Film Music Review
The Sammy awards









Music composed, conducted, and orchestrated by Lee Holdridge. Additional music composed and orchestrated by Nicolas Flagello and William Goldstein.

27 Tracks (Playing Time = 60:42)



Album produced for BSX Records by Ford A. Thaxton. “ Winterhawk Song” music by Lee Holdridge, lyrics by Earl E. Smith. Music edited by Frank McKelvey and Marcia Slawson. Digitally mastered by James Nelson, Digital Outland. CD Art Direction by Mark Banning.

BSX Records 8863

Rating: ***

Limited edition of 1,000 copies


There were a host of films in the 1970s addressing the genocide of Native Americans with sometimes not so subtle reminders about the way the West really was in the 19th century. Often stylized revenge films, many focused on the sort of naivety that led to conflict between tribes and settlers.

WINTERHAWK (1975) falls somewhere in between these poles with a story about a chief who goes to a village looking for aid for his sick tribe. His companion is kidnapped and held for ransom in exchange for the smallpox medicine he needs. Charles B. O Piere’s cast included some great character actors among them Denver Pyle and Elisha cook, Jr.

The importance of the score for film music fans is that it is an early example of Holdridge’s music. Hodlridge gained some attention with his orchestrations and work on 1973’s JONATHAN LIVINGSTON SEAGULL and had a fairly good career as an arranger. He had a few television scores and made-for-TV movies under his belt when WINTERHAWK came into view. There is a bit of confusion regarding the score. The original score for the film was rejected and Holdridge essentially had 10 days to write and score the film. He composed a primary theme for Winterhawk and then asked his former teacher Nicolas Flagello and good friend William Goldstein to assist him with additional music. Holdridge saw that their names received credit in the final film as well. BSX has marked the cues on this release where their music appears, though the score is stylistically seamless. The other problem is that the one and only time the film appeared on VHS (it has not seen a DVD release yet) licensing issues precluded the real score from being used. An electronic one was edited in its place taking away the emotional power of Holdridge’s musical support.

After a darkly minor idea opens the “Main Title,” Holdridge shifts into a beautifully soaring melody depicting the open spaces of Montana, perhaps, but the melodic idea, identified with the main character, still maintains a rather melancholy direction. The cue is written for strings with a harp arpeggio gently rolling beneath the texture and a choral overlay that suggest the plight of Winterhawk’s people, or at least lends them “voice” in the music.

More tense musical ideas, part of exciting action cues, begin to assert themselves almost immediately. Most interesting is the way different instrumental colors add small arpeggiated figures against the syncopated rhythms and a brassier statement of the main theme. The shifting moods of the music also allow for a little humorous hoedown in the midst of the presentation of “Little Smith Theme.” Parallel harmonic writing lends an Americana western sound to the score on occasion.

After the “Finale,” the main theme is presented as a song with chorus. BSX fills out the disc with four bonus tracks that include an alternate main title and finale as well as a chorus-only presentation of the “ Winterhawk Song.”

Overall, a beautiful score with touches of Americana and a bittersweet tinge to the primary thematic material, WINTERHAWK makes for a wonderful reminder of Holdridge’s talent.

The recording has moments that are a bit dry acoustically, but overall the sound is beautifully realized with great detail allowing us to hear the multi-layered score in all its beauty.

--reviewed by Steven A. Kennedy, 5 April 2010


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