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Saturday, May 01, 2010


Music by Lee Holdridge
BSX Records BSXCD 8863 (US)
27 Tracks 60:42 mins

For those of you who have been collecting soundtracks as long as I have, the music of this 1975 production will not be unfamiliar, as an "unofficial" recording has been doing the rounds since what seems like time immemorial. Having said this, it's great to finally have a proper, digitally mastered commercial release of this fine score, albeit in a very limited edition of just 1000 units.
Winterhawk, the story of the Blackfoot Indian chief of the same name's desperate attempts to find medicine to help his smallpox-ravaged people, was directed by Charles B. Pierce, who went on to direct a number of projects concerning Native Americans, and starred Michael Dante in the title role, with solid support from the likes of Leif Erickson, Woody Strode, Denver Pyle, L.Q. Jones, Elisha Cook Jr, and Arthur Hunnicutt in his final performance.
Composer Lee Holdridge's film composing career was in its infancy when he landed Winterhawk, having only taken his first steps into the medium a couple of years earlier with Jonathan Livingston Seagull, a score that had impressed director Pierce. The scoring schedule however was challenging to say the least - just 10 days, and Holdridge was forced to enlist the help of one of his former teachers, Nicolas Flagello, and good friend William Goldstein, to help with adapting his themes and composing where necessary, for which they both received "additional music" credit on the film. Their contributions are also duly noted in the track listings of this disc, which commences with "Main Title/Montana" that, after a rather mournful opening, blossoms into an attractive theme for strings, which soars optimistically, and then transitions to a gorgeous chorale, which somewhat foreshadows Gerald Fried's great score for Mystic Warrior, nine years later.
The tragic "The Story Begins" briefly follows, before the initially tense "Winterhawk," bursts into rhythmic action based on the choral main theme, which flows quite wonderfully, before slowing to a downbeat close. "Little Smith Theme" opens with a melancholy stringed version of the main theme before a sudden hoe-down leads us to a brief tender moment and then an anguished conclusion.
"A New Day," all fluttering flutes and swirling strings, crescendos and then moves stridently to a close, to be followed by "Beautiful Land, its opening pastorale quickly overtaken by somewhat menacing piano chords, the mood continuing in the jagged "The Killers," which turns ever more dissonant before its concluding death fall. "The Violation" opens sturdily, but ends tragically, with the powerful and dramatic "Little Smith and the Gang" following, and leading to "The Trek," which presents a plodding, yet determined variation on the main theme; the theme continuing in softer mode for "Night Talk."
The hoe-down theme returns for "A Bath for Little Smith," injecting some much-needed light-heartedness, if only briefly, when the menace theme returns, resulting in "Little Smith's Death," which is actually quite lovely with elegiac trumpet, harp and strings. "The Quest" continues in the same vein, before taking on a more purposeful feel. A mystical choral variation on the main theme opens "Meditation and the Hunt," before the orchestra takes it up more purposefully, if somewhat grimly.
"Thoughtful Interlude" is a largely downbeat affair, erupting in savage action, before ending on a downbeat variation on the main theme. A warmer, flute-lead rendition of the theme follows in "Old Friends," blossoming into a lovely orchestral reading, before ending in a trombone-lead rendition of "Amazing Grace." By contrast, the dramatic action of "Confrontation" follows; the drama continuing into "Icy Landscape," before taking a more pastoral turn, which is cut short in eerie and dissonant fashion, leading to a plodding, but determined conclusion. The anguished opening of "Snow Pursuit" turns to suspense, and then more anguish and a dramatic close.
After all the drama, "Farewells" offers a tender flute and harp-lead version of the main theme, continuing into "Finale," before being taken up gloriously by choir to a big climax.
Holdridge collaborated with lyricist Earl E. Smith for a punchy vocal version of the main theme, for uncredited male vocalist and choir, "Winterhawk Song," which concludes the score proper.
The disc concludes with four alternate versions, including the "Main Title," the "Finale" and a choir only version of the "Winterhawk Song."
If you're not already familiar with the score for Winterhawk, you have a treat in store. If you are, you'll surely welcome a better sounding, official release of this old favourite.
Sadly, although released on video (with Holdridge's efforts replaced by a synth score) the film has yet to receive a DVD release. Let's hope, with the music properly out there at last, that this situation will one day change and that both film and its right and proper score are made available.
Accompanying the disc are Randall D. Larson's detailed notes on both the film and its score, with additional comments by the composer, all illustrated with colour stills from the film. I don't know how many copies are left, so you'd best hurry along to if you want one.


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