Shooting in the Moonlight - Musical Composition of Sherlock’s Story (Part 2)
In part 1 I discussed that the scenes in which Sherlock’s tells John and the audience how Mary built her new identity, that she used to be an intelligence agent and her shot at Shelock were surgery are linked by a characteristcally similar music.
In this part I will take a look at a scene, that for me is the centrepiece in what I call “Sherlock’s Story” (about Mary). The music and the spoken text tell us to listen, they are seeking our attention. Sherlock says So… and makes a really long pause, while the strings play only one long note with a accentuating crescendo. Thus text and music keep us waiting by functioning as an up-beat and then we jump (a tempo) in the new scene of Sherlock’s story.
In the beginning I only thought, okay, this is musically kind of different, but I don’t know exactly why. What I could see: The voice leading is narrower, sometimes parralel and I think there are even some unisono parts. While in the scenes before the piano and the strings move melodically against each other (piano downwards, strings rather upwards), here they are more combined. And in fact until the end these are rather more the figures of an accompaniment. But well, all these oberservations only tell me how the scene is musically different but not why.
So let’s take a look how the music is combined with the text and the cinematography.
As so often the music is very well timed to the change of the camera and the dialogue. When Sherlock explains why Mary didn’t shoot Magnussen, his arguments (a: Magnussen wouldn’t tell the police b: that’s how he is) are emphasized because there are fewer words per beat. We have no voice over from Sherlock when we see Mary leaving the room and when we see Mary’s and John’s reaction to this explanation. This is also the scene where we get the most distinctive melodic arc.So the music accentuates the importance of their reactions. But while the tune obviously ends, John keeps Sherlock’s explanation unfinished (How did she save your life?). Therefore Sherlock has to explain further: She phoned the ambulance.The tune is on the final note (harmonically unresolved, but that’s the final note). John tries to deconstruct Sherlock’s reasoning (I phoned the ambulance). Sherlock has to be more convincing (She phoned first) as does the tune by repeating the final note one octave lower. In the end it’s all about Sherlock convincing John while Mary is almost not in the picture although the text is about her actions and motives. And in fact Sherlock tries to reinterpret Mary’s actions. He says, she didn’t try to kill him, but to save him (out of sentiment) under the given circumstances. That’s a good thing, right? But then… why is the music so sad, dramatic, tragic? Sherlock doesn’t tell a sad Story, he says, Mary saved his life! So there’s a contradictory in text and music.
Here’s the technical reason: It’s written in C# minor. This is remarkable because the key is seldom used in Sherlock. Most of the parts in HLV are in A minor, I would say. So the question is: Why did the composers chose C# minor for this scene? Which atmosphere did they intend to create?
I did some researche on the use of C# minor - it’s supposed to be sadder than A minor, but that wasn’t really satisfying as a result for me. So I took the score of one of the most famous pieces in C# minor to get a better understanding of the key: The Moonlight Sonata by Beethoven. I played it a little bit and then thought, perhaps I could combine the bass line from the Moonlight Sonata with the Sherlock tune… and well, it fits perfectly! I got kind of obsessed with this, so did some recording.
This is what your hear:
- the original Sherlock track
- what I extracted as the “melody”
- the first measures from the Moonlight Sonata
- a variation of the Sherlock track in Moonlight Sonata style
- the Sherlock track melody with the Moonlight Sonata bass line
- me having some fun without a deeper reason ;-)
Please don’t take this reference to seriously, because the bass line could just be a common cadence or something for C# minor. (I don’t know) And the movement in the right hand is obviously different. But I am simply amazed by the idea that this could be intentional: Mary wearing “Claire de la lune” (=”moonlight”) as perfume and the music references the Moonlight Sonata in a scene where Sherlock explains Mary’s actions.
But we cannot know if the Beethoven reference is intended or not - and even if it were, it’s more like an inside joke, I suppose, because you have to know the Moonlight Sonata to decipher it.
But what about internal references? Did the composers use the C# minor key before? Is the use of C# minor exclusive for a certain atmosphere?
Yes they did! The fall theme is also written in C# minor.
Although I call this tune the “fall theme” (because the image of Sherlock standing on the roof of St. Bart’s is heavily linked to it in my mind), it’s not the first and only time where it’s used. It sounds as well in ASiB p. ex., when Sherlock returns from the Battersea Powerstation to Baker Street and and deduces in the hallway that someone must have attacked Mrs. Hudson. That’s why my assumption is, that the fall theme is used in situation where not only Sherlock himself is in danger but - and that’s more important - other people Sherlock cares about. The dramatic of the music reflects Sherlock’s fear for people close to him being harmed and his decision to act selfless for their safety.
I’m not saying that the composers try to make a literal connection with the fall. I think in this case it would have been more obvious. But they’ve chosen C# minor for a reason. And I think they wouldn’t have chosen the same key if these scenes were in their basic atmosphere totally different. That’s why I think, it is kind of the metaphorical variation of the fall theme in the new musical environment that came to the show with Mary.
But where is a “fall-like” tragic in these HLV scene? Let’s play this through.
a) Sherlock is right about his assumption that Mary were trapped and made the best out of it by doing “surgery” and calling the ambulance.
In this case the scene were tragic for Mary. But actually we only see Mary in one shot, so that can’t be right.
b) Sherlock thinks he’s right about Mary, but actually he’s mistaken.
This would be tragic: Sherlock would be driving John back to Mary for no reason, because he cares for Mary and is unwilling to see her true self/the deeper motives of her actions. Sentiment is a chemical defect found in the losing side.
c) Sherlock lies about Mary’s motive deliberately.
In my reading this would be the most tragic version: Sherlock knows more. He knows why John Watson is defenitly in danger. He knows that Mary had different reasons for not killing him and that she didn’t phone the ambulance. But he tries to construct a conving story for Mary because this is the only way Sherlock can get back into the game. He’s walking on thin ice. Apparantly John would be in danger if Sherlock didn’t tell him about Mary’s shot and her stolen identity. But he would also be in danger, if he left Mary. That’s why Sherlock has to adjust the story. He’s driving John back to Mary, probably to keep him safe. And he’s risking his own life to arrange this. (He’s bleeding internaly and they probably have to restart his heart). So that’s a scenario which equals a lot, in my opinion, the tragic range of the fall scene.
More musical hints to doubt Sherlock’s story in part 3.
more music meta