Home > Reviews > YOUNG SHERLOCK HOLMES – Bruce Broughton


November 5, 2015 Leave a comment Go to comments

youngsherlockholmesTHROWBACK THIRTY

Original Review by Jonathan Broxton

The fascination with Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s great fictional detective Sherlock Holmes has often been such that people have ventured beyond the realms of the original 60 stories, and written extrapolations investigating both Holmes’s childhood and his life after his career ended, as well as re-imaginings of the character in more contemporary settings. The 1985 film Young Sherlock Holmes is one such tale, an original story chronicling the supposed first meeting between Sherlock Holmes and his long-suffering friend John Watson, and their first adventure together. Written by Chris Columbus and directed by Barry Sonnenfeld, the film stars Nicholas Rowe as Holmes and Alan Cox as Watson, who meet as teenagers at London’s Brompton Academy in the 1870s. After a series of murders in which the victims – one of whom is Holmes’s mentor and former professor Rupert Waxflatter – experience terrifying hallucinations before they die, and after having his suspicions rebuffed by an incompetent police chief, Holmes and Watson begin to investigate the case themselves, and uncover a secret cult of Egyptian god worshippers who appear to be responsible for the deaths. The film co-stars Anthony Higgins, Sophie Ward, and Nigel Stock, and received generally positive reviews, especially for its special effects: the film is notable for including the first fully computer-generated animated character in the shape of a knight made of stained glass, and was one of the first films worked on by pioneering animator John Lasseter, who would later go on to found Pixar.

The score for Young Sherlock Holmes was by 40-year-old Bruce Broughton, who at the time was enjoying a stellar beginning to his film music career, him having written the score for Silverado earlier in the summer. Young Sherlock Holmes was just Broughton’s fourth score for a theatrical film, and although Silverado earned all the plaudits, including a Best Score Oscar nomination, Young Sherlock Holmes is more than its equal in every respect. Written for a large symphony orchestra and choir, recorded in London, the score is a masterpiece of the genre. The nature of the score, combined with the fact that the film was executive produced by Steven Spielberg, led many people to speculate that Broughton would be ‘the next John Williams’ – an epithet that has since been given to any composers – and listening to Young Sherlock Holmes it’s not difficult to see why the label stuck with Broughton for many years. It’s a wonderful score from top to bottom, which is richly orchestrated, features at least five memorable themes, and comes wrapped in a delicious sense of fun and adventure and whimsy. It’s not afraid to convey some moments of darkness either, as evidenced by the bold and menacing choral work for the secret cult, as well as some surprisingly vivid passages of light horror dissonance.

The score actually opens with two suspense and action cues, “The First Victim” and “The Old Hat Trick,” which resound with dramatic orchestral mayhem; squealing woodwinds, shrieking violins, chaotic percussion runs, and the like. After several minutes of creepy scene-setting, the “Main Title” finally introduces the score’s main thematic idea, a sweeping theme for Holmes and his brilliant mind, subtitled the Intellect theme, but which also has a real sense of playfulness and mischief. Initially heard on a piccolo, it eventually gets taken up by the full orchestra, augmented by magical chimes and flighty, swooping flute accents. An interesting touch in the orchestration is the use of col legno, in which the string players tap the cases of their instruments with the backs of their bows to create an unsettling rattling effect. This little performance technique actually reoccurs at select junctures throughout the score as a marker for the lurking presence of evil.

The second main theme is the Friendship theme, illustrating the growing fraternal relationship between Holmes and Watson. A fine melody with more than a hint of Elgarian Englishness, warm and approachable, it is first introduced as a duet for cello and oboe in “Watson’s Arrival,” and develops through subsequent cues such as “The Bear Riddle,” and the more lively and lighthearted “Fencing With Rathe”. Cleverly, Broughton also often plays his themes in counterpoint; both the Intellect theme and the Friendship theme play off each other in the lovely “Solving the Crime,” insinuating that Watson’s appreciation for Holmes’s intellect fuels their friendship, giving the two concepts a symbiotic relationship. The effervescent, bubbly string countermelody in this cue is especially superb, and would go on to become something of a Broughton trademark.

The third theme is the more romantic theme for Holmes and his young paramour, Elizabeth, the niece of his mentor Professor Waxflatter. A hesitantly affectionate piece for woodwinds, as befits a romance not just between Victorians but teenage Victorians, it first appears in “Library Love,” and thereafter in the tender first opening moments of “The Glass Soldier,” and in “The Hat,” before receiving a sumptuous concert arrangement in “Holmes and Elizabeth-Love Theme”. And so the score progresses, presenting variations of the various themes, interspersed with impressive set pieces such as the little marches for the eccentric old professor in “Waxflatter’s First Flight” and “Second Attempt,” and the shrill and unnerving second half of “The Glass Soldier” (listen for the homage to Bernard Herrmann’s Psycho!). The brutal muted horns and off-key woodwinds of “Cold Revenge” and “Waxflatter’s Death” are very impressive too, and both of them contain skewed versions of both Waxflatter’s theme and Holmes & Elizabeth’s Love Theme to give the piece a personal resonance for the central characters.

Best of all, however, is the absolutely monumental choral music for the Egyptian cult ceremonies, which Broughton introduces in “Rame Tep,” and which continues on through “Waxing Elizabeth”. Although clearly modeled on Carl Orff’s “O Fortuna” from Carmina Burana, the sheer orchestral might of these performances absolutely knock your socks off. The lyrics are nonsense (for years I thought they were chanting “the Baltimore rabbit” at one point, when they are actually saying “Tey han de brahn mobbit,” which makes just as much sense), but the immensity of the performance and the oppressive atmosphere of malevolence Broughton creates is something to behold. Cleverly, Broughton also uses a distorted version of the Rame Tep motif as the basis for the wonderfully exciting action sequences “Pastries and Crypts” and “Temple Fire,” a pair of orchestral tour-de-forces featuring expressive, impressionistic explosions of sound and aggressive rhythmic ideas. The former accompanies a scene of Holmes hallucinating, and also features tortured snippets of the Love theme, Waxflatter’s march, and more, while the latter showcases a heroic arrangement of the Friendship theme for punchy, explosive brass.

The score’s finale reaches epic heights of drama and suspense, beginning with the revelatory “It’s You!,” its galloping brasses underpinned by performances of most of the score’s main themes and an especially notable, free-flowing performance of the Intellect theme. “Ehtar’s Escape” is a masterpiece of leitmotivic scoring, during which Broughton re-arranges both the Intellect theme and the Friendship theme as daring action motifs, offset by contrapuntal performance of the Rame Tep theme; what’s really clever about this track is the way Broughton continually hits emphasis points throughout the cue with statements of one, or more, of the themes, as key revelations about certain characters are revealed, and different characters perform heroic acts away from each other as the scene cuts backwards and forwards between Holmes and Watson. It’s not mickey-mouse scoring per se, but more a perfect example of how a composer with Broughton’s skill can use his score’s internal architecture to clarify potentially confusing cross-cut scenarios through music.

Finally, “Duel and Final Farewell” is a swashbuckling sword fight cue which spices up the proceedings with some ravishing string runs that Korngold would have been proud to have written for an Errol Flynn movie. Listen to the brilliant way Broughton uses fragments of both the flute-led Intellect theme and the brass-led Rame Tep motif in call and response fashion, illustrating the back-and-forth, thrust-and-parry of the conflict, as first one, then the other, gains the upper hand. A poignant performance of the love theme, with a prominent harp part, leads into the conclusive “The Riddles Solved and End Credits,” a show-stopping summary of all the score’s main thematic ideas performed at their fullest and most majestic.

For years and years, Young Sherlock Holmes was the most sought-after unreleased score in Bruce Broughton’s canon. It was released on both LP and cassette during the 1980s, a short 36-minute program which just contained the score’s main highlights, but was not released on CD at all, much to the dismay of the score’s many admirers. Intrada Records released an extremely limited composer promo in 2002 which went out of print almost immediately and quickly became a valuable collectible, before finally releasing the score properly in 2014 as a lavish 2-CD affair, with extensive liner notes, and including several alternate takes and bonus cues, including a lovely acappella version of the Christmas carol “God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen”. Although this score is now also officially out-of-print too, and fetches fairly hefty prices on the secondary market, it is well worth investing in as one of the best genre scores of the 1980s.

Young Sherlock Holmes is an absolutely essential purchase for any serious film music fan. The richness of the memorable themes, the intelligent application of the themes throughout the score, the depth and complexity of the action music, and the unabashed sense of enthusiasm that runs throughout the score, makes this one of the standout works of Bruce Broughton’s entire career.

Buy the Young Sherlock Holmes soundtrack from the Movie Music UK Store

Track Listing:

  • The First Victim (2:57)
  • The Old Hat Trick (1:45)
  • Main Title (2:01)
  • Watson’s Arrival (1:03)
  • The Bear Riddle (0:46)
  • Library Love/Waxflatter’s First Flight (2:54)
  • Fencing With Rathe (1:07)
  • The Glass Soldier (3:22)
  • Solving the Crime (4:54)
  • Second Attempt (1:11)
  • Cold Revenge (4:08)
  • Waxflatter’s Death (3:38)
  • The Hat (1:21)
  • Holmes and Elizabeth – Love Theme (1:58)
  • Getting the Point (6:25)
  • Rame Tep (3:06)
  • Pastries and Crypts (6:44)
  • Discovered by Rathe (5:05)
  • To Cragwitch’s (1:32)
  • The Explanation (1:48)
  • Cragwitch Goes Again (1:23)
  • It’s You! (6:17)
  • Waxing Elizabeth (3:37)
  • Temple Fire (3:24)
  • Ehtar’s Escape (4:04)
  • Duel and Final Farewell (5:41)
  • The Riddles Solved and End Credits (6:27)
  • Ytrairom Spelled Backwards (0:48)
  • Main Title (Film Version) (1:42) – BONUS
  • Belly Dancer (1:02) – BONUS
  • Waxing Elizabeth (Chorus) (3:01) – BONUS
  • Waxing Elizabeth (Orchestra) (3:37) – BONUS
  • Ehtar’s Escape (Original Version) (4:03) – BONUS
  • God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen (traditional, arr. Bruce Broughton) (1:06) – BONUS

Running Time: 113 minutes 57 seconds

Intrada MAF-7131 (1985/2014)

Music composed and conducted by Bruce Broughton. Orchestrations by Mark McKenzie and Don Nemitz. Recorded and mixed by Eric Tomlinson. Edited by Curt Sobel. Album produced by Bruce Broughton, Douglass Fake and Roger Feigelson.

  1. September 3, 2019 at 6:26 pm

    It’s directed by Barry Levinson, not Barry Sonenfeld. Just fyi.

  2. April 12, 2021 at 7:40 pm

    It was directed by Barry Levinson, not Sonnenfeld.

    • April 12, 2021 at 7:41 pm

      Wow. I’ve posted that twice. At least I’m consistent.

      • April 12, 2021 at 7:44 pm

        In fact, Levinson directed “Silverado,” as well, which I assume is why Broughton was the composer on both films.

      • Sanderson
        July 8, 2021 at 10:06 pm

        Silverado was actually directed by Lawrence Kasdan 🙂

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