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GUY WARRACK'S book Sherlock Holmes and Music (Faber & Faber, 1947) has been around for more than half a century and is still the definitive account of the musical activities of the great detective. (1) In this article I seek to provide an introduction to the music inspired by Sherlock Holmes - a different, if related, subject.

Holmes's manifestations on the stage have been many and varied over the last century, since William Gillette's famous adaptation. Not all these have been musical, of course. I have not so far been able to discover what, if any, special incidental music was written to go with the 'straight' play adaptations down the years, but four stage shows in which music played more than an incidental role are worth recalling. First, in 1953, the ballet The Great Detective was presented at Sadler's Wells Theatre with Kenneth (later Sir Kenneth) MacMillan dancing the title role. The music, by Richard Tony Arnell, composer of at least seven symphonies, two other ballets and much film music, including some making use of an accessible electronic idiom, was attractive if mildly astringent, but the ballet was apparently not a great success (2) and it has not been revived.

By contrast, when the musical Baker Street (book by Jerome Coopersmith, music by Marian Grudef and Raymond Jessel though there were interpolations by Jerry Bock, of Fiddler on the Roof

fame, and Sheldon Harnick) was first presented at New York's Broadway Theatre on 16 February 1965, it achieved a big success with the critics and, with a run of 313 performances, the public. Fritz Weaver played Holmes and Peter Sallis took the role of Watson. The adaptation, a very free one, of elements from at least three stories (The Empty House, A Scandal in Bohemia and The Final Problem) also featured in singing roles Irene Adler (reasonably so, as she was once a prima donna with the Warsaw Opera), and, more dubiously, Professor Moriarty, who is foiled in his attempt to steal the Crown Jewels on the occasion of Queen Victoria's Diamond Jubilee. The show included a spectacular Jubilee parade scene and spirited dancing by the Baker Street Irregulars. A British musical version of Sherlock Holmes appeared in 1989 (and revived in 1993) with the book, lyrics and musical score all the work of Leslie Bricusse (3) and this did reasonably well, although it was generally recognised that the show fell far short of Bricusse's earlier musicals. Around the same time, Jeremy Paul wrote 'The Secret of Sherlock Holmes' for Jeremy Brett - it had incidental music by that attractive tune smith Nigel Hess (nephew of Dame Myra). Additionally in 1982 there had been a German Sherlock Holmes musical, Ein Fall Fur Sherlock Holmes. There may be some Holmesians - not, hopefully, many - who feel their hero is trivialised by being set to music in this way.

Then there have been the various radio, television and cinema adaptations. Few, if any, of the many Holmes radio adaptations either side of the Second World War had original music. The British television versions fall into three principal groups: the Alan Wheatley/Raymond Francis ones of the early 1950s; the Douglas Wilmer (later Peter Cushing) and Nigel Stock examples of the mid-1960s, and the Granada series of the mid-1980s with Jeremy Brett as Holmes. I have no information as to incidental music for the two earlier series, but the Granada series commissioned music from Patrick Gowers, born in 1936, who has also composed much for films (like The Virgin and the Gipsy and Stevie), other TV serials (SorreIl and Son and Smiley's People among them), at least one musical, Loud Organs, and some light orchestral music as well as church and organ pieces.

We come now to Holmes’ feature films, the numbers of which may even reach three figures. Many of them date from 'silent' days and one can speculate on what music accompanied them, whether specifically designed for playing with films (some publishers commissioned music for that purpose from Albert Ketèlbey and others) or not, and played by the cinema pianists and often orchestras in the period either side of the Great War. It is not easy to be sure of the music credits of the first Holmes talkies of the early 1930s - The Sign of Four (1932), Sherlock Holmes (1932) and A Study in Scarlet (1933) - though The Sign of Four's musical director was Ernest Irving (1877-1953), long a respected figure as conductor and composer for stage as well as screen. (4)

The provision of music for the Hollywood Holmes films of the Second World War period seems to have been shared between four, perhaps five, composers. Dressed to Kill (1946) had a score by Milton Rosen, though this had been credited to Frank Skinner. The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes (1939) and The Hound of the Baskervilles (1939: still reckoned by many to be its best talkie version) had music by Cyril Mockridge; for Sherlock Holmes and the Secret Weapon (1942), Sherlock Holmes and The Voice of Terror, based on His Last Bow (1942) and Sherlock Holmes in Washington (1943), Frank Skinner did the honours; Hans Salter is credited with the scores for Sherlock Holmes Faces Death (1943); The Scarlet Claw (1944), Spider Woman (1944), Pursuit to Algiers (1945) and Terror by Night (1946), and Paul Sawtell wrote the music for The Pearl of Death (1944) and The House of Fear (1944). Mockridge (1896-1979) was born in England but emigrated to the United States in 1921 and wrote film music from 1932 onwards; his many other credits include The Littlest Rebel (1935), Johnny Apollo (1940) and My Darling Clementine (1946). Hans J. Salter (1896-1994), German-born (but American domiciled of course), also composed for Call a Messenger (1939), The Mummy's Tomb (1942), Beau Geste (1936) and much else. Frank Skinner (1898-1968) was American by birth and like the previous two composers had a long career in films; his other feature films included Son of Frankenstein and Destry Rides Again (both 1939) and Shenandoah (1965). Paul Sawtell (1906-71), Polish-born but who found a home in the States, wrote many film scores including Tarzan Triumphs (1943), Son of Dr Jekyll (1957) and The Lost World (1960).

The composers for the re-makes of The Hound of the Baskervilles, in 1959 and 1977, are both of more than passing interest. The former, a Hammer film, had music by James Bernard (born 1925), who was apparently something of a specialist in composing for horror features, TV and films, among them Quatermass, Frankenstein and Dracula. (5) In 1977, by complete contrast, the music was the responsibility of Dudley Moore, that remarkable all-round entertainer: comic actor, writer, musician and composer. Born in London, he gained an organ scholarship to Oxford, later becoming a resident composer at the Royal Court Theatre and playing the piano in jazz groups. He performed in Beyond the Fringe (1960) and later became a Hollywood star, acting and providing the music for TV features and for such films as Bedazzled, Cynthia and Inadmissible Evidence as well as The Hound. He died in 2000.

A number of other post-1950 Holmesian films merit especial musical mention. A Study in Terror (1965), a contest between Holmes and Jack the Ripper, had music by John Scott, jazz saxophonist, conductor, flautist and prolific composer for films, including Lionheart, Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea and Antony and Cleopatra - and for TV. For The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes (1970) the score was composed and later recorded by none other than Miklos Rózsa (1907-95), arguably the greatest of all the Hollywood composers (his Spellbound concerto is still played in the concert hall) though his film career began in England 1935-40 (he was born in Hungary).

Another prolific American film composer, Bruce Broughton, born in 1945, wrote the music for Young Sherlock Holmes. Without a Clue (1988), described by one critic as 'a witless spoof', at least had Henry Mancini (1924-94), of Pink Panther fame, to compose the music. And two major figures had an input, musically speaking, into The Seven Per Cent Solution in 1976. Much of the score was written by John ('Jock') Addison (1920-98), English-born but latterly living in the United States, composer of much chamber music, choral music, a trumpet concerto, a ballet suite Carte Blanche, stage musicals and over sixty feature film scores, including Reach for the Sky, Tom Jones, The Charge of the Light Brigade and A Bridge Too Far; additionally Stephen Sondheim contributed to it a song 'I Never Do Anything Twice'. I should also mention the Baker Street Songbook (1943) of songs associated - more or less - with Holmes, compiled by Harvey Officer for the Baker Street Irregulars. He was also responsible for a Baker Street Suite for violin and piano (recorded on 78s in 1943).

Some at least of this film music has been adapted, if not for the concert hall, then at least for CD. (6) Further, there is another one-time Sherlock Holmes film score specifically adapted for concert use. In 1969 the artist/film animator Tom Baring conceived the idea of a series of animated films based on Holmes's cases. A pilot was proposed and Carey Blyton, nephew of Enid, who was chosen as the composer, supplied 21 music cues illustrating scenes and characters in the stories. The pilot was never made; however Blyton resurrected and re-worked the music in 1979, scoring it as a twelve-minute suite for brass quintet in response to a commission from the London Gabrieli Brass Ensemble. It is marvellous 'fun music', its seven movements being entitled: March; The Game's Afoot!; Baker Street Conversation (Dr Watson and Mrs Hudson); The Baker Street Irregulars; Scenes from Holmes's London (Opium Den and Limehouse and German Street Band); Professional Colleagues; Professor Moriarty, and Finale, Victoria Triumphs! The German band play deliciously out of tune and Moriarty figures in an exciting chase by hansom cab. The suite is now available on CD. (7) Blyton's music generally is tuneful, whimsical and eclectic: he was a master miniaturist. (8)

Music inspired by Sherlock Holmes is, as befits the English, indeed world; institution he undoubtedly is, varied and substantial. Composers of stature in the (mainly) light music field, as we have seen, have contributed to it. When one recalls that much Victorian and later ballroom music was named after contemporary events and popular figures, factual and fictional, it is only surprising that I have not discovered any mention of, for example, a 'Baker Street Polka' or a 'Moriarty Gallop'. There may well have been such, and no doubt there will be more Holmes-inspired music to come in the future.

© 2003 Philip L Scowcroft


1. I have summarised Warrack's musical career in a short article which follows these notes. Warrack (1900-86) was, of course, a Chairman of the Sherlock Holmes Society of London.

2. None of the dictionaries of ballet I was able to consult so much as mention it; but I have seen a photograph of MacMillan dancing the title role and Arnell's music was published (by Hinrichsen) and, if my memory serves correctly, recorded on LP.

3. Leslie Bricusse (1931-) had his first show, Lady at the Wheel, produced when he was still at Cambridge. The musical shows he wrote jointly with Antony Newley (Stop the World, I Want to Get Off, The Roar of the Greasepaint - The Smell of the Crowd etc.) were surely his biggest successes, but his other stage musicals did well and his gift for writing memorable songs was also exercised in films.

4. Among Irving's best known film scores were Whisky Galore, issued on CD, and The Blue Lamp.

5. Bernard studied at the Royal College of Music with Herbert Howells. He also composed choral music, a clarinet sonata etc., and incidental music for stage and radio plays.

6. Varese VSD 5692 includes two of Gowers's themes from the Granada TV series, a suite from The Seven Per Cent Solution by Addison with Sondheim's song added, four cues from The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes (Cyril Mockridge), the title music from A Study in Terror (John Scott), cues from several of the films for which Frank Skinner wrote the music, the end title from Without a Clue (Mancini), Masks of Death, a Channel 4 Holmes feature with music by Malcolm Williamson (1931-), Australian-born Master of the Queen's Music, the main title and Legend of the Hound from the Hammer Hound of the Baskervilles by James Bernard and a suite from The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes (Miklos Rózsa) - a mouth-watering selection! That's Entertainment Records issued CDs of the Gowers music for Granada (including choral as well as orchestral cues) and a selection from the Leslie Bricusse Sherlock Holmes.

7. Upbeat Classics URCD 148.

8. The present writer has written articles on Blyton in the Newsletter of the British Music Society and Journal Into Melody, the magazine of the Robert Farnon Society.


Guy Douglas Hamilton Warrack is a name known to aficionados of the Great Detective as the author of Sherlock Homes and Music (Faber & Faber 1947), a slim volume but after more than fifty years still the last word on the subject. His son John Warrack (b. 1928) is still alive and is a respected writer and critic on music. But how many people, Holmesians and other, know much more about the elder Warrack? The succeeding paragraphs seek to summarise briefly his career in music.

Born in Edinburgh in 1900, he was educated at Winchester and Magdalen College, Oxford, and then at the Royal College of Music, where he studied composition with Ralph Vaughan Williams and conducting with Adrian (later Sir Adrian) Boult. He was on the College's teaching staff from 1925 to 1935 during which time he enjoyed conducting experience at home and abroad. In 1936 he became the first Conductor of the BBC Scottish Orchestra (still in existence as the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra), a position he held until 1945, by which time the orchestra was well established and well respected. He later conducted for the Sadler's Wells Theatre Ballet (1948-51).

Guy Warrack was, like so many who pursued conducting careers, also a composer although few now remember him as such. Unlike his successor as Conductor of the BBC Scottish Orchestra, Ian Whyte (1901-60), a much more prolific composer admittedly, Warrack made little use of traditional Scottish tunes. His works were mainly for orchestra, a Symphony in C Minor subtitled the 'Edinburgh' (1932), Variations (1924), presumably a student work from its date, Fugal Blues, a Lullaby, a ballet on Don Quixote, a Divertimento Pasticciato in three movements entitled Prelude, Fugue and Furiant, some film music (for instance the title music for A Queen is Crowned, the official film of the 1953 Coronation, music for a film on the XIV (London) Olympiad (1948) and for Theirs is the Glory, a documentary film about Arnhem) and a number of arrangements, notably of Fauré’s music for a ballet La Fete Etrange, of Hamish MacCunn's Scottish Dances for orchestra (they were originally for piano) and of baroque music for modern orchestra. I have also discovered a number of pieces by him which were published for piano duet: a Jota arranged from his Don Quixote ballet, a rondo waltz Der Mandelbaum and the 'valse Viennoise' Straussmädchen, all of them no doubt transcriptions from orchestral originals.

Besides his Sherlock Holmes study Warrack is credited with a history of the Royal College of Music. He died in 1986.

© 2003 Philip L Scowcroft

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