SHERLOCK HOLMES AND THE VIOLIN
Author: SherlockExtra and Revati - Translator: Revati
„ If it is true that God created man in his own image, we can say that man created the violin in the image of a goddess – because the violin is a beautiful goddess ” – told the famous violinist, Yehudi Menuhin, whom we owe among many other things the World Day of Music which is on the first of October.
We can say based on this quote that there is a beautiful woman who plays an important role in the life of Sherlock Holmes: his violin. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s genius uses the instrument to express his moods and emotions, and sometimes he uses the produced sounds for his experiments.
The history of the violin, also known as fiddle, and the other string instruments can be traced back to the paleolithic era. At that time different sounds were produced by straining winded up bows. Later the fine neck and the other details were created. Soon the strings were put side by side and they were seized to the neck with pegs, what made the tuning possible. At last the violin was born from a guitar-like instrument in the 1500s. On Italian paintings from the middle of the sixteenth century we can see these early types of violins. Nowadays there are electric violins too. Master violins are still made by guilds, and many of them have unique names.The most well-known is the Stradivarius (or in shorter form, Stradivari or Strad). The greatest detective of the world has a Stradivarius too, and he tells doctor Watson in the original Sherlock Holmes Canon, in the adventure called The Cardboard Box that he purchased it at a Jew broker’s in Tottenham Court Road for fifty-five shillings.
This nice instrument is the highest pitched in the violin family of string instruments. It has four strings, tuned in perfect fifths. Also belongs to the family the viola, the violoncello and the doublebass. The violin is the smallest one. Its Italian name, the violino means „little viola”.
Making a violin is a very complex task, so being a luthier (violin maker) needs a lot of skill.
The Italian Niccolo Paganini (1782-1840) was one of the most famous violinists. It is an interesting fact that just like Sherlock Holmes, Paganini was also a tall and thin man with aquiline nose and balding temple. Though the sleuth is portrayed as a handsome man in many adaptations, originally Doyle did not intend him to be good-looking (More information: Sherlock Holmes was a handsome man). The musician, similarly to Holmes, was the master of his own profession and was very steadfast, and except from his performances he lived a solitary life. People laughed at Paganini when he appeared on the stage, but his virtuosity left them speechless. Some even told his music had a hypnotic effect, and the artist was nicknamed as „the Devil’s Violinist”. Vicious rumors said that the strings of his violin were made from awful materials:
1. The first was a string from an ancient bow with which the longobards killed more than 100 people.
2. The second was made from a strapped vein.
3. The third was made from the intastine of a maiden.
4. The fourth was made from halter.
This is a good example for human wickedness. Such talent like Paganini’s was simply unbelievable, so people faked rumors around him. He became a living legend and an extremely rich man. His name and signature appeared on souvenirs, a productive business was based on his popularity – this is another thing that him and Sherlock Holmes have in common. Niccolo’s compositions are still on the repertoire of renowned violinists. Watson writes in The Cardboard Box that Holmes told interesting stories about Paganini for more than an hour.
The violin is the most popular string instrument. It is also the most passionate one, so it fits perfectly to the greatest detective of the world. Holmes can play the most annoying and the most soothing melodies on it.
To make their portrayal even more authentic, several actors learned to play the violin - for example Basil Rathbone or Benedict Cumberbatch. Rathbone’s mother was a violinist, but both he and Benedict learned from violin teachers. There is a movie where some criminals think they killed Basil’s Holmes, so they are joking that he can replace his violin with a harp.
Jeremy Brett could not play the violin, but he learned the proper movements for the shoots. Robert Downey Jr. picked up the basics of fiddle for his movie 'Chaplin'.
In the end we have to mention the nice fact that Jonny Lee Miller’s detective does not play the instrument in Elementary, but Joan Watson (Lucy Liu) gives him back his violin and it has beneficial effects on him.
Wikipedia - violin
Internet - Sherlock Holmes actors
Sherlock Holmes Canon - The Cardboard Box
Endre Barát: Boszorkánytánc (Witchdance) – biographical novel on Paganini
Recommended article: The deerstalker of Sherlock Holmes
Symbols of Sherlock Holmes
The name of Sherlock Holmes
Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes novels and short stories