Grieving over the tragic news one year ago of the untimely death of Star Trek II and III composer James Horner, fans of the musician poured onto social media to celebrate, lament and share stories of the famed composer. One of those fans just happened to be Varèse Sarabande’s Robert Townson, who as luck would have it, was able to share a very special career moment in 2013 with Horner at the Hollywood in Vienna concert. While commiserating with fans online, Townson noticed the one sliver of sunshine for everyone was his posts about the concert itself and time he spent with Horner. Thus was born, Hollywood in Vienna: The World of James Horner project.
Townson was in a unique position to produce the Blu-ray concert, as he’s done the same for over 1,300 film scores and concerts throughout his career. While he only knew Horner as a professional colleague, Townson was as touched by his music as everyone else and jumped at the opportunity to conduct a symposium with Horner on his creative process and career while in Vienna, in the very same auditorium that his Academy Award winning father Harry Horner worked.
“It was a lovely opportunity and one I cherish now,” Townson explained. “It was the first time he had heard a concert of his film music in a concert hall. One of the services this concert and new Blu-ray give is an almost kind of cathartic experience. Fans get to see James himself reacting to hearing his music performed in a concert hall and experiencing what his music meant to people.”
“He was so moved by it,” Townson continued. “The moments throughout the concert, where the camera cut to James experiencing this for the first time, he was tearing up. Seeing that now in light of the tragic events that unfolded is very comforting to people. To whatever degree he knew his work was important before this, in this setting the degree of his extraordinary contribution to the world of music was truly irrefutable.”
The 17-track concert Blu-ray, conducted by David Newman, features a track titled “Star Trek Suite” as well as Horner’s memorable “End Titles” to Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan and other films including Braveheart, Avatar, Titanic, Legends of the Fall and more. In addition, the organizers, including Hollywood In Vienna Director Dr. Sandra Tomek presented Horner with the Max Steiner Film Achievement Award. His moving acceptance speech as well as the above symposium are also included on the Blu-ray release.
“In his speech, he said it was the most important moment of his life, when he received the Max Steiner Award, with the audience cheering on their feet,” Townson added.
Solitary as so many composers are, sitting alone in quiet rooms, writing music and playing the piano, the notoriously shy Horner always turned down previous invitations to attend concerts or offers of his music being played live. However, when he was approached in 2013, he decided to attend the special event in his honor, which gave him an opportunity to pilgrimage to where his father’s professional career began with Max Reinhardt.
Providing organizers and fans with a rare opportunity to celebrate Horner’s career, the concert allowed a fitting tribute to his work that spanned three decades, beginning with The Hand in 1981 and prematurely ending with his final feature films in 2015, Wolf Totum, Southpaw and The 33. In between, Horner also wrote film scores for memorable movies such as Cocoon, Field of Dreams, Glory, The Rocketeer, Patriot Games, Apollo 13, and Titanic (for which he won the 1998 Academy Award for Best Score and Best Original Song).
Tabbed by Nicholas Meyer to write the score to Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, the then 27-year old composer only had seven previous credits to his name at that point. Dreaming of becoming a classical composer, Horner actually looked down on a career in film scoring; all of which changed with Wrath of Khan. Meyer wanted to distance this new film from the previous Star Trek: The Most Picture, which also meant not reusing any of Jerry Goldsmith’s iconic music from the movie.
“The film needed a powerful score,” Horner explained to Starlog Magazine’s Tom Sciacca in 1982. “The score is designed to help create a feeling of tremendous speed and power for the Enterprise.”
“Spock never had a theme before, and I wanted to give him a theme to tie the whole of Genesis and Spock by the end of the film,” Horner added, “so that it would all mean something. The theme for Spock, incidentally, is actually heard at the Leaving Drydock sequence.”
Unique in its own way, rather than being compared to the incomparable Goldsmith score, fans embraced Horner’s music for Star Trek II, which would take its proper place as one of the film series more indelible scores. The composer even has a brief cameo in the film, as a cadet walking the corridors and preparing the Enterprise for its final confrontation with Khan.
Joining the production of Star Trek III: The Search for Spock, Horner believed his Star Trek II gig to be a one-time journey to The Final Frontier. But as fans know all too well now, The Wrath of Khan truly kicked off Star Trek’s second life.
“Initially when I was doing Star Trek II there was no Star Trek III,” Horner shared in a 2010 Wrath of Khan Blu-ray featurette interview. “Star Trek III got formulated somewhere along the end while we were doing it. I had to change the end of Star Trek II musically, and they changed the cut so that it merged into the beginning of Star Trek III, and it actually held me in very good stead. Star Trek II was really to me, an emotional story between Kirk and Spock and that really paid off in a big way obviously in the next movie. I always look for those types of things in the films I do. It’s like a trademark of my writing.”
Luckily for fans, his music still lives on, and there is so many varied and unique scores for listeners to choose from throughout his career; from sweeping epics to period pieces to dramatic stories and light features. And now fans can also experience the once in a lifetime event that occurred in 2013 with the Hollywood in Vienna concert thanks to Townson.
“I’m so happy to have the opportunity to make this tribute to James Horner available as a Blu-ray. It was moving for me, it was moving for him and I know how exciting it is to his fans around the world to be able to experience the concert,” Townson concluded. “This seemed to be the only light coming through all the sadness (at the time of Horner’s death). The comments people were making about the concert, how much it meant to them how happy James was at this concert, how much it meant to them to see him being appreciated, and how much it all meant to him. So many people wished they could have been there. I am really thrilled to now be able to share this very special event and celebration of James with his fans around the world. I couldn’t be happier how it all turned out.”