The name of the LORD is a strong tower; The righteous run to it and are safe.
The British romantic composer Edward Elgar (1857-1934) achieved international acclaim following the premiere of his Enigma Variations in June 1899 under the baton of the Wagnerian protégé Hans Richter. This set of symphonic variations was revolutionary because its original theme was conceived as a counterpoint to a famous melody that remains unheard and inscrutably absent. Elgar labeled his perplexing counterpoint “Enigma” before publication and the inaugural performance to convey this contrapuntal riddle, effectively ruling out the groundless speculation that this title was merely an afterthought or marketing ploy. In the 1899 program note, Elgar calls his thematic counterpoint “Enigma.” He continues this practice in a later program note for an October 1911 performance at Turin where again he refers to the opening movement as simply “Enigma.” Elgar never veered away from this consistent account of his melodic conundrum throughout his life and impressive career as one of England’s iconic composers.
Conventional scholarship asserts the status of the hidden melody is unfathomable because Elgar supposedly took his secret to the grave. Did he leave behind no written trace of the secret tune’s identity, forever entombing the solution with his death and burial? It must be conceded that Elgar burned his notebooks that held sketches of the Enigma Variations in 1920 shortly after the passing of his wife, barring the opportunity to seize on intimate details regarding the genesis and development of his magnum opus. However, there remains one promising avenue of inquiry glossed over or entirely overlooked by career academics—Elgar’s obsession with cryptography, the art of encoding and decoding secret messages.
Elgar was scarcely a casual cryptographer who dabbled in secret codes as illustrated by his seemingly impervious Dorabella Cipher created in July 1897. His mastery of that esoteric art merits an entire chapter in Craig P. Bauer’s book Unsolved! The editor of the journal Cryptologia, Bauer devotes the bulk of his attention to Elgar’s daring decryption of an allegedly insoluble Nihilist cipher challenge published by John Holt Schooling in an 1896 edition of The Pall Mall Gazette. Elgar was so pleased with his solution that he bragged about it in his first biography published with his full cooperation in 1905 by Robert J. Buckley.
Elgar painted his solution to Schooling’s avowedly impenetrable cryptogram in black paint on a wooden box. He meticulously summarized how he cracked that code on a set of nine index cards. The sixth index card describes the process of decoding the cipher as “...working (in the dark).” The word dark is indubitably a synonym for a cipher. It is significant the adjective dark also turns up again in the original 1899 program note prepared by Charles A. Barry that cites a letter by Elgar:
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 later dramas – e.g., Maeterlinck’s ‘L’Intruse’ and ‘Les sept Princesses’ – the chief character is never on the stage.
Elgar publicly advised that the Enigma Theme conceals a “dark saying” that “must be left unguessed.” This cryptic language insinuates the existence of a coded message within the Enigma Theme because a cipher and its decryption cannot be guessed. The interpretation of the phrase “dark saying” as a coded allusion to a cipher is immensely plausible based on a careful consideration of the definitions for those terms. One meaning of dark is secret or hidden, and a saying is a string of words that usually forms a short phrase or adage. There is a covert Theme and a hidden message embedded within the Enigma Theme. Could these two conundrums be intertwined? It is conceivable that Elgar’s “dark saying” is actually the title of the hidden melody that resisted discovery for over a century.
Elgar sprinkled some gargantuan clues about the covert Theme in Variation XIII, a serene Romanza with an austere title of three mysterious asterisks (***). On four occasions in that movement, Elgar cites a four-note melodic fragment from Felix Mendelssohn’s overture Calm Sea and Prosperous Voyage. Why would he insert four conspicuously foreign thematic incipits into an unrelated set of variations? This line of inquiry fueled the deduction that Elgar quotes Mendelssohn in a symphonic work to imply by imitation that Mendelssohn quotes the covert Theme in one of his own symphonies. There are four fragments with four sounding notes each that collectively impose a pronounced emphasis on the number four. Is there a famous tune quoted by Mendelssohn that may be convincingly linked to that number? There is indeed, for Mendelssohn quotes the famous hymn Ein feste Burg (A Mighty Fortress) by Martin Luther in the fourth movement of his Reformation Symphony followed by a set of variations. Elgar’s marine quotations of Mendelssohn’s music are evocative of a passage from the book of Ecclesiastes, “Cast your bread upon the waters, For you will find it after many days.”
Some scholars hastily rule out Luther’s hymn as a valid candidate due to Elgar’s proud embrace of Roman Catholicism. The undisputed leader of the Protestant Reformation in Germany, Luther was denounced as a heretic and excommunicated by Pope Leo X. What those highly credentialed academics fail to appreciate is Mendelssohn was baptized into the Lutheran faith as a child, remained a proud Protestant in adulthood, and composed his Reformation Symphony to commemorate the triennial of the Augsburg Confession. By citing the music of a Lutheran in Variation XIII, Elgar shines the equivalent of a klieg light on the actual composer of the covert Theme. The melding of Mendelssohn’s Jewish heritage with his Christian faith adds a further layer of hints about the identity of Elgar’s secret friend whose name and title appear in the lyrics of Ein feste Burg.
The full title of Luther’s hymn consists of six words in German with a total of 24 letters: Ein feste Burg ist unser Gott (A Mighty Fortress Is Our God). These two figures correlate precisely with the Enigma Theme’s opening six bars in G minor that have exactly 24 melody notes. Labeled Section A, this inaugural sequence is segregated by an oddly placed double bar at the end of bar 6. Such a feature is anomalous because a double bar rarely appears so close to the beginning of a movement. The hidden tune’s title has six words with a sum total of 24 letters, and Section A of the Enigma Theme has six bars with 24 melody notes. These conspicuous numeric parallels stoked the deduction that Elgar enciphered the 24 letters of the covert Theme’s title using the Enigma Theme’s 24 melody notes. Through this approach, he would assure the survival and eventual discovery of the answer to his contrapuntal riddle. The grand irony is that Elgar’s contrapuntal question preserved within itself the answer in the form of a cipher.
But what sort of encipherment method did Elgar utilize to assign the 24 letters of the covert Theme’s title to the Enigma Theme’s opening 24 melody notes? A frequency analysis and comparison of the totals of discrete melody notes with those for the unique letters in the covert Theme’s title quickly ruled out a strict substitution cipher. The unavoidable conclusion is Elgar must have used a more sophisticated form of encryption. Like the black paint on the side of a ruddy wooden box that memorializes his solution to John Holt Schoolings Nihilist cipher, the melody and bass notes on the earliest known sketch of the Enigma Theme are written in black ink with the remaining harmony notes penciled in between. Could those blackened melody and bass notes be the keys to unlocking Elgar’s “dark saying” mentioned in the original 1899 program note?
An extensive analysis of the Enigma Theme’s opening six bars led to the discovery and decryption of a musical Polybius Box Cipher. This intricate cryptogram relies on a binary key based on pairs of melody and bass notes, the highest and lowest pitches in the score. Elgar studied the Polybius square in 1896, two years before openly commencing work on the Enigma Variations. The decryption is a grand anagram of the covert Theme's 24-letter German title comprised of short words and phrases using phonetic spellings in English, Latin, and what Elgar would have reasonably believed was Aramaic based on popular biblical commentaries in use during that era. The first letters of those four languages—English, Latin, German, and Aramaic—are themselves a second anagram that forms the composer’s last name. In a masterful display of his cryptographic prowess, Elgar stealthily signed his cryptogram with a second cipher wrapped within the decryption of the first.
Elgar’s “dark saying” lurking beneath the surface of the Enigma Theme is a musical Polybius Box Cipher that authenticates the hymn Ein feste Burg as the covert Theme to the Enigma Variations. It further verifies that Jesus is the secret friend memorialized in Variation XIII. The discovery of this cipher puts to rest the imaginative fiction touted by tenuous tenured professors that Elgar took his enigmatic secrets to the grave. Rather than relegating the answers to a black hole of oblivion, Elgar carefully encoded his solutions to the Enigma Variations within the score itself in a series of mutually reinforcing cryptograms. This raises the prospect that there could be a second Polybius box cipher elsewhere in the Enigma Variations. If so, where could it be hiding?
Exhaustive research and analysis revealed that the Mendelssohn fragments harbor a trove of cryptograms. These Mendelssohn ciphers disclose and authenticate the covert melodic Theme to the Enigma Variations and the secret friend memorialized in Variation XIII. While admittedly astonishing in their diversity and scope, these cryptograms are wholly consistent with Elgar’s expertise in cryptography. The presence of so many cryptograms packed within the Mendelssohn fragments makes them a reasonable place to start searching for a second Polybius box cipher.
A comparison of the total number of Mendelssohn quotations and their sounding notes present some remarkable parallels with Ein feste Burg. That title has three words and twelve letters. Likewise, there are three Mendelssohn quotations with a total of twelve notes. These numeric parallels raise the possibility that Elgar encoded the covert Theme’s three-word title with twelve letters using the three Mendelssohn quotations that have twelve notes.
A letter frequency analysis of Ein feste Burg and the notes from the Mendelssohn quotations obtained no clear-cut points of congruence. Ein feste Burg has ten unique letters and a sum of twelve letters. In contrast, the Mendelssohn fragments have six unique note letters and a total of twelve notes. To encode the covert Theme’s title using the notes of the Mendelssohn quotations, Elgar needed to employ something far more nuanced and sophisticated than a basic substitution cipher. To do otherwise would have been too obvious and easy to solve. The discovery of a musical Polybius Box cipher in the Enigma Theme boosts the odds that Elgar enciphered the covert Theme’s title within the Mendelssohn fragments in the same way by relying on pairs of melody and base notes.
The Polybius box cipher in the Enigma Theme uses a distinctive key of six rows and six columns. This same six-by-six configuration is implied by various attributes of the Mendelssohn quotations. There are six written notes in each Mendelssohn quotation. There is a combined total of six discrete sounding notes present in all of the Mendelssohn quotations with three in A-flat major (C, B-flat, and A-flat) and another three more in E-flat major (G, F, and E-flat). Accompanying each quotation is an ostinato figure of rising and falling harmonic sixths that reprises the Enigma Theme’s palindromic rhythm of alternating pairs of eighth notes and quarter notes. The quotation marks that signify the beginning of each fragment are a silhouette of 66. The first Mendelsson quotation concludes six bars after Rehearsal 56. The second Mendelssohn quotation begins six bars after the first quotation ends. The third Mendelssohn quotation finishes six bars after Rehearsal 60. There is an inescapable and marked emphasis on the number six throughout the Mendelssohn quotations that alludes to a six-by-six Polybius box key.
The first Mendelssohn quotation (C, B-flat, and two A-flats) is executed over a pedal tone C played by the solo principal cellist. The second Mendelssohn quotation repeats the same notes as the first above a pedal tone A-flat performed by the solo principal bassist that cuts out just before the quotation ends on two repeated A-flats. Any alleged ambiguity concerning this A-flat pedal tone is dispelled by the official piano reduction released by Elgar in 1899 that shows the A-flat pedal tone is sustained throughout the entire second Mendelssohn quotation. The missing A-flat pedal tone below the two A-flats of the second Mendelssohn quotation in the full score is reminiscent of the absent bass notes below the melodic eighth note pairs in measures 1-5 of the Enigma Theme. The tactic of omitting some bass notes was ostensibly used to obfuscate the cipher’s structure and foil decryption. The third Mendelssohn quotation (G, F, and two E-flats) is performed over a G pedal tone played by the solo principal cellist.
The following table summarizes the melody-bass note pairs in the three Mendelssohn quotations obtained through a comprehensive assessment of the orchestral score and official piano reduction.
A frequency analysis of these melody-bass note pairs reveals three discrete sets with frequencies of 2 and six others with frequencies of 1. It is intriguing that the total number of pairs for these two frequencies (3 and 6) is a coded reference to the opus number of the Enigma Variations (36) and tempo marking for the Enigma Theme (63).
The rates of occurrence for the melody-bass note pairs fail to tally with those of the letters from Ein feste Burg. Is there another translation of the covert Theme’s three-word title that exhibits the same letter frequencies as those found with the melody-bass note pairs from the three Mendelssohn quotations? There are multiple English translations with divergent titles such as “A Mighty Fortress” and “A Safe Stronghold,” yet only one possesses the same allotment of letter frequencies as those found in the melody-bass note pairs of the Mendelssohn quotations. That title is “A Strong Tower.” The letter frequencies of this translation by William Mclardie Bunting (1805-1866) are an exact match with the melody-bass note frequencies observed in the Mendelssohn quotations.
The next step in the decryption process was to assign possible plaintext letters to the melody-bass note pairs based on corresponding frequencies and experiment with various combinations to arrive at the solution. There are six possible letters for melody-bass note pairs with a frequency of 1 and three for pairs with frequencies of 2. The number of permutations is a factorial of 6 (6 x 5 x 4 x 3 x 2 x 1 = 720) multiplied by a factorial of 3 (3 x 2 x 1 = 6) for a total of 4,320 possible combinations.
All of these possible letter arrangements produce utter gibberish except for one notable exception. What makes this particular combination truly extraordinary is that it possesses both vertical and horizontal solutions that aided considerably in reconstructing the decryption. The horizontal decryption is an anagrammitization of the covert Theme’s title A Strong Tower that results in three groups of four letters. These four-letter plaintext clusters are also a notable quality of the decryption from the Enigma Theme’s Polybius Box Cipher. In all, there are twelve rows and three columns that result in 36 separate cells, the same as the opus number of the Enigma Variations. An array of cryptograms verify that the secret friend memorialized in Variation XIII is Jesus Christ. The plaintext solutions of a cryptogram situated in this particular movement must consequently be refracted and interpreted through the prism of Elgar’s Roman Catholic faith.
First Quotation Vertical Decryption
The vertical decryption of the first Mendelssohn quotation is SWTT. This is a phonetic spelling of “sweat” and “sweats.” While praying in the Garden of Gethsemane on the eve of his arrest and crucifixion, Jesus experienced such agony that he sweat droplets of blood. Known as hematidrosis, this rare medical condition is induced by extreme physical and emotional anguish that ruptures the capillary blood vessels supplying the sweat glands. Jesus was so harrowed by his impending torture and execution that he sweat blood. The ominous specter of death overshadowed Christ as he prayed that night in the quiet and calm of the garden.
The insertion of the composer’s initials provides an alternate reading of SWTT as “sweet.” Cardinal Newman cites the phrase “Sweet Jesus” in his writings, a common expression that recurs in Catholic hymn books throughout England during the 19th century. For example, there are nearly two dozen references to "Sweet Jesus" in the 1881 edition of The Parochial Hymn Book that also includes hymns by Cardinal Newman. A highly respected Anglican priest in England who famously converted to Roman Catholicism, Cardinal Newman composed the poem The Dream of Gerontius in 1865, a work that later inspired Elgar’s greatest sacred oratorio. This second reading of SWTT as sweet serves as a deft allusion to the secret friend whose tragic but necessary death is honored in Variation XIII.
Second Quotation Vertical Decryption
The vertical decryption of the second Mendelssohn quotation is GARR. When pronounced with a soft g and the two Rs treated as a plural, it becomes the phonetic equivalent of jars. The first recorded miracle of Jesus took place during a wedding feast at the city of Cana in Galilee where he turned ordinary ceremonial water into extraordinary wine. Used by guests to wash the dirt and dust off their hands and feet, this lowly water unsuitable for drinking was stored in six large stone waterpots identified in many translations as jars. It was previously mentioned that the number six associated with these stone jars is granted a pronounced emphasis in the Mendelssohn quotations. This first miracle symbolizes Jesus’s mastery over water, a foundational element that is serenely portrayed in the form of a calm sea by the Mendelssohn quotations.
A reverse reading of GARR generates a phonetic version of rag. The combined plaintexts from the first two Mendelssohn quotations produces sweat rag. The pairing of the decryptions from the first and second Mendelssohn quotations is firmly implied by their mutual key of A-flat major. Is there some credible explanation for why Elgar would encipher “sweat rag” in the vertical decryptions of the first two Mendelssohn quotations? If so, does it provide a plausible link to his secret friend pictured within Variation XIII?
There is a companion cloth to the Shroud of Turin that is known as the Shroud of Oviedo. This linen napkin was used to cover the bloodied, bruised and beaten face of Jesus after his brutal crucifixion. The Latin name for that smaller face cloth stained in blood is the Sudarium. The literal translation of that Latin label is “sweat cloth.” The terms rag and cloth are synonymous, rendering the solution “sweat rag” as a virtual translation of the cloth that veiled the face of Christ after his death in accordance with Jewish burial customs. This discovery is mutually consistent with the Romanza Cipher, another cryptogram based in the Mendelssohn quotations that encodes a reference to the Turin Shroud.
The Romanza Cipher is an elementary elimination cipher. There are three Mendelssohn quotations with twelve sounding notes that hint at the three words with twelve letters in the title Ein feste Burg. The first step in decoding the Romanza Cipher is to eliminate letters from the title Ein feste Burg that match any note letters within the Mendelssohn quotations. There are six discrete note letters in the Mendelssohn quotations: A, B, C, E, F, G. The removal of those letters from Ein feste Burg leaves behind INSTUR. Those six letters are an anagram of “TURIN S.”
Elgar cleverly pinpoints the meaning of the initial S by shrouding the rest of the word and linking it to the city of Turin. Two striking parallels between the Romanza Cipher and the Mendelssohn Quotations Polybius Box Cipher is they utilize three-word versions of the covert Theme’s title to encode solutions that mention the Turin Shroud and its companion cloth, the Shroud of Oviedo. These consistent tactics and reciprocal solutions effectively authenticate their decryptions and the covert Theme’s identity. The symmetry of the construction and solutions to these cryptograms exude the sweet aroma of deliberation and design. Although Elgar privately floated the idea of withdrawing the Mendelssohn quotations to stave off any controversy with his critics, he never did because the cryptographic die was already cast. He also recognized that avid detectives would most likely be reading his mail.
The Sudarium of Oviedo is stored in an ornate oak reliquary decorated in silver-gilt known as the Arca Santa ("Holy Ark"). It is housed in the Cámara Santa of the Cathedral of San Salvador in Oviedo, Spain. The container holding the Sudarium is an appropriate symbol for the Mendelssohn Quotations Polybius Box Cipher because it is a wooden box. Another famous ark mentioned in Genesis is a huge ship that served as a refuge for Noah, his family, and representatives of terrestrial animals during a massive flood that inundated the whole earth for a year. The view that greeted the occupants of Noah’s Ark after a preliminary 40-day rainstorm was a calm sea with no land in sight, the same vantage point depicted by the Mendelssohn quotations. A ship passing across a landless seascape is a potent biblical archetype (pun intended) of rescue and salvation.
There are other robust theological links between Jesus and the symbolism of a calm sea. When an intense storm on the Sea of Gallilee threatened to sink a boat with Jesus and his disciples on board, Jesus arose from his slumber and rebuked the winds and waves. Suddenly, the winds stopped and there was “a great calm.” This miracle is recounted in the Gospels of Mathew, Mark, and Luke. His disciples were so amazed they asked themselves, “Who can this be? For he commands even the winds and the water, and they even obey Him!”
Jesus drew an analogy between his death and resurrection to the plight of the prophet Jonah. When God commanded Jonah to deliver a message to the impious city of Nineveh demanding that it repent or face destruction, Jonah refused and fled in the opposite direction on a ship to the distant city of Tarshish. During the voyage, a powerful storm overtook the ship. The crew jettisoned their cargo in a desperate bid to avoid sinking, but the intense storm threatened to send their ship and its occupants straight to the bottom of the ocean. When their frantic efforts proved futile, the crew decided the tempest must be divine judgment directed against one of their passengers. They cast lots to identify the culprit, and Jonah was exposed.
Jonah confessed his offense against God and resumed his role as a prophet by informing the crew that the only way to save their ship and their lives was to cast him overboard. They reluctantly but obediently complied. As soon as Jonah hit the water he was swallowed up by a whale and the storm abruptly ceased. A calm sea heralded Jonah’s three-day confinement in the belly of a great fish. The sign of the Fish is one of the most widely recognized Christograms. It was inspired by the analogy between Jesus’ entombment and the prophet Jonah’s oceanic imprisonment inside a great fish below the surface of the sea.
Third Quotation Vertical Decryption
The vertical decryption of the third Mendelssohn quotation is ENOO. This is a blatant wordplay on Elgar’s nickname “Edoo” coined by his wife that originates from the German spelling of his first name, Eduard. The closing movement's title from the Enigma Variations is a phonetic spelling of that pet name—E. D. U. With no d in the title A Strong Tower, an alternative letter was substituted to generate a pertinent outcome. In her diaries, Alice refers to Elgar as simply E. This understanding permits a phonetic reading of the plaintext ENOO as “E knew.” Elgar certainly knew the significance and relevance of the Sudarium to the death of Jesus and its connection to the Turin Shroud. This realization would explain why there is a coded reference to the Sudarium within the vertical decryption of the Mendelssohn Quotations Polybius Box Cipher. He also knew the key to resolving his cryptogram. The full vertical decryption of the Mendelssohn Quotations Polybius Box Cipher reads, “Sweat Rag, Elgar.
When ENOO is treated as an anagram, the plaintext may be reshuffled to NOOE which permits possible phonetic readings of “New E,” “Knew E,” and “Nosy.” The first decryption as “New Elgar” brings to mind a passage from Second Corinthians that states, “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new.” The recognition of the evidential value of the Sudarium and Turin Shroud for the death and resurrection of Jesus would undoubtedly renew one’s faith in this scriptural promise of being made new in Christ. Elgar knew Jesus and become new in Him, producing new music for the honor and glory of God. Elgar's spiritual fervor is demonstrated by the fact that a majority of his major works are dedicated to God.
The anagram NOOE may also be phonetically pronounced as “Knew E.” His friends “pictured within” knew Elgar well enough to be admitted to his pantheon of Variations. Identifying and resolving the assorted cryptograms in the Enigma Variations is another way to span the remote gulfs of space and time and become better acquainted with Elgar’s inventive mind and obsession with ciphers. Another reading of NOOE is “Nosy,” an adjective that means prying and inquisitive. That is an absolutely crucial trait for anyone wanting to enter Elgar’s cryptographic labyrinths and find the exits.
The plaintext solutions to each Mendelssohn quotation are multivalent and endowed with contextual significance when analyzed and understood through the lens of the secret friend’s identity. The separate decryptions are subsumed into another larger solution when its plaintext letters are distributed within a six-by-six Polybius Box Cipher grid. Columns 1 through 6 are designated by the melody notes A, B, C, D/E, F, and G. Rows 1 through 6 are identified by the bass notes A, B, C, D/E, F, and G. The conflation of two note letters was necessary to accommodate a six-by-six key. It just so happens that in this scenario, the two letters joined together are an anagram of Ed, a nickname for Edward. This serves as yet another example of how Elgar nimbly worked his name into the decryption. Plaintext letters appear within a checkerboard matrix according to matching melody-bass note letter pairs.
When read boustrophedonically in an S pattern starting from the bottom of the key, the plaintext “ONE SWT RAG” yields “One Sweat Rag.” This is a clearcut allusion to the Sudarium, the bloodied cloth that covered the face of Jesus after his crucifixion at Golgotha. That craggy hill is popularly known as Gordon’s Calvary in honor of General Charles George Gordon who championed “Skull Hill” as the genuine site where Christ was executed. Elgar was seriously sketching a symphony in honor of General Gordon, a Christian apologist and soldier, when he abruptly redirected his artistic energies towards the Enigma Variations. A copy of Cardinal Newman’s The Dream of Gerontius was annotated by Gordon during the Siege of Khartoum. Friends copied his markings and published them shortly after his death. Elgar loaned a copy of this popular book to Alice, his future bride, in 1887 as a form of consolation following her father’s death. Elgar’s fascination with General Gordon and Cardinal Newman is bound together by their common kinship with Jesus.
The Mendelssohn Quotations Box Cipher is remarkably efficient because it exhibits a second level of encryption rooted in its horizontal letter sequences. Each quotation encodes three distinct terms for an aggregate of nine. There are 36 cells within this solution grid, a figure that mirrors the opus number of the Enigma Variations. The enciphered words and at least one name readily relate to the historic life and ministry of Jesus. These horizontal decryptions will next be described and analyzed.
First Quotation Horizontal Decryptions
The first horizontal line has the melody and bass notes C and C followed by the plaintext letter S. CCS is the phonetic equivalent of seas, sees, and seize. An initial reading as seas is self-evident given the marine atmosphere of the Mendelssohn quotation. Numerous scriptural accounts connect the ministry of Jesus to the sea. One of the most renowned is when Jesus walked on water during a storm on the Sea of Galilee. Jesus recruited four of his disciples, most notably Peter, as they were fishing that inland sea. The second homophone as sees meshes perfectly with the covert references to the Turin Shroud and the Sudarium, for those sacred relics must be seen to be venerated. The third homophone as seize is easily connected to the arrest of Jesus. When an armed contingent of the Temple Guard arrived at the garden of Gethsemane to take him into custody, Jesus declared:
Have you come out, as against a robber, with swords and clubs to take Me? I sat daily with you, teaching in the temple, and you did not seize Me.
There were earlier attempts to seize Jesus as recounted in John 7:30 and 10:39, but on those occasions, he successfully eluded his captors. Multivalent readings of CCS as seas, sees, and seize yield multiple associations with Jesus, the secret friend memorialized in Variation XIII.
The second horizontal row has the melody and bass note letters B and C along with the plaintext letter W. The rounded C virtually resembles an O, suggesting the term BOW. When treated as an anagram, BCW may be rearranged as BWC, a configuration that may be read phonetically as "Bow C." This solution is intriguing because the principal cellist bows a harmonic C on its lowest C string during the first and second Mendelssohn quotations. The sound of this quiet harmonic C is calming, bolstering the sonic imagery of a pacified ocean.
When the letters are rearranged as CBW, it may be read phonetically as sea bow. It is contextually appropriate that the rounded and curved letter C resembles the shape of a rainbow. The 1913 edition of Webster’s Dictionary defines a sea bow as “a rainbow seen in the spray of the ocean.” A sea bow occurs when sunlight refracts and disperses through ocean spray, generating the colors of a rainbow. The Rev. John M. Wilson describes this phenomenon in his 1860 book The Heavens, The Earth, and The Sea, “Sea-bows are frequent on the spray of waves, and are distinct and vivid, and usually occur many together, but have their convexity downward, and their ends upward, and are very brief and vanishing.” The explorer Frederick Martens explains how the sea bow often appears around a passing ship:
After this, I proceed to the description of another bow, which I call a sea-bow. This is seen when the sun shines clear and bright, not in the great waves, but in the atmosphere of the sea-water, which the wind blows up, and which looks like a fog. Commonly we see this before the ship, and sometimes also behind, and to the lee-ward (so they call that side of the ship toward the sea), over against the sun, where the shadow of the sail falleth. It is not the shadow of the sail, but a bow, showeth itself in the shadow of the sail. We see this pleasant reflexion in the small droplets of the salt water, in several colours, like the rain-bows in the skies, that are seen against the dark clouds.
In Genesis chapter 9, God promises Noah that the world would never again be destroyed by a watery deluge. As a sign of this covenant, God placed a rainbow in the sky. A pulsating ostinato that accompanies the Mendelssohn quotations is performed by the viola section to sonically portray the ebb and flow of a calm sea. The viola is a stringed instrument that is played with a bow, and its alto clef is also called the C clef. The front section of a ship's hull that cuts through the water is called the bow. There is a striking parallel between these homophones because the tip of an instrumental bow resembles the bow of a ship. One plausible decryption of the opening two rows of the first Mendelssohn quotation is, “Sees sea-bow.” The poetic alliteration and assonance between the words sees and see is consonant with Elgar’s affinity for wordplay.
At the conclusion of the extended Finale to the Enigma Variations, Elgar quotes the last stanza of Elegiac Verse by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. On the Master Score Elgar wrote, "Great is the art of beginning, but greater the art is of ending." In a remarkable coincidence (if one may call it that), the stanza number from Longfellow's poem is identical to that for the Finale–XIV. The Variations have fourteen movements identified by Roman numerals, and likewise, Elegiac Verse has fourteen stanzas numbered in the same manner. There are other equally fascinating parallels between Longfellow’s Elegiac Verse and the Enigma Variations that are too numerous to examine here.
The British romantic poet Longfellow was one of Elgar's favorite authors. Elgar drank deeply from the well of Longfellow’s prose, drawing inspiration (if not actual librettos) for such works as the Spanish Serenade, The Black Knight, Scenes from the Saga of King Olaf, and The Apostles. Among Longfellow’s extensive collection of poems is My Heart Leaps Up completed in 1802. Known by the more succinct title The Rainbow, Longfellow recounts the spontaneous and unchanging joy that seizes him each time he observes a rainbow. The poem concludes with a call for perpetual piety. Some commentators draw the obvious connection between the rainbow's biblical significance and Longfellow's plea for a reverential life.
Fred Blick identified a geometric pun between this colorful circular symbol and the number Pi centered on the concluding word of The Rainbow, "piety." The first two letters of piety are Pi. Longfellow relished geometry and recycled this wordplay in other poems. It is remarkable that Elgar enciphers a rounded form of Pi in the first bar of the Enigma Theme using the scale degrees of the melody: 3-1-4-2. This special mathematical ratio is also encoded in the Mendelssohn fragments. Pi is a homophone of the Latin word Pie, a term that means pious. The phrase “Pie Jesu” is part of the final couplet from the Catholic hymn Dies Irae. Elgar’s coded references to Pi within the Enigma Theme and Variation XIII is a carefully crafted word association that divulges the secret friend’s name. Confirmation is provided by a musical Polybius Box Cipher that enciphers the name Jesus within the Enigma Theme’s first bar, the very same measure that has a coded reference to Pi. The combined decryptions of these two ciphers is a phonetic variant of “Pie Jesu.”
The last two rows of the first Mendelssohn quotation have the melody and bass note letters A and C combined with the plaintext letter T. The horizontal decryption is ACT with its repetition suggesting the plural form as Acts. This is the short form of the title for the fifth book in the New Testament, the Acts of the Apostles. It is known in Latin as Actūs Apostolōrum. The initials for that book are hinted at by the two Mendelssohn quotations in A-flat major that both conclude with two consecutive A-flats. Elgar’s sacred oratorio The Apostles was commissioned in December 1901 and premiered in October 1903. In preparation for this “GIGANTIC WORX,” Elgar carefully studied various translations of the Bible, biblical commentaries, Wagner’s sketch of Jesus von Nazareth, and Longfellow’s The Divine Tragedy. As he later recounted, Elgar began planning this work from childhood while attending Reeve’s Catholic school:
The idea of the work originated in this way. Mr. Reeve, addressing his pupils, once remarked: “The Apostles were poor men, young men at the time of their calling; perhaps before the descent of the Holy Ghost not cleverer than some of you here.” This set me thinking, and the oratorio of 1903 is the result.
Elgar was intimately familiar with the Book of Acts when he composed the Enigma Variations in 1898-99.
Second Quotation Horizontal Decryptions
The first row of the second Mendelssohn quotation has the melody and bass note letters C and A followed by the plaintext letter G. The pedal tones accompanying the Mendelssohn quotations (C, A-flat, and G) also provide in order those identical letters. When viewed as a noun, cag possesses multiple definitions according to the 1903 edition of The English Dialect Dictionary. The first is ”a small cask” or “keg.” The second is a “keg or cask in which miners take their drinking water underground.” A cag is another name for a small cask or keg, one that typically holds water. The first recorded miracle of Jesus was to transform lowly bath water into sumptuous wine. The water was stored in large stone pots that may be described as casks or kegs. This interpretation is complemented by the vertical decryption of the first Mendelssohn quotation as jars.
A third definition of cag is “bad or inferior meat, carrion.” Carrion is defined as dead flesh. This is a relevant term because the death of Jesus is covertly memorialized in Variation XIII. On the day of judgment when Jesus will be revealed to the whole world, vultures will feast on the bodies of the dead who waged war against Christ and his church (see Luke 17:20-37 and Revelation 19:19-21). Dead bodies are carrion.
Cag also has various definitions when used as a verb. The first is “to annoy, vex, insult, give sharp offense; to grieve.” Before his execution, Jesus was insulted and reviled by his Roman captors (see Matthew 27:27-31). As he suffered on the cross, Jesus was further mocked and verbally abused by his enemies (see Matthew 27:39-44). As a verb cag can also mean "to chatter, gossip.” Jesus was the subject of malicious gossip such as the slur he was a bastard because his mother was found to be pregnant before marriage. When Jesus healed a blind man, a miracle recounted in Elgar's sacred oratorio Lux Christi, the Pharisees spread the false rumor that he must be a sinner because he performed “work” on the Sabbath (see John 24-34).
Yet another definition for cag is “to crawl, move slowly. Prior to his crucifixion, Jesus was brutally beaten and scourged. In this weakened state, Jesus was compelled to carry his cross through the streets of Jerusalem and endure public humiliation. Christians commemorate this procession through the old city as the Via Dolorosa, the “Sorrowful Way.” As Jesus plodded slowly, he collapsed numerous times under the weight of the cross. Each time that he fell to his hands and knees, he assumed the posture of a crawl.
Roman Catholics honor the Passion of Jesus by ascending the sacred stairs, the Scala Santa, on their hands and knees–the position of a crawl. These are reputedly the same steps that Jesus ascended to the praetorium where he was condemned to death by Pontius Pilate. That infamous person’s initials are attached to the first Mendelssohn quotation as the dynamic pianissimo represented as PP. As governor of Judea, Pilate was granted the title Procurator. The initial of his office precedes his own in the remaining Mendelssohn quotations as shown by the dynamic pianississimo (PPP). Throughout the Enigma Variations, there are assorted overt and covert references to personages possessing dual initials such as Edward Elgar, Maurice Maeterlinck, Torquato Tasso, and Joseph Joachim. Coded reference to Pontius Pilate in the Mendelssohn quotations represent an extension of this pattern.
The next horizontal row from the second Mendelssohn quotation has the melody and bass note letters B and A followed by the letter A. The letter configuration BAA is the onomatopoeia of a bleating lamb or sheep. John the Baptist heralded the Jesus as the Lamb of God, proclaiming, “Behold! The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.” The prophet Isaiah compares the Messiah’s murder to a lamb being led to the slaughter. In a stunning convergence, the second through fourth note letters of the A-flat major Mendelssohn quotations also spell “baa.”
The letters BAA are an anagram of “Aba,” a phonetic rendering of the Hebrew word “Abba.” This is the familiar form of “Father” that is akin to “Daddy.” As Jesus agonized in the Garden of Gethsemane, he prayed, “Abba, Father, all things are possible for You.” When his disciples pleaded for him to show them his heavenly Father, Jesus replied, “He who has seen me has seen the Father.” The anagrammatic wordplay between the sound of a lamb and Jesus’ intimate title for God is rooted in a deep appreciation of scripture. The miraculous photographic negative of the Turin Shroud taken in May 1898 enabled people to view for the very first time a lifelike image of the crucified body of Jesus. Elgar was cognisant of the theological basis for believing that a glimpse of Jesus was like seeing his heavenly Father.
The final two rows from the second Mendelssohn quotation have the melody and bass note letters A and A followed by the plaintext R. When read in reverse, AAR becomes RAA, a phonetic version of raise. The secret friend memorialized in Variation XIII was raised from the dead. When the Pharisees demanded a sign from to demonstrate his divine authority, Jesus replied, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.” They scoffed at this reply because it took 46 years to build the temple, but the temple that Jesus spoke of was his body.
RAA may also be read phonetically as rays. Two interlocking titles for Jesus are the “light of the world” and the “light of life.” These descriptions of Jesus relate to this second decryption of RAA because light emits rays. In 1896, Elgar composed the sacred oratorio Lux Christi which is Latin for “Light of Christ.” Elgar was well versed in these biblical passages equating Jesus to light when he composed the Enigma Variations in 1898-99.
Third Quotation Horizontal Decryptions
The first horizontal row from the third Mendelssohn quotation has the melody and bass notes G and G followed by the letter E. GGE is a reverse spelling of egg. The Easter egg or Paschel Egg is an ancient and enduring symbol of Easter, an annual celebration of the death and resurrection of Jesus. These eggs were traditionally painted red to represent the blood of Christ. In recognition that Jesus is the secret friend pictured in Variation XIII, this coded reference is undoubtedly Elgar’s musical “EEaster” egg. It was so expertly concealed that over 120 years would pass before it finally emerged from its hiding place.
The second horizontal row from the third Mendelssohn quotation has the melody and bass notes F and G followed by the plaintext N. The letters FGN may be read phonetically as “Fagan.” Saint Fagan was a fabled welsh bishop from the 2nd century sent by the pope on a special mission to England to baptize King Lucius. A coded reference to this well known Catholic saint in a Mendelssohn quotation symbolizing water is deeply symbolic as Fagan was the first missionary to administer the sacrament of baptism to an English royal head of state. According to Catholic tradition, Fagan was the first to preach the gospel in England and for this reason is remembered as the Apostle of Britain.
Saint Fagan founded a seminary at the village known today St. Fagan’s. This place is called the “cradle of Christianity” in England. The decryption of FGN as Fagan intersects beautifully with the secret friend’s identity as Saint Fagan served as the first Christian missionary to England. He was also known by the name Fugatius. Elgar wrote “For fuga” on an early sketch of the Enigma Theme. It is fascinating that the first four letters of Fugatius spell fuga. Another possible interpretation of fagin is the Old English word meaning “joyful.” This coded reference to Saint Fagan is evocative of the book of Acts, a history of the early church’s birth, because he was the first Apostle of Britain who birthed the church in England.
The final two horizontal rows from the third Mendelssohn quotation are the melody and bass note letters E and G followed by the plaintext O. These spell Ego, the Latin word for the pronoun “I” in English. God gave an unusual name for Himself to Moses at the burning bush that theologians refer to as the Great I AM. When Moses asked God His name, God answered, “I AM WHO I AM.” Notice that there are two I’s in that enigmatic title. When the multitude came to arrest Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane, they demanded that he acknowledge his identity. Jesus replied with a shortened version of the Great I AM as, “I AM.” When the crowd heard this special title for God, they backed away and fell to the ground. The palindromic rhythm of the Enigma Theme’s melody that is reprised in the ostinato section accompanying the Mendelssohn quotations encodes the letters IMMI using morse code. Two Ms are enciphered in Morse code precisely where the word Ego is twice encoded twice. The dual combination of the letters I and M yields a coded homage to the Great I AM.
It was previously discovered that Elgar ingeniously enciphered his name in the decryption of the Enigma Theme Polybius Box Cipher. The four languages divulged by that solution are English, Latin, German, and what Elgar would have reasonably believed was Aramaic based on contemporaneous biblical commentaries. The first letters of those four languages are an acrostic anagram of Elgar. A similar cryptographic feat is accomplished with the languages found in the decryption of the Mendelssohn Quotations Polybius Box Cipher. This linguistic triumvirate is comprised of three languages: Latin, English, and Old English. Two Es within that list furnish a coded version of Elgar’s initials. A survey of cryptograms embedded within the Enigma Variations uncovered a distinct subset that is initialed or signed by the composer. It is suspected Elgar initialed and signed these cryptograms to serve as a coded form of authentication.
The three languages used in the solution to the Mendelssohn Quotations Polybius Box Cipher prove on closer inspection to be an acrostic anagram for Leo. This is the Latin word for lion. In yet another remarkable decryption of a cipher wrapped within the solution to another, Elgar deploys a dextrous wordplay to implicate the identity of the secret friend. One of the titles for Jesus is the “Lion of Judah.” Leo is also the official papal name for Pope Leo XIII who authorized the first official photographs of the Turin Shroud. It is also the papal name of Pope Leo X who excommunicated Martin Luther, the composer of the covert Theme.
The discovery of a musical Polybius box cipher in the anomalous Mendelssohn quotations of the Enigma Variations represents an important breakthrough. It proves that such an innovative technique of encipherment is not isolated to the Enigma Theme. Elgar’s ingenious application of the Polybius square to a musical setting in 1898-99 fits chronologically because he carefully studied that particular cipher in 1896. Distinct parallels emerge between the plaintext solutions as illustrated by the anagrammitization of alternate titles of the covert Theme, the first made up of six words and the second of three. When paired together, these two numbers form the opus number (36) of the Enigma Variations as well as the tempo for the Enigma Theme (63). These anagrammatized titles generate meaningful and mutually consistent words and phrases that are often phonetically construed, a peculiar trait of Elgar’s personal correspondence that bears his cryptographic fingerprints. His initials are observable in these cryptograms, the most obvious consisting of two sequential E-flats at the conclusion of the third Mendelssohn quotation.
A Polybius square is known as a box cipher because of its distinctive checkerboard key. Elgar was the first major composer to adapt this “very old cipher” to a musical setting, an innovation that may be called a “music box cipher.” Such a transparent wordplay is unmistakably Elgarian. The various languages observed in the decryptions of Elgar’s music box ciphers affords a second layer of encryption that is an acrostic anagram of the composer’s surname (Elgar) and another theologically important title (Leo). Leo is Latin for lion, a term connected to the secret friend who is identified in scripture as the “Lion of Judah.” It is also linked to Pope Leo X who excommunicated Martin Luther, the composer of the covert Theme. It is further associated with Pope Leo XIII who authorized the first official photographs of the Turin Shroud in May 1898. The Roman numerals for Pope Leo XIII match those for Variation XIII, a movement that contains at least seven elements connected to that supreme pontiff. The number seven is granted paramount emphasis in the Bible. For example, when Peter asked if he should forgive someone up to seven times, Jesus replied, “I do not say to you, up to seven times, but up to seventy times seven.”
There are some amazing facets of the Mendelssohn quotations worthy of special consideration. The four notes of the first and second Mendelssohn quotations in A-flat major (C, B-flat, and two A-flats) are an anagram of the Enigma Theme’s ABAC structure. That configuration of letters is a phonetic rendering of the word aback, a term means backward. The archaic definition is the phenomenon when a ship’s sails are blown back into the mast by a headwind. This original maritime context of this term falls within the same milieu as the Mendelssohn quotations that symbolize a ship stranded on a placid sea.
In modern usage, aback means to be taken by surprise. The incorporation of a foreign melodic fragment within the Enigma Variations was certainly unexpected and surprising, but not without a greater purpose. Such a coded link between the Mendelssohn quotations and the Enigma Theme’s structure is extraordinary because the covert melody plays “through and over” the Enigma Theme as a retrograde counterpoint. The hidden tune plays backward above the Enigma Theme, an astonishing and rare contrapuntal technique that no one would ever guess. That is undoubtedly what Elgar was counting on to foil the discovery of his secretive principal theme. That stratagem worked splendidly as the absent theme remained undetected for over a century.
Johann Wolfgang von Goethe’s poetic vision of a sailing ship stranded on a calm sea is what inspired Mendelssohn’s concert overture Meeresstille und glückliche Fahrt. Without a strong breeze to fill its sails, a ship is powerless to escape its aquatic desert and arrive safely at port. Elgar’s melodic homage to this sonic portrayal cleverly hints at the shrouds of Turin and Oviedo because a sailing ship’s mast is supported by riggings called shrouds. There is a dichotomous element to Elgar’s appropriation of Mendelssohn’s theme as it is accompanied by a soft roll on the timpani intended to simulate the hum of a steamer’s engine. The absence of wind would pose no threat to a steamship that has no need for sails. Just as there are no cloth sails on a steamship, so too are the cloth Shrouds of Turin and Oviedo in the Mendelssohn quotations, concealed by resilient ciphers.
Elgar encodes references to the Shrouds of Turin and Oviedo within the Mendelssohn quotations by utilizing the covert Theme’s original German title and an English translation. The common starting point is a version of the hidden melody’s three-word title with twelve letters, traits that correspond to the three Mendelssohn quotations with twelve sounding notes. Elgar’s selection of Bunting’s translation of the title as A Strong Tower is exquisitely appropriate because its lyrics furnish a maritime reference tied directly to the secret friend. The third line of the second stanza refers to Jesus with the phrase, “Our Captain is Immanuel.” That is a compelling characterization because a ship is commanded by a captain.
The Mendelssohn quotations performed by the solo clarinet symbolize a calm sea and are accompanied by a soft roll on the timpani that evokes the hum of a steamer’s engine. On the full score, Elgar instructs the timpanist to execute this soft roll using side drum sticks. However, the end result proved too percussive for the solo clarinet. This dilemma was resolved by Charles Henderson, the timpanist in Richter’s orchestra. His solution was to substitute two small coins in lieu of the drum sticks. By holding these coins firmly between the thumb and fingers, Henderson produced a soft metallic roll near the edge of the drum.
The use of two small coins on the timpani to replicate the distant throb of a steamer furnishes a marvelous link to the Turin Shroud. Recent research uncovered faint images of two lepton coins over the eyes of the man on the Turin Shroud. These coins were minted sometime between 29 and 31 A.D. during Pilate's governorship, providing an alternative dating method for this ancient cloth. Although Elgar was unaware of these small coin impressions when this coin-roll technique was conceived, it still represents an intriguing parallel between Variation XIII and the Turin Shroud. Elgar was surely acquainted with the ancient tradition of covering the eyes of the dead with coins to pay the ferryman to cross the river Acheron into Hades. Dante’s depiction in Canto III of the Inferno pays homage to the trope of crossing from life to death in a boat over a body of water. Elgar’s sotto voce depiction of this poetic motif in Variation XIII is part and parcel of a larger pattern of allusions to Dante’s Divine Comedy in the Enigma Variations.
The casual listener remains blissfully unaware that the specter of death overshadows the Enigma Variations. In early November 1898, August Jaeger wrote Elgar inquiring about his progress on the Gordon symphony. Elgar replied, “All composition is a Dead secret but I say I have written a theme, alas! orchestral & it’s no good on the piano.” The silence of the principal Theme is evocative of a passage from Psalm 37:17 that mentions the silence of the grave. For Elgar, there was an indelible link between music and death because as a boy he studied musical scores at a local churchyard while resting on a tombstone.
In the original program note for the 1899 premiere of the Enigma Variations, Elgar likens the absent principal Theme to the mysterious protagonist who never appears onstage in various dramas by the Belgian playwright, Maeterlinck. That absent character is death, a central element in Maeterlinck's works described as "marionette" plays as the characters rarely move. In Variation XIII, Elgar repeatedly quotes a fragment from Mendelssohn’s concert overture Calm Sea and Prosperous Voyage to depict a ship crossing the open sea. This sonic symbolism was inspired by the poetry of the famed German playwright Goethe whose seemingly benign image of a boat adrift on a windless sea actually symbolizes the stillness of death (Todestille). It is remarkably revealing that the word “dead” is spelled by the bass line in Variation XIII on two occasions, the first being four and five bars after Rehearsal 55, and the second instance four and five bars after Rehearsal 59. These morbid harbingers collectively point to the plight of Elgar’s secret friend who died at Calvary.
The Enigma Theme is a musical counterpart to the Turin Shroud because it conceals the covert theme behind a contrapuntal screen of counter-melody and harmony. The lifelike image on the Turin Shroud remained hidden from view until it was unveiled in a dark room by Pia’s photographic negatives in May 1898. The timing is credible because Elgar did not begin working openly on the Enigma Variations until late October 1898. As a musical imitation of the Turin Shroud, the Enigma Theme is a faint reverse image of the actual melody that inspired the Variations. Not only does it obscure a famous melody, the Enigma Theme also masks a cornucopia of cryptograms.
The interpretive lens of the secret friend’s renowned life, death, and resurrection ushers into sharp relief the complementary decryptions of the Enigma Theme Music Box Cipher and the Mendelssohn Quotations Music Box Cipher. The resolution of the latter was discovered on October 29, 2019. That date marked the 50th anniversary of the first computer-to-computer link in 1969 through ARPANET, the precursor to the Internet. In a symbolic gesture to that milestone, this research is freely shared with the world via this blog. To learn more about the secrets behind one of Elgar’s most celebrated symphonic achievements, read my free eBook Elgar’s Enigmas Exposed.