Colburn Conservatory of Music
“Strad Fever” and Sherlock’s Violin
November 20, 2014, 3:00 PM
Room 1439, Schoenberg Music Building
Why does Sherlock Holmes play the violin? Both the violin and its modern-day analog, the guitar, are still a part of Holmes’s image in contemporary film and television adaptations. While most elements of the original Holmes connected obviously to author Arthur Conan Doyle’s life and associates, the motives behind Holmes’s passion for the violin (and the Stradivarius in particular) remain obscure. Fans and experts have provided an impressive body of commentary on Holmes and music, but most of these studies are grounded on the quirky theory of Holmes as a real person, bypassing questions of Doyle’s authorial motivation. Conversely, scholarship on Doyle offers few insights into Sherlock’s musicality, presumably because Doyle had little interest in music. Even the literary precursors of Doyle’s “consulting detective”—Poe’s Dupin and Gaboriau’s Lecoq—are dead ends in terms of musical clues.
Professor Brown-Montesano will explore some of the possible origins for Holmes’s violin, both fictional and non-fictional: the zealous interest in “Cremona” violins in England and Scotland; the brothers Alfred and Henry Holmes, the most famous British-born violinists during Doyle’s lifetime; the author and violin aficionado Charles Reade, a friend of Doyle’s uncle; Poe’s Fall of the House of Usher; and Hugh Conway’s “The Secret of the Stradivarius” (1881), a short story published in Blackwood’s Edinburgh Magazine, one of Doyle’s preferred journals. Professor Brown-Montesano will also assess how the semiotics of the violin and music-making in the original stories have endured in contemporary screen adaptations (House M.D., Sherlock, Elementary), all signaling aspects of education/class, addiction/therapy, and intimacy/alienation.
Faculty member at the Colburn Conservatory of Music since 2003, Kristi Brown-Montesano is currently Chair of Music History. She received her Ph.D. in musicology from UC Berkeley, with a specialization in 18th-century western European music. Her book The Women of Mozart’s Operas (2007) offers a detailed study of the female characters of the Da Ponte operas and Die Zauberflöte, re-evaluating common critical tropes and assumptions. Brown-Montesano has presented and published essays on opera, film music, trends in marketing opera to children, and contemporary cultural associations between classical music, violence, and technology.