(from an ATA webpage at http://home.prcn.org/~pauld/ata/articles/holmes.htm)
Topical Time
November-December 1998
pp 32-33
Musicians and Composers He Loved

Music of Sherlock Holmes

Ted Friedman

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle mentioned several European musicians and composers throughout his stories to support the musical skill of Sherlock Holmes and his love of music.

Dr. Watson wrote in The Red Headed League: "Holmes was an enthusiastic musician, being himself not only a very capable performer of no ordinary merit." The detective enjoyed music of all kinds, including opera, concert music, and obscure compositions. His special devotion to music was clear from the number of references in the stories.


Mendelssohn was a Holmes Favorite. German Democratic Republic (Scott 2393)
In the first Sherlock Holmes story, A Study in Scarlet, some of Felix Mendelssohn's work "Leider De Onne Worter" (Songs Without Words) were played by Holmes at Dr. Watson's request as they were his favorites. Watson wrote in the story, "That he knew Holmes could play difficult pieces because he played some Mendelssohn and other favorites. He would also create his own pieces extemporaneously."

During his investigation of the case, A Study in Scarlet, Holmes looked forward to spending an afternoon at Halles where Whilhelmina Norman-Neruda, the well known violinist was performing. Holmes said, "And now for lunch and the Norman-Neruda. Her attack and bowing are splendid. What's that little thing of Chopin's she plays so magnificently, Tra-La-La-Lira-Lira-Lay."

Chopin noted in A Study in Scarlet. Poland (Scott 398)


Sarasate played at St. James Hall.
Spain (Scott 2028)
Holmes and Watson interrupted their investigation of The Red Headed League to see the famous Spanish violinist perform at St. James Hall. Holmes said. "Sarasate plays at St. James Hall this afternoon. What do you think Watson? Could your patients spare you for a few hours?"

In listening to Sarasate, Holmes' mood was quite revealing. In The Red Headed League Watson wrote, "All the afternoon he sat in the stalls wrapped in the most perfect happiness, gently waving his long, thin fingers in time to the music, while his gently smiling face and languid, dreamy eyes were as unlike those of Holmes, the sleuth-hound Holmes, the relentless, keen-witted, ready-handed criminal agent as it was possible to conceive."


Wagner Night at Covent Garden. German Democratic Republic (Scott 647)
Holmes and Watson hurried from The Red Circle Case to Covent Garden where a Richard Wagner night was in progress. Holmes said to Watson, "by the way is it not eight o'clock and a Wagner night at Covent Garden? If we hurry we might be in time for the second act." Holmes earlier in The Red Headed League expressed a preference for German music. He told Watson, "There's a good deal of German music on the programme, which is rather more to my taste than French or Italian. It is introspective and I want to introspect. Come along."

In the story The Mazarin Stone Holmes fooled his enemies, Count Sylvius and Sam Merton, into thinking he was actually playing the "Hoffman Bacarolle" on the violin. However, Holmes played a recording of Jacques Offenbach's "Bacarolle" from his opera The Tales of Hoffman.

Holmes said, "I shall try over the Hoffman Barcarolle upon my violin. In five minutes I shall return for your final answer. You quite grasp the alternative do you not? Shall we take you or the stone?"

Holmes violin playing was so excellent that the listeners in The Mazarin Stone could not tell him from the record.


Holmes fooled enemies with Offenbach. France (Scott B538)


Paganini was a master violinist. Italy (Scott 1503)
Sherlock Holmes revealed during the investigation of The Cardboard Box case that he knew a great deal about Niccolo Paganini, the celebrated Italian violinist and generally considered to be the greatest master of violin technique who ever lived. Holmes discussed Paganini with Dr. Watson, sitting with him for an hour over a bottle of claret while he told anecdote after anecdote of that extraordinary man.

During his discussion of music in The Cardboard Box, Holmes told Watson that he owned a violin made by the renowned violin maker, Antonio Stradivarius. Holmes believed it to be worth at least five hundred guineas, which he had purchased for some fifty-five shillings on Tottenham Court Road.

Holmes was very careful in the maintenance of his Stradivarius violin. He kept it in its case stored in a corner of his sitting room at Baker Street. This treatment of a musical instrument is in sharp contrast to many other of his possessions: tobacco in the toe of a Persian slipper, needles and syringes, unanswered correspondence stuck on his mantelpiece with a jackknife and chemical relics in a butter dish.


Holmes owned a Stradivarius violin. Italy (Scott 388)

(Stamp illustrations in the original article were in black and white)


see also Ted Friedman's "Literary Skills of Sherlock Holmes"

Ted Friedman is a retired university professor of marketing, and a member of the Baker Street Irregulars, a worldwide honorary Sherlockian society whose objective is to keep the name of Sherlock Holmes alive and well. His mailing address is 115 Lenox Avenue, Demarest, NJ 07627.


Thanks to Valerie Zwirn for supplying a copy of this article