… I mean, four soloists is very unusual… how did it work?
PYATT:  We got the music fairly recently. Obviously, as James is used to writing for film, everything is a little bit last-minute – in the best possible way – with classical music you tend to get it months and months in advance, and I never expected to have it until a couple of weeks ago, and sure enough: two weeks ago, it arrived. I ran through it with some colleagues here in London: with John Ryan who's playing the fourth horn part, obviously; and Richard Watkins, who's joined us a few days ago; and then Jim Thatcher joined us two days ago. Sort of adding one at a time.

James Thatcher, John Ryan, James Horner, David Pyatt, Richard Watkins
JHFM: Of course, as professionals, you're also used to discovering a film score the day of the recording. You never know about the score before.
PYATT: Rarely. Very rarely. And in fact you get worried when they start to contact you before the day because you know it's going to be something really hard. Normally it's on the day.
JHFM: About the horn… Because, if one listens to James Horner's music for a long time we know that the horn is a major instrument for him. He himself is a horn player. In his music do you think there is something special about the horn writing, different from other composers?
PYATT: Absolutely. The thing that James Horner always brings to his writing which I absolutely adore is the atmosphere, and the way he uses the horn, it's unique. I mean the only other composers I can think of who use the horn the same way in the classical sphere, would be a composer like Ravel, perhaps, where you get these long high-lined solos for the instrument. Long, lyrical passages. So he writes absolutely intrinsically for the instrument, whereas so many composers in classical and film nowadays, now write for horn…ish. So it could be trombone, could be trumpet, doesn't really matter. Whereas James understands, as John Williams does, and I think probably James Newton Howard–I can't think of many other composers–who really understand the horn. The nature of the horn, and how it works best.
JHFM: So for you, it's interesting as a horn player to discover new ways to use the horn apart from the classical repertoire?
PYATT: Yeah, I think certainly film music has been very much a part of our consciousness as horn players for many decades, pre-John Williams obviously even from 1930s, 1920s, William Walton for instance, wrote some fantastic music as those earlier film scorers–Newman, people like that. Then you have to write for the instrument, coming out of a tradition of composers who knew the instruments they were writing for, and I think James is very much in that tradition.
JHFM: Do you think that, with him coming from a classical background, there's a bridge with the classical world and British composers?
PYATT: Very much. I mean, the British relationship with the French horn, of course – the Cor Anglais, it's a very strong one and it was cemented, if you like, when people like Dennis Brain, obviously, and his father Aubrey Brain were becoming famous.  And Alfred Brain went to Los Angeles to be a film studio horn player, so he took all his wealth of knowledge and experience with him, and the British tradition spread around the world. Of course it's partly German as well thanks to the Borsdorf family who came to London and worked for the London Symphony Orchestra, so it's a little bit of a melting pot, really. To answer your question, James having this British tradition behind him is something I think is incredibly important in the way that he writes.
JHFM: This piece is going to be performed once, and in Houston, where it was commissioned.  That means you will travel to the U.S. for this performance?
PYATT: Richard and myself will go and I think they're using two of their horn players from Houston.
JHFM:  It will be an interesting mix, I think. Can you tell us… do you have in mind any moments of horn playing in a film you found to be particularly moving, whether it's James Horner or another composer?
PYATT: Sure. There's quite a few. I grew up listening to Star Wars, obviously…the original ones. So there's one of the tunes in Star WarsLuke and Leia's theme. I mean I played first horn for the new Star Wars films with John Williams. I was sitting in Abbey Road playing tunes I grew up listening to as a kid. I was in heaven. Amazing, very lucky. In the wider repertoire, today’s scores that particularly stick in my mind are Wyatt Earp, which was probably the first time I became aware of Jim Thatcher. It was absolutely glorious, I don't know if you've heard that score. It's a very wild west…Jim Thatcher's playing on that is just extraordinary. Always – John Williams and Jim again – that's Jim. Beautiful playing. I was lucky I did the score for Iris with James Horner, which had some lovely horn writing in it, it was really hard! But really beautifully written.
JHFM: It doesn't seem hard, when listening to it! It's so flowing and floating…
PYATT: Thank you. I do remember sitting there and thinking "oh my God" and I played it twice…
JHFM: It had an absolutely beautiful horn solo.
PYATT: Thank you. It's gorgeous. Absolutely beautiful writing. So, any of those lyrical scores are fantastic. That's what I personally enjoy most.
JHFM: Do you have fond memories of yourself, playing on film scores where you see the images and you think 'Oh, yes!'?
PYATT: There's always a proud moment… the best one for me was the latest Star Wars film. The twin moons of Tattooine, and that tune starts… it's a very proud moment. No one knows it's you of course!
JHFM: Do you think in the future there will be experiments like this from people coming from the film score world writing for the concert world and maybe vice versa? Something that can be done more often now?
PYATT: I think so. I think the difficulty is finding common ground between writing effectively programme music for film and something that translates to the concert hall where you haven't got pictures. I mean, Richard Strauss did it brilliantly, but he was like the first film composer without film. But I wonder how many composers have the thematic abilities that James has or John Williams has, and I think that's the challenge for a lot of film composers, to create something that has a lyrical and listenable tune, and isn't just a quick collection of chords.
JHFM: There has been a gap between the concert world and the film world, hence the snobbish attitude toward film music. Less now probably. But for the performers, from what you were saying, it presents new opportunities, new discoveries of new ways to use your instrument. So isn't it better to open the gates to these worlds?
PYATT: Well, I think there's a case to be made that the vast majority of modern music is ghastly. Who wants to listen to it? You can empty a concert hall by programming modern music, and that in itself speaks volumes. Having said that,of course there are some wonderful modern composers–you know I'm thinking of? Oliver Knussen, who wrote a most amazing horn concerto. Wonderful! It's challenging in some ways to listen to, but it's got these moments of pure beauty and that could come out of a film. You could be listening and say that could be a James Horner motif, and that's a wonderful experience. New music that works is great.
JHFM: You were talking about the audience, the public; but also for you performers, there's a pleasure involved with it.
PYATT: That's about playing music that is well crafted, and that suits your instrument. And so much new music, whether it's in film or classical, just isn't. That's what makes it so frustrating when you come to work and you're playing a horn part that, as I said, could be trombone, could be trumpet, keyboard, you know, doesn't really matter.
JHFM: It means that sometimes the score is in the hands of the orchestrators, there's no craft, it's not really something deep….
PYATT: …or even suitable sometimes!
JHFM: With this concerto, will you be recording it for an album?
PYATT: We're hoping. We're hoping if all goes according to plan, we should be recording it fairly soon. You could certainly say there are plans but that's all they are at the moment. They're hopefully fairly concrete plans.
David Pyatt and James Horner during the recording of Collage on May 30, 2015
Shortly after James Horner’s passing in June, we received correspondence from David Pyatt, who corroborated that the soloists and Horner’s team had indeed recorded a studio performance of Collage on May 30, 2015, with the London Philharmonic Orchestra, conducted by Jaime Martin. He shared with us at the time that they had not yet begun the editing process, citing that, understandably, revisiting the performance so soon after James’s death would be emotionally difficult for all involved.  However, we are hopeful that, with all the raw materials present and accounted for, the world should enjoy a commercial release of the studio recording sometime in 2016.


  1. Thank you so much, Mr.Pyatt, for your superb interview piece on Collage and other scores associated with you. I thoroughly enjoyed the concert at the Royal Festival Hall on the 27th ‘March. It was wonderful, the whole evening was filled with tremendous music, and I am so glad I was able to be there. It is great news that we may get to hear this Concerto again…to keep! I am also pleased to know now that you played Horn on the score of IRIS, with Joshua Bell. I love this CD, had the chance to speak with Joshua about it recently and now know you too are one of the amazing musicians. I admire you all. I look forward to the hopeful release of Collage and to keep the lasting memory of James’s beautiful music in our hearts. Pamela, Hertfordshire, UK.

  2. Wonderful news, Mr. Pyatt, that the Collage CD will be released. Can’t wait to hear this piece again. At the moment I am playing IRIS,which is a favourite of mine and one you are on. I would have loved to be there at the recording. Notice that it is the name of one of your daughters. thank yiu. Pamela.

  3. Oh at last….what a wonderful CD. It’s amazing in every way. This must surely feature top of the classical charts very soon. Can’t thank you and everyone involved in bringing that wonderful concert at the Royal Festival Hall, 27thMarch2015 back into my heart.Pamela.

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