Comparing the Little Women Soundtracks

Little Women (1994 film) - WikipediaLittle Women (2019 film) - Wikipedia

One Story, Two Soundtracks

If pure nostalgia is possible to capture in a single soundtrack, Little Women did it in 1994.  It’s arguably (in my mind) one of the best pairings between plot and music.  But I’m getting ahead of myself.

In 2019, Greta Gerwig attempted (and I do mean attempted) to re-do the classic story of a family in the Civil War era, Little Women. 

I haven’t yet worked up the mental energy or gusto to try comparing the movies to each other (frankly I’m afraid I would have to forever shun the 2019 remake in favor of the original), but I am really excited to compare / contrast the soundtracks.  Music is, at the very least, one of my favorite things if not my forte.  I’m excited to listen to these soundtracks back and forth and share my thoughts.

And with that, let’s get into it.

Physicality

First up, we will compare the physicality of the soundtracks: how the music is expressed, which instruments carry the melodies, the tonality, etc.  I found these to be similar and different at the same time.  I believe we can say both soundtracks were fair interpretations and are overall very well written.  Thomas Newman wrote the original, and is known for his soundtracks of movies such as Nemo, The Shawshank Redemption, 1917, and many other popular movies.  Alexandre Desplat composed for the remake and is known for creating a few of the Harry Potter soundtracks.  He also wrote music for The Imitation Game, Unbroken, The King’s Speech, and other well-known movies.

Little Women (1994) Thomas Newman

  1. Melodies carried throughout entire orchestra, but mostly strings and brass
  2. Subdued, muted tones
  3. Entire orchestra involved most of the time
  4. Layers of themes and melodies give the music a complicated and developed sound

Little Women (2019) Alexandre Desplat

  1. Strings and piano carry most melodies
  2. Bright, active tones
  3. There isn’t much usage of brass and woodwinds, due to this being recorded by a chamber orchestra
  4. Some layers, but with a smaller orchestra there is less complexity

Aesthetic

Next up, we are going to explore the aesthetic of the music, or how it feels. I honestly feel so many things when I listen to music, but I’m going to do my best to sum it up short and sweet-like for you here. Again, both composers did a great job in developing a soundtrack that makes you “feel” the story.

Little Women (1994) Thomas Newman

  1. Use of brass and bells with low strings at beginning gives the feel of winter and Christmas-time
  2. Use of woodwinds with high strings in second portion produce springy tones
  3. Excellent manipulation of tone to produce certain emotions, especially in specific scenes that evoke a sad, mournful response

Little Women (2019) Alexandre Deplat

  1. Lack of differential with seasons and the changing of time – except one song “Ice Skating” that gives obvious tones of cold, outside activity
  2. Use of speed and staccato notes for strings produces the fast-paced feeling of being in the city – for instance when Jo runs through New York City
  3. Songs with happy tones do a wonderful job, but the soundtrack lacks the truly mournful, tear-inducing quality of the original with regard to specific aspects of the story

Accuracy

Finally, I’m going to review how well each soundtrack did in reproducing the classic story itself. With music, it is so easy to create modern sounds that do not fit with the timeline or era of the story. One composer certainly had the higher ground here, and that may be simply that his soundtrack was created before much of our modern music methods had been created. But should accuracy win over creativity?

Little Women (1994) Thomas Newman

  1. “Port Royal Gallop” and “La Fayette’s Wecome” originals by Newman, accurately reflect the more “military-like” music that would have been played at balls during the Civil War era
  2. High usage of strings very accurate – strings came into their own in the 1800s and became what they are today
  3. Use of brass mostly accurate, although some instruments not yet used to full extent (1890s brought more usage of brass)
  4. Full orchestra usage accurate to the tendency of the times

Little Women (2019) Alexandre Desplat

  1. Dvorak String Quartet No. 12 used in dance scene inaccurate – song was written nearly 30 years after the Civil War
  2. Although the piano was still used in the 1800s, the strings were used more and dominated the sound of the orchestra – Desplat doesn’t balance the piano and strings as a composer would have in 1860
  3. Although chamber orchestras were most likely still used, the usage of the full orchestra was become very popular in the 1800s

Encore

Taken as a whole, Thomas Newman did the best job with his soundtrack for the 1994 remake of Little Women. The originality, complexity, accuracy, and musicality he presents in his work is superb! Alexandre Desplat did not do a bad job, however. Desplat gave us a modern take on the classical story, while Newman gave us a era-accurate version. Both are enjoyable to listen to.

If I could only move on in life with one of the two soundtrack, I would have to pick Thomas Newman’s! The complexity and layers within the melodies and across the pieces of the orchestra is quite breathtaking, and the sounds are very nostalgic for me, having grown up watching Little Women quite often. However, if I had to pick between individual songs, it would be difficult decision. Here are some of my favorites from each soundtrack.

Little Women (1994) Thomas Newman

  1. Orchard House played at the very beginning of the movie sets the tone for the entire film and just makes me feel happy and cozy
  2. Harvest Time reminds me of summers here in Kansas and the fullness of the sound gives me goosebumps
  3. Spring does such a beautiful job of conveying the new, fresh, warm feeling of Spring after such a long and cold winter

Little Women (2019) Alexandre Desplat

  1. Little Women, also played at the beginning of the movie sets the tone for the whole soundtrack as the themes it plays are heard throughout
  2. Dance on the Porch is just a beautiful little romp that makes me excited and I will admit I dance to it often
  3. Ice Skating is the only song I felt like displayed the season and actually physical feeling of where and when things were happening and I really loved the song!

Aside from these, I also really like the Dvorak String Quartet (played while Laurie and Jo dance together in the 2019 film) and “Finder” by Cyrus Reynolds (played during the film’s trailer), but of course neither was written by Alexandre Desplat.

What do you think of the soundtracks? Go take a listen and leave a comment below. I hope you enjoyed this new segment of the blog. 😉

Until the next soundtrack.

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