Mr. Holmes/Carter Burwell

August 25, 2015


Sometimes a first play of a CD can be deceiving and “Mr. Holmes” fell into that category, at least for this reviewer. My first listen, before attending the movie, I must admit that I got absolutely nothing out of the score except some winds, cello (Holmes of course), tinkling piano, and harp. Boy was I ever wrong! I can now put this release in an unofficial category of my favorite soundtrack of 2015. Mr. Holmes” is a new twist on the world’s most famous detective. 1947, an aging Sherlock Holmes (Ian McKellen) returns from a journey to Japan, where, in search of a rare plant, prickly ash, with powerful restorative qualities, he has witnessed the devastation of nuclear warfare. The man who helps him find the prickly ash, Hiroyuki Sanada, is also involved as a sub-plot in the story. Now, in his remote seaside farmhouse, Holmes faces the end of his days tending to his bees, with only the company of his housekeeper and her young son, Roger. Grappling with the diminishing powers of his mind, Holmes comes to rely upon the boy as he revisits the circumstances of the unsolved case that forced him into retirement, and searches for answers to the mysteries of life and love – before it’s too late. I can certainly identify with the aging process and how the mind is not as sharp as it once was. As a Sherlock Holmes reader and watcher I also enjoyed the story with the carefully placed clues and the deductions he is so famous for. Part of the story and of musical interest is the armonica, a unique instrument to say the least. It’s known for its ethereal quality and at one time had ties to the world of spiritualism and sorcery. It also claimed that excess playing of it would drive a person mad. I think one the best uses of the instrument was James Horner’s Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan. 300px-ThomasBlochHandsGlassharmonica_low_notes_on_left_and_high_notes_on_right

Carter Burwell (1955-) has always had a place on my shelf with “Raising Arizona” and “Miller’s Crossing” being the first two scores that I bought of his (both cassettes). The interest has continued and I’ve acquired several more including “Fargo,” “Twilight,” “The Chamber,” and “Kinsey Report” to name a few.

The soundtrack is written for a smaller orchestra that includes strings, woodwinds, piano, flutes, and harp. The overall feeling that one gets when listening is one of melancholy and solitude with very little major chords being played. Most of it was written in a minor key. The first track Mr. Holmes offers the theme, an ear catching one, that will linger on with you after you’ve listened. It will also appear in many of the tracks as a variation or performed by instruments other than the combination of English Horn, Clarinet, Bassoon, Oboe and strings. The sound captured is clear and quite distinct. You’ll not hear a hint of any muddiness in this recording at all. It would be one that I would play to impress my friends with how clear and good sounding my speakers are. You can distinctly hear each instruments and this is important when harmony is taking place or a second theme is being heard. The tracks The Glass Armonica, Always Leaves A Trace, and The Other Side of the Wall, will give you  taste of what the armonium sounds like.

If you like your music on the quiet somber side, slow paced this is the score for you. If this is your first experience with Carter Burwell it will encourage you to seek out additional material.


  1.   Mr. Holmes
  2.   Prickly Ash
  3.   Holmes in Japan
  4.   The Glass Armonica
  5.   Always Leave A Trace
  6.   Hiroshima Station
  7.   Ann’s Plans
  8.   A And Bee
  9.   I Never Knew Your Father
  10.   Now We Can’t Leave
  11.   Investigating Mr. Holmes
  12.   Two Such Souls
  13.   An Incomprehensible Emptiness
  14.   The Other Side of the Wall
  15.   The Wasps
  16.   The Consolation of Fiction

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