Simanaitis Says

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SHERLOCK HOLMES’ artistic streak surfaced regularly, and not just when he idly bowed his Stradivarius while pondering a consulting detective conundrum. Yesterday here, Michael Hardwick’s The Guide to Sherlock Holmes gave us tidbits about French artist Vernet of the Holmes family tree and Flemish composer Lassus of motet fame. Today, the book shares a few more arty types and, in discussing mystery tales, rightfully offers a red herring.

Felix Mendelssohn. In A Study in Scarlet, Dr. John H. Watson writes of Holmes’ violin skills, “That he could play pieces, and difficult pieces, I knew well, because at my request he has played me some of Mendelssohn’s Lieder, and other favorites.”

Jacob Ludwig Felix Mendelssohn Bartholdy, 1809–1847, German composer, pianist, and conductor during the early Romantic period.

That is, Holmes evidently did more than mere scratching on his Strad.

Frédéric Chopin. Also in A Study in Scarlet, Holmes says to Watson, “And now for lunch, and then for Norman Neruda. Her attack and her bowing are splendid. What’s that little thing of Chopin’s she plays so magnificently: ‘Tra-la-la-lira-lira-lay.’ ”

Frédéric François Chopin, 1810–1849, Polish composer and virtuoso pianist in the Romantic era.

Wilma Norman-Neruda. With her later marriage (the second for both) to Charles Hallé, Wilma became Lady Hallé when Charles was knighted in 1888. It was Charles who started the Hallé Orchestra of Manchester, England.

Wilhelmine Maria Franziska Neruda, 1838–1911, Moravian violinist.

In A Study in Scarlet, Holmes observes, “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…. There are vague memories in our souls of those misty centuries when the world was in its childhood.”

Niccoló Paganini. In recounting “His Last Bow,” (note: the gesture, not the violin stick), Watson writes, “We had a pleasant little meal together, during which Holmes would talk about nothing but violins, narrating with great exultation how he had purchased his own Stradivarius, which was worth at least five hundred guineas, at a Jew broker’s in Tottenham Court Road for fifty-five shillings. This led him to Paganini, and we sat for an hour over a bottle of claret while he told me anecdote after anecdote of that extraordinary man.”

Niccoló Paganini, 1782–1840, Italian violinist, violist, and composer. Renowned for his violin technique.

For the arithmetically curious, fifty-five shillings was equivalent to £2 and 15 shillings, just a bit more than 2 guineas (a guinea equaling 21 shillings or £1 and a shilling). Though Watson and sometimes even today’s Brits cite prices in guineas, the coin itself became nothing more than a colloquial term after 1814.

The value of Holmes’ Strad appreciated 191 times (from 55 shillings to 500 guineas, or 500 x 21 = 10,500 shillings). Pity the poor “Jew broker.”

Sarasate. In “The Red-Headed League,” Holmes says, “Sarasate plays at the St James’s Hall this afternoon. What do you think, Watson? Could your patients spare you for a few hours.”

Martin Melitón Pablo de Sarasate y Navascués, 1844–1908, Spanish violinist and composer.

As noted previously here at SimanaitisSays, Sarasate is remembered for his insight on musical talent: “For 37 years I’ve practiced 14 hours a day and now they call me a genius.”

As for Holmes’ taste in music, he says to Watson about that afternoon concert, “I observe there’s a good deal of German music on the programme, which is rather more to my taste than Italian or French. It is introspective, and I want to introspect.”

Richard Wagner. “By the way,” Holmes says to Watson at the culmination of “His Last Bow,” “it is not eight o’clock, and a Wagner night at Covent Garden! If we hurry, we might be in time for the second act.”

Wilhelm Richard Wagner, 1813–1883, German composer, theater director, and conductor. Renowned for “music dramas” including the epic four-opera Der Ring des Nibelungen.

Which reminds me of the (definitely non-Holmsian) one-liner: “You know Wagner operas: You sit down at 7 p.m. and, three hours later, your watch says 7:20.”

Tosca. I’ve written of Giacomo Puccini’s opera Tosca here at SimanaitisSays, but the reference in Hardwick’s The Guide to Sherlock Holmes is a wonderful red herring: Concerning an unchronicled adventure cited in “The Adventure of Black Peter,” Watson mentions Holmes’ “famous investigation of the sudden death of Cardinal Tosca—an inquiry which was carried out by him at the express desire of His Holiness the Pope….” ds

© Dennis Simanaitis,, 2017

One comment on “HOLMES AND THE ARTS PART 2

  1. VTK
    October 28, 2017

    Another bon mot about Wagner from the TV series “Agatha Christie’s Hercule Poirot,” starring David Suchet.

    An industrialist is murdered. His company manufactures meat pies.

    Poirot: I hear he was the Wagner of meat pies.

    Captain Hastings: Good pies, were they?

    Poirot: No, terrible. But he made so many of them.

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