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Tuesday, September 22, 2020

Elgar's"I See A Face" Cipher in Variation XIII

Though everything else may appear shallow and repulsive, even the smallest task in music is so absorbing, and carries us so far away from town, country, earth, and all worldly things, that it is truly a blessed gift of God.

Felix Mendelssohn


The conventional wisdom views the Mendelssohn fragments quoted by Edward Elgar in Variation XIII as extraneous to the Enigma Theme, and by extension the whole of the Enigma Variations. This view is fueled by the recognition that they come from an entirely foreign work, Felix Mendelssohn’s Calm Sea and Prosperous Voyage Op. 27. That concert overture is approximately thirteen minutes long, a duration that presents an intriguing parallel with the Roman numerals of Variation XIII. Its original German title—Meeresstille und glückliche Fahrt—is drawn directly from two poems by Goethe that were extremely popular when Mendelssohn composed his programmatic piece. There is a bit of irony in that deceptively serene title because Goethe was an early proponent of the  literary movement known as Sturm und Drang which means “storm and drive.” With such an obvious foreign provenance, scholars reason the Mendelssohn fragments in Variation XIII must be unrelated to the covert principal Theme, the “dark saying” mentioned by Elgar in the original 1899 program note, and the secret friend memorialized in Variation XIII. The scholars could not be more wrong.

A contrarian view is raised by Elgar’s decision to superimpose the Mendelssohn fragments over a pulsating ostinato sourced from the Enigma Theme’s palindromic rhythm of alternating pairs of eighth and quarter notes. This rhythmic figure that portrays an undulating sea is composed of harmonic sixths alternating by melodic thirds. This combination of harmonic and melodic intervals encodes the opus number (36) of the Enigma Variations. This orchestrated mingling of the Enigma Theme’s rhythmic structure with the Mendelssohn fragments raises the possibility of a more nuanced connection between these two outwardly unrelated  themes.

The quotations in Variation XIII from Mendelssohn's concert overture Calm Sea and Prosperous Voyage portray a serene and windless sea. Without wind, a sailing vessel becomes stranded in a watery desert. The nautical term for this treacherous condition for sailors is known as the doldrums. It is remarkable that these Mendelssohn quotations are accompanied by a metallic roll on the timpani, a drum. The orchestration of the Mendelsson quotations subtly captures Elgar’s penchant for wordplay.

The cursory impression the Mendelssohn fragments are unconnected to the Enigma Theme is undermined by various factors. First and foremost is the intentional and obvious pairing of these fragments with the Enigma Theme’s rhythmic ostinato. Elgar cautioned in the original 1899 program note, “...I warn you that the apparent connexion between the Variations and the Theme is often of the slightest texture…” This admonition is not granted sufficient weight by those who casually dismiss any potential links between the Enigma Theme and the Mendelssohn fragments. That no overt associations between the two may be easily spotted does not automatically render them aesthetically or cryptographically misaligned. It is paramount to recognize these fragments are quoted as prominent features of a variation, so this contextually implies  they must be in some way related to the Enigma Theme if not also its underlying mysteries. Uncovering those interconnections requires a familiarity with music cryptography, a baffling discipline for legacy scholars.

The Mendelssohn fragments are like a small thread that, when tugged, unravels a much larger tapestry of intersecting musical cryptograms and counterpoints. Far from being extraneous, the Mendelssohn fragments conceal a rich cache of cryptograms that disclose and authenticate the covert melodic Theme and the secret friend memorialized in Variation XIII. A comprehensive survey shows they harbor no less than eighteen cryptograms. These diverse ciphers encode a highly specific set of mutually reinforcing solutions that divulge and authenticate the covert Theme of the Enigma Variations and the secret friend memorialized in Variation XIII. This distinct subset of ciphers is listed below with links to their descriptions and decryptions:

  1. FAE Cipher

  2. Mendelssohn FAE Syllables Cipher

  3. FACE Cipher

  4. AMF Cipher

  5. Mendelssohn E.F.B. Cipher

  6. Mendelssohn Keynotes Cipher

  7. Mendelssohn Scale Degrees Cipher

  8. Variation XIII Music Anagram Ciphers

  9. Mendelssohn Clarinet Solo Nominal Notes Cipher

  10. Clarinet A Major Key Signature Transposition Cipher

  11. Mendelssohn Pi Cipher

  12. Mendelssohn Pi-C Cipher

  13. Mendelssohn Fragments Melodic Intervals Cipher

  14. Dual Initials Enigma Cipher

  15. Romanza Cipher

  16. Dominant-Tonic-Dominant (5-1-5) Cipher

  17. “See Abba” Mendelssohn Cipher

  18. Mendelssohn Fragments Clefs Cipher

These cipher discoveries are consistent with Elgar’s expertise with coding and decoding secret messages. His passion for that esoteric art is a principal feature of his psychological profile and merits an entire chapter in Unsolved! by Craig P. Bauer. It is exciting to report that further research has unmasked another crypogram previously unseen and unappreciated lurking among the Mendelssohn fragments within the orchestral score of Variation XIII. This cryptogram is derived from the key letters of each Mendelssohn quotation (A-flat, A-flat, and E-flat), the notes on which the timpani rolls during these quotations (C, C, and G)  and the total number of bars that the timpani performs each roll (9, 6, and 9) converted into their corresponding letters in the alphabet (I, F, and I).

The first Mendelssohn quotation is performed by the principal clarinet starting four bars after Rehearsal 56. A timpani roll on C sets the tone for this incipit starting two bars after Rehearsal 56 and continues for nine bars (504-512) before being interrupted by a whole rest one bar before Rehearsal 57. The letter C is a homonym of sea and see. The application of a number-to-letter key to this bar total (9) produces the matching letter I as this is the ninth letter in the alphabet. The combination of the letter I with the key letter of the first Mendelssohn quotation (A) and the note rolled by the timpani (C) produces an anagram of ICA. This is a phonetic spelling of the phrase, “I see a…” This phonetic decryption is supported by Elgar’s use of inventive spellings in his personal correspondence. For example, he substituted frazes for phrases, gorjus for gorgeous, and xqqq for excuse. Elgar also employed phonetic spellings in his Enigma Theme Polybius Box Cipher.




The second Mendelssohn quotation is played by the principal clarinet and begins just after Rehearsal 57. Like the first, it is in A-flat major. A timpani roll on C begins at Rehearsal 57 and continues for six bars before stopping at Rehearsal 58. The matching letter in the alphabet for 6 is F. The combination of the letter F with the key letter of the second Mendelssohn quotation (A) and rolled note by the timpani (C) is an anagram of FAC. This word appears in the title Elgar’s early motet of the Latin hymn Domine salvam fac. The letters FAC is also a phonetic spelling of face. The combined decryptions in order of appearance from the first and second Mendelssohn quotations produces the phrase, “I see a face.”




The third Mendelssohn quotation is performed by the principal clarinet in E-flat major starting four bars after Rehearsal 60. A timpani roll on G begins two bars after Rehearsal 60 and continues for nine measures (536-544) to the end of the movement. The conversion of nine to its corresponding letter in the alphabet yields I. The combination of I with the key letter of the third Mendelssohn quotation (E) and the note rolled by the timpani (G) is an anagram of IEG. The first two letters are the latin abbreviation for id est, a phrase that means “that is.” Elgar used that Latin abbreviation in his personal correspondence. The letter G is an initial for both God and Gesù, an Italian spelling for Jesus. Two possible readings of IEG are “that is God” and “that is Gesù (Jesus).” Variation XIII is dedicated in secret to Jesus whose initials are transparently enciphered by its Roman numerals. X represents ten, and the tenth letter of the alphabet is J. III stands for three, and the third letter of the alphabet is C. The Roman numerals XIII is a coded version of the initials JC.



The key letters of the three Mendelssohn fragments, the notes rolled by the timpani accompaniment, and the bar lengths of these timpani rolls encode three letters for each of the three Mendelssohn quotations. The first Mendelssohn quotation encodes the letter ICA, a phonetic version of the phrase “I see a.” The second Mendelssohn quotation encodes the letters FAC, a phonetic spelling of face. The third Mendelssohn quotation encodes the letters IEG. The first two letters (ie) are the Latin abbreviation for id est, a phrase that means “that is.” The third letter G is the initial for God and Gesù (Jesus). The combined decryptions from the three Mendelssohn fragments produces the phrases “I see a face that is God’ and “I see a face that is Gesù (Jesus).” These readings  are complementary because Roman Catholicism teaches that Jesus is the physical incarnation of God.

Why would Elgar encipher the phrase “I see a face that is God” in Variation XIII? The answer is provided by a major event in the Roman Catholic Church that transpired five months before Elgar began composing the Enigma Variations. In May 1898, the Italian photographer Secondo Pia took the first official photographs of the Turin Shroud. The photographic negatives revealed a miraculous positive image of the crucified man on the Shroud whose wounds match those described in the gospel accounts. Pia’s photographic negatives became an international sensation in the secular and religious press because they revealed for the first time a lifelike image of the face and crucified body of Jesus. The negative image on the Turin Shroud is miraculous as it predates the invention of photography by more than a thousand years.

Other cryptographic evidence from the Variations confirms that Elgar was inspired by the Turin Shroud. For example, the Mendelssohn quotations in Variation XIII encode a reference to the Turin Shroud using an ingenious elimination cipher. When discrete note letters from the three Mendelsson quotations (A, B, C, E, F, G) are used to eliminate matching letters from the title of the covert Theme (Ein fest Burg), the remaining letters form an anagram of TURIN S. The meaning of the initial S is revealed by the recognition that its remaining letters are shrouded. Vivid red stains of human blood are visible on the Turin Shroud. Remarkably, the performance directions three bars before Rehearsal 61 are an acrostic anagram of red (dim. e. rit.). Four bars after Rehearsal 55 and again after Rehearsal 59, the bass section performs the notes D-E-A-D (dead). The first two melody notes of Variation XIII are G-D, a phonetic spelling of God.  To learn more concerning the secrets of the Enigma Variations, read my free eBook Elgar’s Enigmas Exposed.

Soli Yah Gloria

Friday, September 18, 2020

Elgar's 1899 Program Note Quotations Ciphers

It is true that I have sketched for their amusement and mine, the idiosyncrasies of fourteen of my friends, not necessarily musicians; but this is a personal matter, and need not have been mentioned publicly. The Variations should stand simply as a ‘piece’ of music. The Enigma I will not explain – it’s ‘dark saying’ must be left unguessed, and I warn you that the connexion between the Variations and the Theme is often of the slightest texture; further, through and over the whole set another and larger theme ‘goes’, but is not played…So the principal Theme never appears, even as in some late dramas – e.g., Maeterlinck’s ‘L’Intruse’ and ‘Les sept Princesses’ – the chief character is never on the stage.

Edward Elgar


The British romantic composer Edward Elgar supplied explanatory notes for his symphonic Enigma Variations in a letter to Hans Richter’s agent, Charles Ainslie Barry. This insightful  commentary was cited in Barry’s original program note for the June 1899 premiere. In his remarks, Elgar enclosed the following five words and phrases in quotation marks:

  1. ‘piece’
  2. ‘dark saying’
  3. ‘goes’
  4. ‘L'Intruse’ (The Intruder)
  5. ‘Les sept Princesses’ (The seven Princesses)

The quotation marks are reminiscent of those Elgar placed around the Mendelssohn quotations in Variation XIII. Prior investigations uncovered multiple cryptograms embedded within those anomalous melodic incipits. Could the quotation marks signal the presence of yet another cipher?

No serious musicologist questions Elgar’s obsession with encoding and decoding secret messages. His  expertise in cryptography merits an entire chapter in Craig P. Bauer’s treatise Unsolved! As a skilled cryptographer, Elgar conceived of  elaborate coded messages like the Dorabella Cipher. Recent research found that his unusual reference in the program note to the Belgian playwright Maeterlinck and two of his plays encipher the word psalm, the number 46, the initials for Martin Lurther and his hymn Ein feste Burg. These solutions are extraordinary because the covert Theme to the Enigma Variations is Ein feste Burg (A Mighty Fortress) by the German Reformation leader Martin Luther. In light of this recent revelation, it is exceedingly probable that Elgar’s comments in the program note harbor other cryptograms.

Among the most promising candidates for a cipher are the words enclosed by quotations. These quotations in Elgar’s commentary break down into four English words (piece, dark saying, goes) and five French terms (L’Intruse, Les sept Princesses). The application of a number-to-letter key (1 = A, 2 = B, 3 = C, and so forth) to these word totals converts 4 to D and 5 to E. These two letters may be arranged to spell Ed, the short form of the composer’s first name (Edward).

Elgar’s quotations possess a total of 55 characters excluding spaces. These 55 characters break down into 44 letters (4 upper case and 40 lower case), 10 quotation marks, and 1 apostrophe. The number 55 is a coded reference to Elgar’s initials because E is the fifth letter of the alphabet. The quotations in Elgar’s program note cleverly encode the composer’s initials (EE) and the short form of his first name (Ed). This is consistent with other ciphers in the Enigma Variations that encode the composer’s initials, first or last name.

The encoding of Elgar’s first name and initials by his program note quotations supports the conclusion that they must be a cipher. An analysis of the last letters in terms enclosed by quotation marks (ekgsests) revealed they are a telestich anagram of “kst geses.” There are two es in this anagram that are another coded version of the composer’s initials.

  1. ‘piece
  2. ‘dark saying
  3. ‘goes
  4. ‘L'Intruse
  5. ‘Les sept Princess

The phrase “kst geses” is a phonetic permutation of “Kissed Jesus.” Elgar embedded a musical Polybius box cipher within the opening six bars of the Enigma Theme that encodes a similar phonetic version of Jesus (Gsus) in its first bar. A phonetic reading is bolstered by Elgar’s use of inventive phonetic spellings in his personal correspondence. For example, he substituted frazes for phrases, gorjus for gorgeous, and xqqq for excuse. The decryption “Kissed Jesus” points to Christ as the secret friend and dedicatee of Variation XIII. On that dark night in the Garden of Gethsemane, the fate of Jesus was sealed by a kiss from the traitorous disciple Judas Iscariot.

Another prospective telestich anagram of these same letters is “ee gts kss.” The first two letters are Elgar’s initials. The next two words are a phonetic adaptation of the phrase “gets kiss.” The full decryption of this alternate anagram is “EE gets kiss.” Elgar’s  spiritual friendship with Christ is symbolized by the two es in his phonetic spelling of Jesus as “Geses” in the first telestich anagram. This intimacy is further supported by the positioning of  Rehearsal number (55) at the beginning of Variation XIII, the movement covertly dedicated to Christ. As previously observed, the application of a number-to-letter key converts 55 to EE. The similarities of the decryptions “Kissed Jesus” and “EE gets kiss” emphasize Elgar’s religious identification with Christ. It also likely conveys his sense of betrayal by the academic, social, and class hierarchies that openly discriminated against Roman Catholics like himself who had to work for a living.

It is also possible to construct an angram from the first letters (pdsgLLsP) of the words in quotations. These letters are an acrostic anagram of “dp sps gLL.” The first three letters are dp, a phonetic version of dip. Jesus plainly told his disciples at the Last Supper that one of them would betray him. When the nearest disciple discretely asked him to point out the traitor, Jesus replied, “It is he to whom I will give this morsel of bread when I have dipped it.” Jesus dipped a piece of bread and handed it to Judas to signal the identity of his betrayer.

The second part of the acrostic anagram is “sps gLL.” This is a phonetic rendering of “Sips gall.” Jesus was brutally flogged before his crucifixion, so he experienced severe dehydration as he languished on the cross.  Nearing death, Jesus uttered, “I thirst.” In response, the Roman soldiers gave him a mixture of vinegar and gall to drink. Jesus sipped the concoction but refused to drink it. This was in fulfillment of the Messianic Psalm 69:21, “They gave me also gall for my meat; and in my thirst they gave me vinegar to drink.”

The words Elgar enclosed by quotation marks in his 1899 explanatory note for the Enigma Variations are a triple anagram constructed from the first and last letters of each quotation. The first is the telestich anagram “kst geses” that may be read phonetically as “Kissed Jesus.” The second alternate telestich anagram is “ee gts kiss,” a phonetic rendering of “EE gets kiss.” The third is the acrostic anagram “dp sps gall” that may be read as “dip” and “sips gall.” These terms are theologically tied to Judas and Jesus. Elgar learned about these theological allusions as he studied the scriptures and biblical commentaries to compose his sacred oratorios beginning with Lux Christi in 1896 and culminating with The Kingdom in 1906. It is conceivable that other ciphers are lurking within these five remarkable quotations in Elgar’s 1899 program note for the Enigma Variations. To learn more regarding the secrets of that symphonic masterpiece, read my free eBook Elgar’s Enigmas Exposed.

Soli Yah Gloria

About Mr. Padgett

My photo
Mr. Padgett studied violin with Michael Rosenker (a student of Leopold Auer), and Rosenker’s pupil, Owen Dunsford. Mr. Padgett studied piano with Sally Magee (a student of Emanuel Bay), and Blanca Uribe, a student of Rosina Lhévinne. He attended the Stevenson School in Pebble Beach, California, and Vassar College in Poughkeepsie, New York, where he graduated Phi Beta Kappa with a degree in psychology. At Vassar he studied music theory and composition with Richard Wilson. Mr. Padgett has performed for Joseph Silverstein, Van Cliburn, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Maria Shriver, Steve Jobs, Prince Charles, Lady Camilla, Marcia Davenport, William F. Buckley, Jr., and other prominent public figures. His original compositions have been performed by the Monterey Symphony, at the Bohemian Grove, the Bohemian Club, and other private and public venues. In 2008 Mr. Padgett won the Max Bragado-Darman Fanfare Competition with his entry "Fanfare for the Eagles." It was premiered by the Monterey Symphony under Maestro Bragado in May 2008. A member of the Elgar Society, Mr. Padgett is married with five children.