Tuesday, March 17, 2015

The Enigma Variations: Beginnings as Endings

Great is the art of beginning, but greater the art is of ending.”

Elgar quoting Longfellow at the end of the Enigma Variations

A persistent trait displayed throughout Edward Elgar’s Enigma Variations is the partial or complete restatement of the opening material as a concluding phrase. This is sometimes accomplished while overlaying the opening phrase with some variant of the Enigma Theme’s starting phrase. In all, ten of the Variations restate the beginning phrase in whole or in part as endings: I (C. A. E.), II (H. D. S-P.), III (R. B. T.), V (R. P. A.), VI (Ysobel), VII (Troyte), IX (Nimrod), X (Dorabella), XII (B. G. N.), and XIV (E. D. U.). Absent from this series are IV (W.M.B.), VIII (W. N.), XI (G. R. S.) and XIII (***). In the search for the covert principal theme, it is critically important to recognize Elgar’s repeated restatement of the opening phrase at the conclusion of the majority of the movements. This is the case because Elgar unpredictably starts his counterpoint between the Enigma Theme and the covert principal theme with Ein feste Burg’s final phrase, and unexpectedly concludes it with its starting phrase. From a contrapuntal standpoint, Elgar puts the proverbial cart before the horse.
Variation I (C. A. E.) begins in measure 20 with a rhythmic variation of the Enigma Theme in G minor played by the flute, second violins and violas. The opening two bars of this rhythmic variant (measures 20-21) are reprised in G major as a tierce de Picardie by the clarinet as the ending phrase (measures 30-40).

Variation II (H. D. S-P.) commences in measure 41 with a toccata figure stated by the first violins. Four bars from the end in measure 93 the flute repeats this opening figure verbatim from measure 41, continuing over into measure 94 with the first note (C) from measure 42. This is promptly followed by rest of the material from the second bar (measure 42) performed by the clarinet in measure 95. At Rehearsal 6 this opening toccata figure plays over a variant of the Enigma Theme played by the cellos and basses. One major implication of this pairing is the repetition of the opening toccata figure at the conclusion of this movement contrapuntally alludes to the Enigma Theme’s starting phrase.

Variation III (R. B. T.) starts with a basic accompaniment figure (measure 97) which is restated at the end (measure 132). Unlike the preceding movements, the entire opening phrase in measures 98-104 is reprised at the end (measures 124-130). This mirrors the ABA ternary structure of the Enigma Theme. What is noteworthy is the identical accompaniment figure begins and ends this movement.

Variation V (R. P. A.) begins with a haunting countermelody played by the violins over a variant of the Enigma Theme performed by the cellos and basses.  Four bars from the close of this movement the violins reprise the countermelody’s opening phrase twice in measures 185-186 as the Enigma Theme’s first phrase is played again by the cellos and basses. In the last two bars the first four notes of the countermelody are repeated four times in a transition section leading into the next movement. This steady recurrence of the first four notes of the countermelody casts a contrapuntal shadow of the opening phrase of the Enigma Theme which plays below this figure at the beginning of the movement.

Variation VI (Ysobel) begins with a countermelody distinguished by large intervallic leaps played by the violas as the bassoons perform a truncated version of the Enigma Theme. The countermelody’s first phrase reappears as the concluding phrase (measures 209-210) without any sign of the Enigma Theme’s variant.

Variation VII (Troyte) concludes dramatically with an augmented variant of the Enigma Theme’s opening phrase (measures 275-279) performed triumphantly by the brass section. While this movement does not restate counter-melodic material from the opening at the ending, the appearance of some form of the Enigma Theme’s starting phrase as the concluding passage is important. As previously shown, contrapuntal material played over some version of Enigma Theme’s opening phrase is repeated at the conclusion of Variations II, V and VI. The Enigma Theme’s opening phrase is repeated at the conclusion of Variations I and VII.

Variation IX (Nimrod), the most elegiac of the series, begins slowly with a poignant variant of the Enigma Theme played pianississimo (ppp) in measure 309. This inaugural phrase is restated as the ending (measure 348) in a dramatic fortissimo (ff) before diminishing rather suddenly to pianissimo (pp) before fading away. This type of ending in which the Enigma Theme’s opening phrase is restated is also found in Variations I and VII.

Variation X (Dorabella) begins with two rapid accompaniment figures of three 32nd notes answered by a four-note 16th note figure intended to mimic Dora Penny’s stutter. This movement is distinguished by the absence of any clear indications of the Enigma Theme’s opening phrase.  Four bars from the end at Rehearsal 46 the initial accompaniment figures of three 32nd notes reappears and is again answered by the four-note 16th note stuttering motif. Six notes followed by four at Rehearsal 46 may be seen as a coded reference to the number 46, the same chapter in the Psalms that inspired the lyrics for Martin Luther’s famous hymn, Ein feste Burg (A Mighty Fortress). What makes this movement vitally important to resolving the mystery of the covert principal theme is that the inner voice restates in an augmented from the first four notes of closing phrase from  Ein feste Burg in measures 383-387, and again in measures 406-410. More remarkable still, these first four notes and the final four from the closing phrase of Ein feste Burg are restated by the stuttering motif in measures 422-424.

Variation XII (B.G.N.) commences in measures 467-468 with a tender cello solo capturing the consecutive dropping sevenths drawn from the Enigma Theme (measures 3-4 and 13-14). Just as the movement opened, the cello once again restates this excerpt from the Enigma Theme in measures 493-494. While not the final phrase of the Enigma Theme, this excerpt serves as the beginning and concluding passage for this movement.

Variation XIV (E.D.U.) does not begin and end with the same thematic material. The reasons for this divergence from the other Variations are it has a sixteen measure introduction with a considerably expanded ending. The first real thematic material is not introduced until Rehearsal 62 (measure 565). At the behest of conductor Hans Richter and August Jaeger, the original ending was expanded by nearly 100 measures following the June 1899 premiere. Consistent with a pattern exhibited by earlier movements, the opening thematic material presented in measures 565-566 is restated in measures 683-684 almost exactly 100 measures before the appended ending. The originally shorter Finale actually mirrored a pattern displayed in Variations II, V, VI, IX, namely that the opening thematic material reappears close to or at the end.

An examination of the Enigma Variations reveals a persistent pattern in which the first phrase is restated at or near the conclusion of the majority of the movements. This trend holds true for Variations I, II, III, V, IV, VII, IX, XII and XIV. The exceptions to this pattern are the Enigma Theme and Variations IV, VIII, XI, and XIII. As an aside, it is remarkable not observe that the sum of these latter Roman numerals (4+8+11+13) is 36, the opus number for the Enigma Variations.
In the search for the covert principal theme, it proves critical to recognize that most of Variations conclude with their beginning phrases sourced either from the countermelody, some variant of the Enigma Theme, or both. As most of the movements end with their beginning phrase, this insight strongly implies Elgar’s counterpoint between the Enigma Theme and the covert principal theme models this approach. That would mean the Enigma Theme’s counterpoint concludes with the covert theme’s opening phrase, and more decisively, that it begins with the covert theme’s final phrase.
The initial mapping of Ein feste Burg with its original phrase structure (ABABCDEFC) ‘through and over’ the Enigma Theme proved it was a perfect horizontal fit. Even so, it produced unacceptable dissonances which precluded a credible counterpoint. When applying Elgar’s counterintuitive tact of placing the beginning phrase at the end (and by implication the ending phrase at the beginning), a credible counterpoint between Ein feste Burg (Phrase structure: BCDEFCA) and the Enigma Theme is realized.
Regarding the Enigma Theme Elgar wrote, “The drop in the seventh in the Theme (bars 3 and 4) should be observed.” For over a century no one could discern the cryptographic significance of that statement. Both the statement and the number seven are odd. By observing the seventh, Elgar was alluding to the importance of the seventh and final phrase of the covert principal theme (ABCDEFC) because it unpredictably marks the beginning of the counterpoint between the covert melody and the Enigma Theme.
This analysis of the Enigma Variations reveals the supremacy of the ending phrase over the beginning, an insight amplified by the quotation from Longfellow’s Elegiac Verse Elgar penned at the conclusion of the expanded Finale. “Great is the art of beginning, but greater the art is of ending.” To learn more about the secrets of the Enigma Variations, read my eBook Elgar’s Enigmas Exposed. Like my heavenly Father’s gift of salvation and forgiveness, the price is free.

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Elgar's Star Cipher

From the most holy water I returned
Regenerate, in the manner of new trees
That are renewed with new foliage,

Pure and disposed to mount unto the stars.”

Dante Alighieri
Purgatorio XXXIII, lines 142-145
Translated by Henry W. Longfellow

In the original full score of the Enigma Variations the subtitle of Variation XIII consists of three asterisks enclosed by parentheses. The word asterisk comes from the Greek asterikos, meaning little star, so it should come as no surprise these asterisks resemble small stars.

Full Score

The late Patrick Turner, if he were still with us today, would likely interpret these starry asterisks as evidence for his theory the missing melody to the Enigma Variations is Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star. When that popular children’s melody is played 'through and over' the Enigma Theme, it fails to establish a credible contrapuntal fit even when allowing for the shifts between the G minor and major modes.
The asterisks on the first published orchestral score are six-pointed stars known as hexagrams. On the piano reduction the asterisks are more floral in appearance with eight end-points. Like the full score, the asterisks on the piano reduction are  framed by parentheses. Unlike the full score, however, the term Romanza is absent.
Piano Reduction

According to notes supplied by Elgar in 1927 for a set of Duo-Art Pianola rolls, the asterisks ostensibly represent the initials of a secret friend.  What those missing letters are has been the subject of intense debate since the premiere in 1899.
The three cryptic asterisks evoke the three principal riddles posed by the Enigma Variations:
  1. What is the covert principal theme?
  2. What is the ‘dark saying’ concealed within the Enigma Theme?
  3. Who is the secret friend embodied in Variation XIII?
Could the asterisks conceivably serve as lodestars that illuminate the course for discovering the solutions to these conundrums? There is a noticeable parallel between the three asterisks and Variation XIII, for in this movement Elgar openly quotes three times a fragment from Mendelssohn’s concert overture Calm Sea and Prosperous Voyage. This seemingly extraneous work to the Enigma Variations was inspired by the poetry of the towering German poet Johann Wolfgang von Goethe.  In his poem with the original German title Meeresstille und glückliche Fahrt, Goethe describes the plight of a sailing vessel stranded on a windless sea. The sixth line describes the ocean’s “Terrifying, deathly stillness” in German as “Todesstille fürchterlich!” This alarming image of a ship lost at sea invites a vigilant reassessment of the asterisks because sailors routinely look to the stars to find their way in a process known as celestial navigation. Could these three little stars in the form of asterisks serve in some manner of cryptographic navigation to navigate Elgar's placid, sonic sea?
There are three asterisks, three Mendelssohn fragments in quotations, and three enigmas. Is there some possible way to connect these outwardly disparate dots like stars in a constellation? There is indeed. Mendelssohn was a radiant star in the constellation of great German composers, and Elgar was an ardent disciple of the German School who clearly looked up to him for inspiration and guidance. Elgar's passion for all things Teutonic was  equally matched by his obsession for ciphers. A careful investigation of the Mendelssohn fragments uncovered some intriguing cryptograms that furnish mutually reinforcing answers to all three of Elgar’s baffling riddles:
  1. The Fragments Cipher hints at the fact Mendelssohn quotes the unstated principal theme in one of his works, specifically his Reformation Symphony.
  2. The FAE Cipher encodes the English initials for the unstated principal theme, A Mighty Fortress by Martin Luther. The lyrics of that epic Christian hymn name Elgar’s secret friend – Christ Jesus – in the second stanza.
  3. The FAE Cipher also encodes the romantic motto of Joseph Joachim, a famous Jewish violinist who converted to Lutheranism.  This sect of Christianity was founded by Martin Luther, the composer of the unstated principal theme. Like Jesus, Joachim was Jewish. Joachim’s first name is also the name of Jesus’ earthly father, the husband of Mary. Elgar openly suggested the movement was dedicated to Lady Mary Lygon when the evidence clearly ruled her out as a credible candidate. Elgar’s misdirection conveniently provided one of the Roman Catholic titles for the Mother of Jesus, Lady Mary.
  4. The Mendelssohn EFB Cipher cleverly enciphers the German initials for Ein feste Burg.
  5. The Keynotes Cipher encodes the three last notes of the ending phrase of Ein feste Burg.
  6. The Music Anagram Cipher encodes the entire ending phrase of Ein feste Burg.
  7. The Mendelssohn Pi-C Cipher enciphers the Latin word for fish (Pisces), and the Ichthys (Jesus Fish) is a universally recognized Christian symbol. Pisces is a constellation of the zodiac, a distinct reference to the stars suggested by the asterisks.
  8. The Romanza Cipher encodes a reference to the Turin Shroud, the burial cloth of Jesus Christ.
The ciphers embedded within the Mendelssohn fragments are diverse yet deliver a uniform, interwoven tapestry of mutually reinforcing answers. The asterisks of Variation XIII are in reality a cipher, the fortieth to be uncovered in the Enigma Variations. Three asterisks of two different types found on the full score and piano reduction comes to a total of six. In a remarkable parallel there are six words in the title Ein feste Burg ist unser Gott. The three eight-pointed asterisks on the piano reduction have a combined total of 24 end-points, presenting another incredible parallel with the full title of the covert principal theme which has 24 letters. Pairing the end-point totals for both sets of asterisks, i.e., 18 and 24, produces the year 1824. In that year Mendelssohn completed his Symphony No. 1 in C Minor Op.11 at the tender age of 15. This year appears to serve as a coded suggestion to search out one of Mendelssohn's symphonies for the covert principal theme.

 On the original full score the asterisks are hexagrams, the compound of two equilateral triangles. By the 1890’s this symbol was commonly recognized as the Seal of Solomon, the Shield of David (Magen David), and the Star of David. At the First Zionist Congress in 1897 it was chosen as the principal symbol on their flag. This public use of the hexagram to represent the Jewish people predated the genesis of the Enigma Variations by at least two years. By the time the Enigma Variations were published in 1899, the hexagram was widely known as a symbol of the Jewish people. This is a profoundly revealing insight because multiple lines of evidence point to Jesus Christ – a Jew - as the secret friend personified in Variation XIII. The three asterisks are collectively known as the Star Cipher.

Jesus in a hexagrammic star

There is a robust theological association between Jesus and the stars. His miraculous birth was heralded by the Star of Bethlehem that attracted the attention of the Three Wise Men or biblical magi. In Revelation 22:16 Jesus is called the bright Morning Star. In that same passage he is also described as the Root and Offspring of David, so the Star of David strongly hints at the genealogy of Elgar’s not-so-secret friend. Bethlehem is called the City of David, so the Star of David further suggests the birthplace of Christ. The image of a calm sea depicted in Variation XIII is theologically relevant because Jesus commanded the raging winds and roaring waves be still, and immediately there was a great calm (Mark 4:35-41).
The hexagram is also a Christian symbol. Known as the Star of Creation, its six points represent the six days of creation as well as the six attributes of God: Power, wisdom, majesty, love, mercy and justice. According to Elgar’s Roman Catholic faith, Jesus is both God and Man – the Incarnation – who was present at the Creation. In John 1:3 it declares that through Christ “…all things were made…” The meanings attached to the hexagram from the Jewish and Christian traditions are both relevant to Jesus because he is Jewish, Divine and the Creator.

The Star of Bethlehem

The eight-pointed star intimated by the asterisks on the piano reduction serves as a Christian symbol called the Star of Redemption or Regeneration. Eight is the number of regeneration, and for this reason many baptismal fonts have an octagonal base. In Variation XIII the portrayal of a body of water, in this case the sea, deftly compliments this interpretation.

The parentheses enclosing the asterisks appear to serve no obvious purpose, yet a reassessment is now in order because the Mendelssohn fragments prove the seemingly extraneous denotes the presence of a cipher. By placing the top of the right and left parentheses together and overlapping them at the bottom, the combination forms the Jesus Fish. With its sonic pictorial of the sea, there was always something fishy about Variation XIII.

Jesus Fish

The Jesus Fish is a popular Christogram, and Christ is undoubtedly the secret friend portrayed in Variation XIII. The Latin word for fish is cleverly encoded in the Mendelssohn fragments combining the mathematical ratio Pi with the musical excerpts clearly intended to depict the sea, a word that sounds like the letter C. The combination of Pi and C creates the phonetic equivalent of pisces, the Latin word for fish. That this clever Pi-C Cipher is aptly situated in the Mendelssohn fragments specifically intended to represent the sea is hardly a coincidence. There is another fish in the Enigma Theme, one suggested by pairing the number Pi encoded in measure one with the symbol for common time, C.
The starry imagery suggested by the three asterisks at the beginning of Variation XIII augments the numerous allusions within the Enigma Variations to the Divine Comedy by Dante Alighieri, a renowned Italian poet of the late Middle Ages. Just as there are three little stars in the subtitle of Variation XIII, the three books of the Divine Comedy conclude with the word stars. Recognizing this subtle Dantean reference, the three asterisks highlight the importance of the ending over the beginning. Elgar implied as much citing the following quotation from Longfellow’s Elegiac Verse at the end of the Finale, “Great is the art of beginning, but greater the art is of ending.”  This crucial insight proved pivotal for successfully mapping the Covert Principal Theme over the Enigma Theme because contrary to the conventional wisdom, Elgar cunningly began his counterpoint with the ending phrase of Ein feste Burg. This is the same concluding phrase encoded in part by the Keynotes Cipher, and in its entirety by the Music Anagram Cipher. Speaking of endings, the Enigma Date Cipher encodes the date of Martin Luther’s death – his end. The deathly stillness of Variation XIII also hints at the heartrending death of Elgar’s secret friend.
Armed with this insight the odd description Elgar gave regarding the inner voice of Variation X takes on renewed significance. Concerning that movement he wrote the “…inner sustained phrases at first on the viola and later on the flute should be noted.”[1] Indeed, the notes of that inner voice are the combination to Elgar’s seemingly impenetrable melodic safe. The explanation for his peculiar description is that the inner voice virtually quotes the entire ending phrase of Ein feste Burg not once, but twice. No wonder Elgar teased Dora Penny, the dedicatee of this movement, by telling her, “I thought that you of all people would guess it.” If only she had searched for the ending rather than the beginning of the covert theme.
The appearance of six pointed asterisks in the subtitle of Variation XIII is remarkable because Elgar draws special attention to the number six throughout the Enigma Variations. The opus number (36) is the product of six times six. There are six titles given to different movements that are each six letters long. The first is Enigma, while two others appear in succession for Variations VI (Ysobel) and VII (Troyte). There is an oddly placed double bar at the end of measure 6 of the Enigma Theme. Less obvious but equally relevant is the presence of a 6 x 6 music box cipher embedded within the first six measures of the Enigma Theme. When decoded it reveals Elgar’s ‘dark saying’ first mentioned in the 1899 program note. The compete title of the unstated Principal Theme is six words in length: Ein feste Burg ist unser Gott. There are 24 letters in that title, the sum of four sixes. The lyrics of Luther's most famous hymn originate from Psalm 46, a chapter number ending in six. The names Martin and Luther are each six letters in length. Elgar's use of the German sixth chord in the Enigma Theme alludes to the missing melody's six word title in German. Even Elgar's dedication hints at this number because it is comprised of six words: “Dedicated to My Friends Pictured Within.” Further evidence of the importance of the number six may be found at Rehearsal 66 in the score where the ending phrase of Ein feste Burg is presented virtually verbatim.
The Star Cipher is multifaceted as it ties into a number of other ciphers concerning the Covert Principal Theme, the Secret Friend and Dante’s Divine Comedy. It is truly remarkable the Messiah Stradivari has three small stars carved on it with one star imprint on the bass-side eye of the scroll, and two more on the peg box mortice.

Star imprint on the bass-side scroll eye of the 'Messiah' Stradivari

Two star imprints and 'G' in the pegbox mortice of the 'Messiah' Stradivari

Joseph Joachim played that legendary instrument in 1891 and was deeply moved by its "...combined sweetness and grandeur." Recognizing the connection between Variation XIII and Joachim, the three small stars forming the subtitle of that movement are more than likely a coded reference to the Messiah Stradivari, thereby encoding one of the many titles for Elgar's secret friend. The two star imprints in the pegbox subtly hint at the Music Box Cipher found in the opening Enigma Theme set in G minor. To learn more about the secrets behind one of Elgar’s most celebrated symphonic achievements, read my free eBook Elgar’s Enigmas Exposed.

[1] Elgar, Edward. My Friends Pictured Within. The Subjects of the Enigma Variations as Portrayed in Contemporary Photographs and Elgar’s Manuscript (Sevenoaks: Novello, n.d. [1946], republication of notes for Aeoloian Company’s piano rolls, 1929)

Sunday, December 21, 2014

The Mendelssohn Pi Cipher

“It shows a wonderful feeling.”

The Mendelssohn fragments in Variation XIII of Elgar’s Enigma Variations are rich fishing grounds for ciphers. The four fragments are sourced from the concert overture Meeresstille und glückliche Fahrt. Long thought by the so-called ‘experts’ to be extraneous to the enigma, these four note incipits appear in the order of A-flat major, F minor, and E-flat major. Years of trawling th0se perplexing fragments netted the following cryptograms:
  1. FAE Cipher
  2. Fragments Cipher
  3. Mendelssohn Cipher
  4. FACE Cipher
  5. Romanza Cipher
  6. Keynotes Cipher
Now a seventh cipher has surfaced – the Mendelssohn Pi Cipher. Using the scale degrees of certain notes identified by the number of times each fragment is played, Elgar ingeniously encodes the first four digits of the mathematical constant Pi (3.142). This is the same number enciphered by the scale degrees of the opening four melody notes of the Enigma Theme, a noteworthy discovery made by Richard Santa.
The A-flat fragment is made up of three discrete notes with the third played twice: C, B-flat, A-flat and A-flat. This incipit first appears in measures 507-509, and again in measures 515-517. Two statements of the fragment designate its first two notes, namely C and B-flat. Variation XIII is in the key of G major, the parallel mode of the Enigma Theme’s G minor. In the key of G, the scale degrees for C and B-flat are 4 and 3 respectively.
The F minor fragment is comprised of three distinct notes with the third repeated: A-flat, G, F and F. It appears just once in measures 521-523. One statement of this F minor fragment underscores the first note, A-flat. In the key of G major, the scale degree for A-flat is 2.
The E-flat major fragment consists of the three separate notes with the last repeated: G, F, E-flat and E-flat. The double E-flats cannily suggest the double E’s for Edward Elgar’s initials (E.E.). The E-flat major fragment appears only once in measures 542-544. One statement of this fragment highlights the first note, G. In the key of G major, the scale degree for G is 1.
The two A-flat major fragments identify its opening two notes, C and B-flat. The single F minor fragment singles out its first note, A-flat. The solitary E-flat major fragment highlights its first note, G. The first four notes of the Enigma Theme’s melody which encode Pi are B-flat, G, C and A. In an astonishing parallel, the four notes selected out from each fragment based on the number of times each is played in a given key are B-flat, G, C and A-flat. This represents a variance of only a semitone between the A and A-flat while leaving in tact the scale degrees. In the key of G major the scale degrees for C, B-flat, A-flat and G are correspondingly 4, 3, 2 and 1. Following the note order strongly implied by the melody in the first bar of the Enigma Theme, these scale degrees are rearranged from 4-3-2-1 to 3-1-4-2. The number for Pi is 3.142.
The efficacy of the Mendelssohn Pi cipher is bolstered by the fact the initials for the covert principal themeE.F.B., are encoded in the same manner within the Mendelssohn fragments. An important distinction between the Mendelssohn Pi and EFB ciphers involves the treatment of the two A-flat major fragments. The Mendelssohn Pi Cipher counts two notes forwards (C and B-flat), requiring both to account for the scale degrees 4 and 3 in the key of G. In contrast, the Mendelssohn EFB Cipher counts two discrete notes backwards, needing only the second note to produce the letter B.
One remarkable feature of the Mendelssohn Pi Cipher is Pi is encoded within several fragments that sonically portray the sea. Combining Pi with seas produces a phonetic version of pisces, the Latin word for fish.  The Jesus Fish is a famous Christogram, and Christ is undoubtedly the secret friend portrayed in Variation XIII. There is another fish in the Enigma Theme, one intimated by combining Pi encoded in measure one with the symbol for common time, C. Now we may safely add another cipher to the list, the Mendelssohn Pi-C Cipher, bringing the total of Enigma Variations Ciphers to 39. It is exceedingly likely there is one final cipher waiting to be discovered because the number 40 is rich with biblical symbolism. To learn more about the secrets behind one of Elgar’s most celebrated symphonic achievements, read my free eBook Elgar’s Enigmas Exposed.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Beethoven’s Ninth DEAF Cipher

“Don't only practice your art, but force your way into its secrets; art deserves that, for it and knowledge can raise man to the Divine.”
Ludwig van Beethoven

No one held Ludwig van Beethoven in higher esteem than Edward Elgar. In a lecture at the University of Birmingham he confessed, “When I see one of my own works by the side of, say, the Fifth Symphony [of Beethoven], I feel like a tinker may do when surveying the Forth Bridge…” Elgar owed a singular debt of gratitude to Beethoven. In September 1898 when he vowed to abandon composition altogether, his friend August Jaeger invoked the plight of Beethoven to dissuade him from unilaterally surrendering his art. Jaeger condemned Elgar’s ingratitude for his profound musical gift, invoking the towering model of Beethoven who persisted in pouring forth a stream of masterpieces in the face of seemingly insurmountable obstacles, most remarkably his deafness.
In gratitude for Jaeger’s critical encouragement that spurred him on to compose one of his most popular symphonic works – the Enigma Variations – Elgar dedicated the elegiac Variation XI Nimrod to his faithful friend and champion at Novello. For a set of pianola rolls published in 1929, Elgar explained Variation IX was “the record of a long summer talk, when my friend discoursed eloquently on the slow movements of Beethoven…it will be noticed that the opening bars are made to suggest the slow movement of the Eighth Sonata (Pathétique).”[1]
The bond between Elgar’s Enigma Variations and Beethoven is not exclusively confined to merely the elegiac contours of Nimrod. There is an even more subtle yet profound parallel, one that runs through the music of at least two other great composers admired by Elgar, namely J.S. Bach and Robert Schumann. This common theme is musical cryptography, specifically the practice of forming words and names within musical note sequences.
In what is arguably the zenith of Western music, the Art of Fugue BWV 1080, Bach spells his name in the final fugue with the notes B-flat, A, C and B (which in the German system is represented by the letter H). Beethoven's sketchbooks reveal that in 1822 he was contemplating writing an Overture on the name of Bach.

Elgar is known to have encoded words in his music using note letter sequences. An early example is his Allegretto on G-E-D-G-E for violin piano. Composed in 1885, it introduces a musical motif that spells the name of the Gedge sisters to whom the work is dedicated. Schumann spells a musical version of his name in his Carnaval Op. 9. Using the notes E-flat, C, B and A, he conveys he letters S-C-H-A from Schumann. This reading is possible because in German E-flat is referred to Es, a phonetic version of S. Another example of Schumann’s musical cryptography is found in two movements (Romanze and Finale) he contributed to the FAE Sonata dedicated to violinist Joseph Joachim.  The movements invoke the musical motif F-A-E, the initials for Joachim’s Romantic German motto “Frei aber einsam” meaning “Free but lonely.” In a remarkably parallel, Elgar encodes these same initials in Variation XIII with the key letters of the Mendelssohn fragments (F minor, A-flat major, and E-flat major). Yet another striking similarity with Schumann's contributions to the FAE Sonata is Variation XIII is called a Romanze, and is followed by the Finale, Variation XIV.
 On two occasions in Variation XIII from his Enigma Variations (Op. 36) he spells the phrase “Dead God.” Appropriately enough, the lowest notes of the score are D-E-A-D. These are immediately followed by the note G-D performed in the highest melody notes in the score. The first occurrence is in measures 498 through 501, and the second in bars 533 through 536. In both cases the letters for dead are stated in the correct order by the bass line. This is immediately followed by the triple statement of the notes G-D by the flute, oboe, and clarinet, a shrouded allusion to the Trinity.

Of course Elgar’s musical references to God would not be complete without at least one to his arch nemesis, the devil. In the Demons’ Chorus from Gerontius Elgar stealthily ridicules the composer Charles Villiers Stanford by enciphering Satanford.[2]
Elgar and Schumann encoded words in their music using note letter sequences. Were they conceivably influenced to do so by no less than Beethoven himself? In the epic Finale of his Ninth Symphony, Beethoven literally spells the word DEAF twice in the opening theme of the Allegro assai. As a key building block of the melody, the DEAF motif reoccurs frequently throughout this closing movement.

Why would Beethoven encode his infirmity in English within the most famous theme from his Ninth Symphony? Admittedly he could not invoke the German term for deaf (taub) because only two of its letters are found in the musical alphabet. Besides the relative simplicity of encoding this term in English using musical notes, the most likely explanation is the Ninth Symphony was commissioned by the Royal Philharmonic Society of London. In recognition of his English speaking patrons, Beethoven transformed is worst malady into his greatest melody.
The DEAF motif is remarkable because it is the only place in the opening theme where Beethoven inserts a crescendo to designate an increase in volume. As the theme spells out deaf, the volume rises suddenly as if to call attention to that note sequence. In the first stanza the words that fall on those notes are "streng geteilt/Alle" which mean "sternly divided" or "strictly divided" and "all." In the second stanza the words are "dem Erdenrund" which in English are "around the world." Are these not vivid descriptions of Beethoven's curse since his deafness sternly separated him from all the world?
The Finale is a set of variations, and not surprisingly Beethoven encodes the word deaf in a variety of ways within the opening theme. German spellings are predominantly phonetic, so it comes as no surprise the word deaf is also spelled out ten times as D-E-F.
The Finale includes a double choral fugue, illustrating Beethoven’s obsession with counterpoint. A common contrapuntal device is to restate a series of notes in reverse order, a practice known as retrograde. Beethoven adopts this tact with the notes D-E-F by restating them in reverse nine times as F-E-D.

An alternative spelling of F-E-D is F-D, a note sequence which also appears four times in the opening theme of the Finale.

In all there are at least 25 occurrences of some form of the word deaf in the opening 24 measures of the Finale. Beethoven’s genius is on full display as he translates the English term for his debilitating infirmity into an elegant cryptographic counterpoint. Elgar could not have had a more worthy model in mind than Beethoven when he composed Nimrod. To learn more about the secrets of the Enigma Variations, read my free eBook Elgar’s Enigmas Exposed.

[1] Rushton, Julian. Elgar: Enigma Variations (Cambridge Music Handbooks). New York: Cambridge University Press, 1999, p. 46
[2] Kennedy, M. (2004). The life of Elgar. New York: Cambridge University Press, p. 80.

About Mr. Padgett

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Mr. Padgett studied violin with Michael Rosenker, 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 ShriverSteve 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.