I've just started binge-watching the BBC series Sherlock. The first episode aired 7 months after the release of the movie Sherlock Holmes, starring Robert Downey, Jr. The theme songs for the movie and the series were composed by different people - Hans Zimmer for the movie, and Michael Price and David Arnold for the series. Yet both theme songs include a rarely-used instrument, the hammer dulcimer. The hammer dulcimer melodies are reminiscent of each other as well.

Were Michael Price and David Arnold influenced by Hans Zimmer's score? Did Zimmer, Price, and Arnold collaborate or compare notes? Did an executive at the BBC insist that the theme songs should have similar elements? Is there any explanation for the similar, unusual instrumentation of the two themes?

Sherlock Holmes theme song, by Hans Zimmer:

BBC's Sherlock theme song, by Michael Price and David Arnold:

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    They were both influenced by an older work according to this: movies.stackexchange.com/questions/81728/…
    – Nolimon
    Jul 24, 2019 at 13:07
  • @Nolimon Interesting S.E. question and answer! However, the music in that answer does not include the hammer dulcimer that stood out to me. Jul 24, 2019 at 13:16

1 Answer 1


They were not influenced by Zimmer

Michael Price and David Arnold answered this in an interview:

How much of an influence was Hans Zimmer's score from the Sherlock Holmes movie?

Regarding the film...I suppose it's not unusual to have a violin-led approach to the character of Sherlock. It's not unusual for composers to come up with a similar approach to a character, and he was a high-functioning drug user, so there's a bit of madness involved. When we were working on the music for and after the pilot, the Sherlock Holmes film hadn't come out, so it was just one of those things.

Also, about the Hammered Dulcimer:

In "Discombobulate" from Hans Zimmer's score for Sherlock Holmes, the dulcimer doubles the melody, giving it a sharp timbre and adding to the Eastern European folk flair of the music.

So, it's just a coincidence that they use this same exact instrument.

  • 1
    @BrettFromLA Possibly there's some association between the Sherlock Holmes character and the instrument that would lead them to independently decide to use it? May be worth looking into a bit. Jul 24, 2019 at 13:58
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    It's well known that Sherlock Holmes is a violinist. I don't remember if he has a Strad, but he does play the violin often enough in the books. I don't ever recall anything about dulcimers. However, Sherlock was an opium addict, and a quick Google search reveals the hammer dulcimer comes from the middle east, as does (did?) opium. So, perhaps that's the connection. Jul 24, 2019 at 17:39
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    @WayneWerner a clarification: Holmes was a cocaine addict, not an opium addict. Cocaine was a common drug and people used it to self medicate pretty much everything, in addition to it being prescribed by doctors. Opium on the other hand was viewed as anti-social and harmful, partly because it came from the East and Victorian England didn't want to embrace anything those kinds of people did.
    – GreySage
    Jul 24, 2019 at 19:34
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    @GreySage Ah! So you're right! I was thinking of when Watson found him in the opium den, but a quick search online reveals that I had conflated his being there (in fact, in possession of opium and a pipe), with him being an addict. Jul 24, 2019 at 21:00
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    @WayneWerner Probably the only case ever of "I'm not an addict, I'm just undercover!" being true.
    – GreySage
    Jul 24, 2019 at 21:11

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