It is remarkable to note that Sherlock Holmes, during the youngest and most obsessively enthusiastic part of his detective career, took an afternoon off during the first day of a murder investigation to go hear Wilma Norman-Neruda play her violin at Halle’s concert. Holmes was nothing if not completely devoted to his career at that point, and his decision to drop everything to go to a concert seems somewhat out of character.
Internal evidence in Dr. Watson’s account of A Study in Scarlet has the case starting up on a Tuesday. Charles Halle’s concerts were always on Monday evenings and Saturday afternoons. So how was it that Sherlock Holmes was going to see Wilma Norman-Neruda play on a Tuesday afternoon?
Wilma Norman-Neruda was in her early forties, living apart from her Swedish musician husband. Sherlock Holmes was in his late twenties, an energetic and ambitious bachelor. Dr. Watson does not accompany Holmes to this rare Tuesday “concert,” but tells us, “He was very late in returning – so late that I knew that the concert could not have detained him all the time.” And yet Sherlock Holmes walks in still enthralled by Ms. Norman-Neruda’s perfomance.
“It was magnificent,” Holmes says, before waxing on about souls, misty centuries, and Nature. One would almost think our Mr. Holmes was in love.
It is interesting to note that Sherlock Holmes’s recorded career doesn’t really hit full steam until after 1885, the year Wilma Neruda’s first husband died. And in 1888, the year Neruda marries her longtime co-worker Charles Halle, we find Sherlock Holmes uttering the infamous words: “Women are never to be entirely trusted - not the best of them.”
When it came to female violinists, Wilhelmina Norman-Neruda was indeed one of the best of them. A prodigy from a early age, she went quickly from sneaking attempts to play her brother’s violin to her first public concert at age seven. She had been called “the violin fairy,” and performed her public concerts on a Stradivarius that she had been given in 1876 by the Duke of Saxe-Coburg.
Wait a minute . . . a Stradivarius?
Not so long after her marriage to Charles Halle, Sherlock Holmes was investigating a case of love gone wrong, involving two sisters and a seaman. He again waxes philosophical at the end of the case, asking Watson, “What is the meaning of it? What object is served by this circle of misery and violence and fear?” But earlier in the investigation, in a lighter moment, Holmes rambles on to Watson about the unlikely transaction by which he managed to come into his own Stradivarius . . . for fifty-five shillings.
Sherlock Holmes could never have had a relationship with Wilma Norman-Neruda, at least as far as public records go. He was known, however, to play a violin of the same very expensive make as she did, at a time when a souvenir of that grand lady of music might have been nice.
Make of it what you will.
Below is a letter from Wilma Norman-Neruda to a Mr. MacKinley, discussing a concert engagement. It is reproduced here to serve as a sample of her note-paper and handwriting, just in case anyone should come across a note with Sherlock Holmes’s name on it.