In the audiofile above you hear two snippets of the Sherlock Soundtrack (“War” and “Pink”). It is John’s theme. The first time it plays when John wakes up from a nightmare (“War”).
The characteristic melody is played by piano in G minor and has a distinctive motive of four notes (see mid0nz’s meta for more insights). I added the second part (“Pink”) to show you the “official" ending of John’s theme where the chords rise along the scale of D minor. (This figure is often used in other Sherlock scores for very dramatic scenes, sometimes resolving in death. Perhaps I will revisit this in a future post). Choosing a minor key for John’s theme strengthens the viewer’s impression of John’s depressed and sad mental state.
When I decided to give the music in Sherlock more attention, I was so overwhelmed that I chose to start with the obvious. And that’s John’s theme. For me it plays a unique role in the musical world of Sherlock because it’s the only theme that’s continously played by piano. And in my experience piano themes are often really unique in the whole range of a (movie) soundtrack with predominantly fully orchestrated pieces. They stick up as played by a single instrument against pieces played by 30 and more instruments in an orchestra. And that’s why piano themes are often used to intensify the intimacy of a scene. (I first experienced this consciously in Titanic: The piano version of Rose’s theme when Jack draws her).
So my interpretation of John’s theme is this: The piano played tune in a minor key shows the viewer John’s deep emotions like sadness, vulnerability and perhaps the hurt that love can cause. In this way the viewer is - in contrast to Sherlock - directly linked via the music to John’s emotional state. The music helps us to be sure how John feels in many scenes. And that’s why I’ll definitly write more about the magnifiscent use of John’s theme in every single season. <3
But for now I will finish this post by showing you how John’s theme is linked to the other two outstanding themes. The Main theme (title theme) and what’s called by the composers the Hero’s Theme. (My piano version of the key elements:)
John’s theme (beginning):
Main (=title) theme (bar 9 to the end):
Hero’s theme (first time: bar 11ff., several times again and at the end):
What we can see and hear: John’s theme and the Hero’s theme are combined in the main theme. If you want to, you can read this as the musical conjunction of John and Sherlock. (As this is the title theme of the show I’ll leave the further Johnlock interpretation to you…). And if you understand the main theme as Sherlock’s theme, then you could say that it integrates his heart (John) and his mind (crime solving=”the game”).
[Last note: the notations above are based on the piano arrangement of Anthony Weeden. I kept the notation in A minor for visual simplicity (=lack of accidentals), but’d like to clarify that John’s theme is played in G minor, the main theme in A minor and the hero’s theme in C minor when they are first introduced – please correct me if I’m wrong).
ETA: See replies for further thoughts regarding aspects of music theory.
My meta about John’s theme in The Empty Hearse.
… and in The Sign of Three
… and in His Last Vow.