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Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Off to Violin-Land

Holmes listens to Sarasarte

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

If you've read the Baring-Gould or Klinger annotations or looked him up in The Encyclopoaedia Sherlockiana or some other reference, you know that Pablo de Sarasate was a Spanish violinist and composer. I felt up close and personal with him over the weekend.

Sarasate, a child prodigy who began touring at age 15, had many composers write works especially for him.  One of them was A Scottish Fantasy for Violin and Orchestra by Max Bruch, composed in 1880. Bruch also dedicated the work to Sarasate.The Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra, with guest violinist Nicola Benedetti, performed the Fantasy on May 2-3.

Could A Scottish Fantasy have been one of the pieces Holmes and Watson heard that day at St.James's Hall? Although that's possible, it seems doubtful:

"I observe that there is a good deal of German music on the programme, which is rather more to my taste than Italian or French," Holmes said. "It is introspective, and I want to introspect."

Although its composer is German, the sound of A Scottish Fantasy is not. According to the program guide, the inspiration for the Fantasy was "The Lady in the Lake," a poem by the Scottish writer Sir Walter Scott - an ancestor of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. The music also evokes several Scottish folk tunes. 

Why a German composer would dedicate a Scottish fantasy to a Spanish violinist is a mystery worthy of Sherlock Holmes. But, despite her very Italian name, Nicola Benedetti is from Scotland and brought the music to rousing life.

Whatever Holmes heard Sarasate play that afternoon, the artistry of the composer and the violinist carried him a sit consumed him "off to violin-land, where all is sweetness and delicacy and harmony, and there are no red-headed clients to vex us with their conundrums.”
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 his 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.

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