Art In The Blood. The Music of Sherlock Holmes
“Art in the blood is liable to take the strangest forms.”
The Greek Interpreter
As someone who appreciates music and have played the piano and keyboard in the past, although admittedly I am now very much out of practice and really only a novice, I do enjoy seeing musical instruments being played. I have enjoyed attending the Proms for example. Apart from the piano and keyboard I have also attempted to learn the Clarinet! Violin music however is wonderful and I have been very privileged recently to listen to some absolutely exquisite and very moving violin music played by a very accomplished and talented violinist. It is through my love of music that I was thinking of how music relates to Sherlock Holmes.
Sherlock Holmes was portrayed by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle to have been one of the foremost detectives of the Victorian era, indeed as Sherlock Holmes himself observed, the world’s first only Consulting Detective. However Holmes had hidden depths which Dr Watson came to learn and appreciate over many years in sharing rooms at 221B Baker Street. It is through Watson that we learn that Holmes is related to the French painter Vernet in The Greek Interpreter. Doyle is leaving the reader with a playful suggestion that Holmes was very much an accomplished artist himself. However Holmes will always be synonymous for his association with the violin. In the case of Holmes, he plays the Stradivarius violin. The Stradivarius dates back to the early 1600s. It was Antonio Stradivari who came up with the Stradivarius, and research shows he was making Stradivarius violins from around 1660 onwards. The Stradivarius violin is considered by many to be the benchmark of musical excellence.
I had the pleasure of visiting the London Museum of Film a few years ago and was thrilled to see some of the props used in the Granada Sherlock Holmes on display. I did come across two violins! I don’t think however the violins themselves were used in the Granada series, although I like to think that the violin case was the one shown in The Final Problem!
(c) Charlotte Smith from own collection
So what does Doyle attempt to show with portraying Holmes as not just a violinist but a very accomplished one? Is it a musical extension of a Great Mind that would have appealed to the Victorian ideal of the perfect intellectual or is it further tangible evidence of a Great Heart as Watson put it in The Three Garribeds? Certainty the many film and TV portrayals of Holmes with his violin have associated the violin with Holmes. In the Basil Rathbone films the violin is used more as a prop than a real instrument of music and is used occasionally.
(c) via Google Images
Granada’s Sherlock Holmes does take the viewer down a more serious use of the violin as we see Holmes use the violin as a means to express his emotions
(c) Picture from Google images/ITVStudios
Not even The Great Mouse Detective himself can escape the association of Holmes with the violin in a comical reference to the subject!
(c) Picture via Google Images
Personally I think it is a combination of things. We know Doyle was drawn to spiritualism as his life went on and I think he does introduce a spiritual element into some of his Sherlock Holmes stories, as can be seen in instances such as The Naval Treaty when Holmes reflects on the composition of a rose, and in The Cardboard Box in which Holmes states that
“What object is served by this circle of misery and violence and fear? It must tend to some end, or else our universe is ruled by chance, which is unthinkable…”
And I also think Doyle wanted Holmes to be the perfect all-rounder which he was in the field of fencing, boxing, his detective work, his gift for the arts and of course his music. Perhaps less known is his interest in archaeology, natural history and ancient history. This was evident in The Devil’s Foot when Watson spoke of Holmes spending his time alone on the moors. And of course it is highlighted again to some extent in The Musgrave Ritual.
Music is as timeless as time itself and like his deerstalker and pipe, the violin will always belong to Sherlock Holmes. Perhaps the last word should therefore remain with Holmes in A Study of Scarlet as he sums up his feelings about music..
“Do you remember what Darwin says about music? He claims that the power of producing and appreciating it existed among the human race long before the power of speech was arrived at. Perhaps that is why we are so subtly influenced by it. There are vague memories in our souls of those misty centuries when the world was in its childhood.’
That’s a rather broad idea,’ I remarked. (Dr Watson to Holmes)
One’s ideas must be as broad as Nature if they are to interpret Nature,’ he answered.”