James Horner began his studies in classical piano at the age of five. He attended the Royal College of Music in London, before travelling to his native California to obtain his tertiary qualifications. He studied for a Bachelor of Music at the University of Southern California, and later completed a Masters degree and PhD in music composition and theory at UCLA.
An early interest in avant-garde music techniques helped him to define his personal style, his compositions often blending traditional harmonies and a conventional orchestra with the texture of ethnic instruments and even electronic sounds. He has been known to use a wide range of exotic instruments, from steel drums to pan pipes.
While teaching music theory at UCLA, Horner became involved with the American Film Institute (AFI), scoring for their 1978 film The Drought. This led to several other projects with the AFI, and later New World Pictures. After struggling to get his concert pieceSpectral Shimmers? performed, Horner was drawn by the prospect of having his compositions put into practise within weeks of having finished them.
Much of Horner's early film scoring work was for low budget horror and science-fiction films, and through this he developed his skill for combining several talented musicians with synthesizers and producing a creative and innovative sound. As his scoring assignments began to change, so too did his style. By 1990, Horner's thematically dramatic orchestral efforts, teamed with his growing song-writing ability, had earned him two Oscar nominations, two Golden Globe nominations, and three Grammy Awards.
After using the early?90s to build up his resume with countless smaller films, Horner burst back into the international spotlight with a streak of impressive scores. After another Golden Globe nomination for Legends of the Fall, he was nominated to receive Academy Awards for both Braveheart and Apollo 13, two ethnically different, but stylistically elevated scores.