Louisa M. Alcott's "Little Women" has been adapted many times for stage, film and television. The 2019 film was adapted and directed by Greta Gerwig who also wrote and directed 2017's "Lady Bird". Gerwig went again to her Lady bird star Saoirse Ronan for the lead part of Jo March in "Little Women" who together with Emma Watson, Florence Pugh and Eliza Scanlen make up the four sisters who are central to the narrative. As an actress Greta Gerwig herself is no stranger to acting roles, and she recently played a voice part in Wes Anderson's "Isle of Dogs". Anderson's film was scored by Alexandre Desplat and it's easy to speculate that this may have given Gerwig the idea to approach Desplat to score her version of "Little Women". However the CD sleeve notes indicate that she has enjoyed Desplat's film music for some time. Certainly the French composer though very versatile is particularly well-known for his scores to character-driven stories including "The Queen", "The King's Speech", "Philomena" and "The Shape of Water" (also from 2017).
Though I haven't seen this adaptation it is described as being told in part through the eyes of Jo March as she reflects on the lives of the four sisters both during and after the time of the American Civil War. Their father is away from home during much of the war and they are dependent on each other and their mother for support. Alexandre Desplat typically chooses a particular orchestral colouring as the basis for each of his films scores, and for "Little Women" he has chosen a restricted palette with strings, piano, harp, flute and clarinet. This orchestration provides quite a light feel without the power and bombast of brass and percussion, and he even omits the sometimes harsh and penetrating sound of the double-reed members of the woodwind family. In additional to his orchestration, Desplat's musicality is also based on a restricted set with simple rhythms and largely major keys albeit with regular modulations.
The title track kicks off the album with busy strings and piano, and "Plumfield" continues this core ensemble with the addition of a harp. "The Beach" then adds his restricted woodwind sounds to the palette and by now the full range of his orchestral colouring is established. The track ends in a gentle dreamy manner, and the dreamy mood continues with the nostalgic sounding "Christmas Morning". In contrast "Dance on the Porch" is more dynamic with spiccato strings and increasing syncopation, giving way to some delightful Coplandesque Americana. "Ice Skating" starts with solo harp, before it is joined by icy piano, plus flowing strings and flute. "The Book" is a small neo-classical concerto for chamber orchestra with parts of interest to all the players including a solo cello, before it ends with a few dreamy figures.
"Father Comes Home" feels like an important track with a more noticeable melody. It is very homely, nostalgic, simple and traditional with plenty of heart. There are several dreamy tracks to follow, though always unique in their individual sound, with "Telegram" seeming to be about to quote Beethoven's Eroica theme before heading off in another direction. "Theatre in the Attic" is an industrious track, and a number of waltzes make an appearance in later tracks. Although there is a consistency of tone across the album, there are moments of change and uncertainty such as "Friedrich", and "Meg's Dress" seems to cause some problems before resolving itself and sparkling into further moments of industriousness. "Carriage Ride" is very much a bumpy one, but it results in a welcome and peaceful arrival. The album ends with some longer tracks including the thoughtful "Jo Writes" reaching higher and higher, the haulting and melancholy "Amy, Fred, Meg and John" and the wistful "Dr March's Daughters" before reaching a conclusion with the busily souring "It's Romance".
Desplat's score is wholesome and speaks from the heart with an innocent simplicity. Although the tone is fairly consistent throughout, achieved mostly by his orchestral palette, Desplat rarely repeats himself and instead provides a constant source of invention within that tonal range. The score was oscar-nominated and I'm sure it fits the film beautifully. It is certainly a very pleasant listening experience in its own right and recommended on that basis. The "Little Women" film score album is available at these links: Amazon.co.uk or Amazon.com. There is also piano sheet music available for most tracks via digital download - for a list see this link at SheetMusicPlus.com.