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James Horner, Oscar-Winning Film Composer, Presumed Dead

(SOUNDBITE OF JAMES HORNER SONG, "A KALEIDOSCOPE OF MATHEMATICS")

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

And that music, from the movie "A Beautiful Mind," was written by James Horner. He also wrote the scores for "Titanic," "Field Of Dreams" and more than 100 other film and TV programs. Yesterday a plane registered in his name crashed in a remote area near Santa Barbara, killing the pilot. It's presumed that pilot was Horner.

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

NPR's Mandalit del Barco has this remembrance of the 61-year-old Oscar-winning composer.

(SOUNDBITE OF JAMES HORNER SONG, "MY HEART WILL GO ON")

MANDALIT DEL BARCO, BYLINE: For the past few decades, James Horner was the go-to composer for movie directors wanting to tug the heartstrings of audiences, like he did for the epic love story, "Titanic," or to make scenes more tense, like he did for the science-fiction flicks like, "Star Trek II: The Wrath Of Khan" and "Aliens."

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

DEL BARCO: Over the years, Horner contributed to the soundtracks of so many other memorable movies - "Braveheart," "Apollo 13," "Glory." He won two Academy Awards and was nominated for eight others. Horner talked to NPR in 1997 about his process.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED BROADCAST)

JAMES HORNER: The first thing that I try and find is the emotional content of the film and the tone of the film, and what instruments, what sounds, are going to paint for me the emotions that I feel.

DEL BARCO: Warner was born in Los Angeles. He studied at London's Royal College of Music before moving back to California in the 1970s. One of his first movie gigs was "Battle Beyond The Stars" for Roger Corman.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

DEL BARCO: Warner scored other science fiction movies. Here he is in a documentary about the making of the 1986 movie, "Aliens."

(SOUNDBITE OF DOCUMENTARY)

HORNER: Writing a melody in its simplest terms takes two seconds. The hard part is weaving a carpet that lasts exactly a certain amount of time, and in that time, I have to acknowledge maybe 36, 38 events - gunfire, people dying, a monster dying - whatever the things are, it relies on exact timings to the hundredth of a second so that the music matches the picture.

DEL BARCO: Scoring "Aliens" was a rocky road, according to both Horner and James Cameron, who wrote and directed the film.

JAMES CAMERON: The score is brilliant, but we both had a little bit of a resentment coming out of that experience.

DEL BARCO: Cameron says, over the years, that resentment faded into collaboration. When he was asked to direct "Titanic," he wanted to bring on the best movie composer he knew. That was James Horner.

CAMERON: James was always on a quest to introduce new sounds, whether they were vocal or whether they were indigenous percussion. He'd work with ethnomusicologists to find new sounds, new voices, new instrumentation. So it never ended.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "MY HEART WILL GO ON")

CELINE DION: (Singing) Every night in my dreams I see you, I feel you.

DEL BARCO: To create the score for "Titanic," Horner mixed orchestral instruments with voice synthesizers and Irish uilleann pipes. Cameron says his friend was a very technical but also sensitive composer.

CAMERON: He never lost sight of the necessity for grandeur and power. And ultimately, I think it boils down to being emotional. You know, James had a huge heart, and that comes through in his music.

DEL BARCO: Horner went on to work with Cameron on the blockbuster 2009 movie, "Avatar" and was preparing to score upcoming "Avatar" sequels. James Horner may be gone, but fans can still look forward to his music on three feature movies coming out soon. Mandalit del Barco, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.