I loved the part of our conversation where Michael Price revealed that as a composer Sherlock would have been influenced by Béla Bartók. It was a question that I’d hoped would lead me to an enlightening answer and I wasn’t disappointed.
Here’s what Michael said:
MJW: I was going to ask what his influences were, what kind of composer Sherlock is.
MP: Yeah, well I think it’s interesting because there’s a slightly off-center element to the tunes that Sherlock “writes”. His language is still tonal but I don’t know whether it’s got a hint of [Béla] Bartók in it or something like that. There’s a sense where it’s… Neither the “Woman” theme nor the “Waltz for John and Mary” are squared off at the edges.
They’re sort of slightly unbalanced and so I think…. I don’t think there’s much to suggest that he would be either an arch-Modernist or a…. I think it’s interesting from the performances, particularly in the “Woman” episode [A Scandal in Belgravia], that there’s a sense, listening to Mrs. Hudson’s reaction and to John’s reaction, that the piece for Irene is sort of more romantic probably than they’ve heard Sherlock play before, which is why they all sort of go, “Ooh ah. You’re writing a piece for her.” So if I was going to guess, it would be a route through Bach, through Bartók, to Sherlock.
So what does that mean for canon Sherlock? Because to my mind this is canon— we have his compositions— both of them— to study and they obviously reveal a lot about Sherlock’s character. But if you don’t have the musical background would you have come around to Michael’s conclusion? Probably not— and maybe not even if you did.
"I don’t think there’s much to suggest that Sherlock is an arch-Modernist…” and “his language is still tonal" go together. MP’s saying that Sherlock wouldn’t be an atonal composer. So he wouldn’t be in the same camp as the influential 20th century Viennese School composers such as Arnold Schoenberg. (Here’s my favorite recording of a Schoenberg piece.) To put it crudely it doesn’t really sound like “music” as most of us think of it. (Here is a great video where Glenn Gould, an admirer of Schoenberg chats with Yehudi Menuhin, who was not a lover, debate Schoenberg’s music.) So I’d say that Sherlock would have known Schoenberg and not have been interested in emulating him. So SH isn’t anti-tonality. But, as a composer, he’s not entirely in the tonal world either. His work isn’t “squared off at the edges.” It doesn’t resolve in expected ways (that’s why it takes awhile to become accustomed to “John and Mary’s Waltz”). So…probably, Michael thinks— Sherlock’s influenced by Béla Bartók.
What does THAT mean?
Bartók’s music reflects two trends that dramatically changed the sound of music in the 20th century: the breakdown of the diatonic system of harmony that had served composers for the previous two hundred years (Griffiths 1978, 7); and the revival of nationalism as a source for musical inspiration, a trend that began with Mikhail Glinka and Antonín Dvořák in the last half of the 19th century (Einstein 1947, 332). In his search for new forms of tonality, Bartók turned to Hungarian folk music, as well as to other folk music of the Carpathian Basin and even of Algeria and Turkey; in so doing he became influential in that stream of modernism which exploited indigenous music and techniques (Botstein [n.d.], §6). (x)
That means that Sherlock’s “Hero Theme” (“The Game is On”) is notated with the instruction that the strings should play it “with gypsy flair”— as it owes a bit of debt to Romani folk music. (Note: the term “gypsy” is considered a slur.)
Now let’s consider some other Romani folk music— music that Bartók lifted— Transylvanian/Romanian folk dances:
The melody of the first movements, according to Bartók, came from Mezőszabad, in the Maros-Torda (now Mureș County) section of Transylvania, and he first heard it when two
gypsy violinists were playing it. (x)
Listen to Bartok’s Romanian Folk Dances for piano and violin. Tell me you can’t see Mycroft and Sherlock playing it!
Note that Hans Zimmer felt the same way about what music was appropriate for Holmes’s spirit and used Romani-influenced music and Romani musicians for the Ritchie Holmes movies.
As to the Paganini— definitely NOT Sherlock Holmes— at least ACD Holmes or Beeblock or Ritchielock. Paganini was a virtuoso and wrote fracking difficult pieces to play. Amateurs don’t do Paganini.
All that said, my fave AU Sherlock is eldritchhorrors’s. Her masterpiece, The Cold Song, features a Sherlock who is a music aficionado and can play quite well— he’s not a genius violinist, but he’s certainly accomplished— well beyond ACD, Beeblock or Ritchielock. Did I say masterpiece? I mean it.
Here is a Bartók waltz, btw.