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Sunday, February 3, 2019

Ten Years and Counting


Cast thy bread upon the waters: for thou shalt find it after many days.

A decade has come and gone since the launch of this blog which plumbs the depths of Edward Elgar’s symphonic masterpiece, the Enigma Variations. During that period, 130 posts received more than 405,000 pageviews from a global audience. My discoveries have also been featured in various magazines, newspapers and radio programs. After nine excruciating years of hemming and hawing by its editors, Wikipedia reluctantly lifted its embargo by finally citing my research in their article about the Enigma Variations. I may not have arrived yet, but I have most definitely departed. In a long overdue retrospective, the dawn of this blog’s tenth anniversary heralds an auspicious moment to look back at how it all began.
It was late October 2006 when I performed the Enigma Variations as a sectional violinist with the Bohemian Club Symphony Orchestra in San Francisco under the capable baton of Richard Williams. Maestro Williams exhibited a conspicuous zeal for Elgar's music, devoting time at rehearsals to talk about the underlying mysteries concerning a hidden principal Theme, a “dark saying” ensconced within the Enigma Theme, and a secret friend memorialized in Variation XIII. My curiosity was soon set ablaze by his incandescent exegeses. It was then and there that I decided to seek out the answers to these tantalizing riddles. My wife purchased a raft of used library books about Elgar to jumpstart my investigation, and I added further articles and works on the Enigma Variations to my burgeoning collection. My plan was to scour the literature for the answers which I had hoped were unearthed by my older and wiser forebears. Unfortunately, the more I read, the more it became painfully evident that not a single soul had ever had managed to crack Elgar's melodic strongbox. In the absence of credible and satisfying answers, I boldly decided to take a crack at it in a quest to unmask the answers for myself and posterity.


My nascent efforts to untangle Elgar’s contrapuntal Gordian knot had me tied up in knots. Like all of my predecessors, my attempts at finding a convincing melodic solution proved fruitless and futile. I had eyes but could not see, ears but could not hear. Desperation moved me to appeal to the unmoved mover of my Christian faith. My predicament was reminiscent of the prophet Daniel when he and his fellow sages of ancient Babylon were challenged to interpret King Nebuchadnezzar’s disturbing yet hidden dream. Like the great king's dream, Elgar's absent principal Theme was a closely guarded secret. I invoked divine assistance to grant me the wisdom to see and hear what my more capable peers and predecessors failed to detect or comprehend. My personal experience confirmed that God answers prayer, and so I prayed for a miracle—the answers to Elgar's Enigma Variations.
Constant prayer and study paved the way for my very own Enigma Day on February 3, 2009. It was a quiet Tuesday morning when I first hit upon an unexpected solution for the hidden melody that serves as a counterpoint to the Enigma Theme. That mystery tune is the Reformation hymn Ein feste Burg (A Mighty Fortress) by Martin Luther, an epic theme quoted in the works of great German composers admired by Elgar like Bach, Mendelssohn, and Wagner. This was a startling discovery as Elgar was raised a devout Roman Catholic, and Luther was a controversial Roman Catholic priest and professor ignominiously excommunicated by Pope Leo X for heresy. The date of my melodic epiphany was remarkable because it coincided with the bicentennial of Felix Mendelssohn’s birth. What made the timing even more extraordinary was the Mendelssohn fragments which Elgar conspicuously sprinkled in Variation XIII served as the providential bread crumbs that led me through a deep dark forest to this breakthrough that nobody would ever guess.
My pièce de résistance was a contrapuntal mapping of Bach’s adaption of Ein feste Burg “through and over” the Enigma Theme. This melodic melding illustrated in vivid detail how those two dissimilar themes shared a remarkable horizontal congruence spanning 17 measures. This was a stunning find as Roger Fiske remarked “...how very hard it is to find anything that will go with Elgar’s theme even badly…” Up until that momentous moment, no other melody had ever been shown to attain an exact lengthwise fit with the Enigma Theme starting from its beginning on the second beat of measure 1 through the terminus of measure 17. Apart from a smattering of inconsequential accommodations for the Enigma Theme’s repeated modulations between G major and minor—a modal camouflage—no rhythmic alterations to Bach’s version of Ein feste Burg were required to produce this unprecedented fusion. The conflux between the Enigma Theme and Ein feste Burg persuaded me I had discovered the covert melody.

My preliminary findings were hurriedly prepared in a brief inaugural post which would later be removed after I contemplated writing a formal paper and book. Prospective publishers admonished me not to release material on my blog if I wanted it to be seriously considered for publication. This resulted in a blackout on further disclosures until September 2010 when it became all too apparent that journals and academic publishers had no appetite for this admittedly esoteric subject. In my moment of triumph, I emailed invitations to top Elgar scholars like Julian Rushton and Clive McClelland to consult my introductory post and offer up their hearty approbations. With bated breath, I waited to be feted as a classical Sherlock Holmes for solving one of the most confounding riddles in music history. I did not have to wait long for my lofty hopes and aspirations to be dashed in a deluge of doubt and dismissive denunciations.
Rushton was the first to reply. He warned that I must be mistaken because Elgar was a Roman Catholic who would never contemplate quoting the music of heretical Lutheran. Such an objection cannot be taken seriously because it is in open conflict with Elgar’s decision to cite Mendelssohn’s music in Variation XIII. Rushton surely knows that Mendelssohn was baptized a Lutheran and remained a devout protestant throughout his adult life, even going so far as to compose the Reformation Symphony in honor of the 300th anniversary of Augsburg Confession. By quoting Mendelssohn’s oeuvre, Elgar openly demonstrated a willingness to cite the music of a Lutheran. The presumption that Elgar’s faith precluded him from considering a protestant melody—particularly at a time when he was contemplating a symphony in honor of the Anglican General Gordon—is the counterargument of an ignoramus or a fabulist. This melodic melee proved to be the opening salvo in a protracted tête-à-tête with Dr. Rushton whose alleged expertise in this arena proved far too often to be rooted in mythical fallacies rather than objective facts.
To his credit, Rushton did raise a more substantial objection by honing in some inscrutable dissonances in my contrapuntal mapping of Bach’s adaption of Ein feste Burg “through and over” the Enigma Theme. McClelland also echoed this justifiable grievance. While noting that Ein feste Burg presented a perfect horizontal fit with the Enigma Theme, Rushton and McClelland remained dubious because of the absence of a credible vertical alignment devoid of distasteful dissonances. In consideration of this reasonable objection and their sterling reputations, I went back to the drawing board and briefly dabbled with Mendelssohn’s Wedding March as a possible alternative. As born out by his sketchbooks, the lover’s theme from Elgar’s overture Cockaigne Op. 40 is indeed a counterpoint to Mendelssohn’s Wedding March, something I was blissfully unaware of when I fleetingly considered it as a prospective missing theme to the Enigma Variations.
The more I scrutinized my mapping of Mendelssohn’s Wedding March over the Enigma Theme, however, the more dissatisfying it became a viable solution. I soon returned again to my original thesis primarily because of the uncanny horizontal fit between Ein feste Burg and the Enigma Theme. Elgar’s standard reply to enigma solutions invokes the fundamental idea of a fit between the two melodies:
No: nothing like it.
I do not see the tune you suggest fits in the least.
E.E.
Merriam-Webster defines fit as “to be suitable for or to harmonize with,” and “to conform correctly to the shape or size of.” Elgar’s language is unambiguous, denoting definitively that both themes must be the same length. The first media report regarding my discovery surfaced within a month of my exhilarating announcement. It was published online in March 2009 by Tim Smith, the fine arts critic for The Baltimore Sun. Now I felt confident no other aspirant would dare assume credit for my discovery. All the glory ultimately belongs to my Heavenly Father for permitting me to assemble the pieces from this exquisitely elaborate puzzle.
Before I could venture beyond my preliminary findings, I suddenly and unexpectedly lost my job as a benefits analyst at Genworth Financial in late March 2009. As the sole provider for my wife and five children, this was a devastating blow that coincided with the height of the last financial crisis. Shortly before my abrupt departure, a humble coworker and devout follower of Jesus named Lois Hampton prophesied that one day I would be recognized for my musical discoveries and deliver lectures before rapt audiences. In that dark hour, I took comfort in Lois’ prophetic pronouncements knowing that all things work together for good for those who love God and live according to his purpose. I may have lost my job, but I had not lost hope or purpose because I still believed God had brilliant plans for my family and me.
I scrambled to make ends meet as a violin and viola instructor, but the flagging California economy and fading string programs in the public schools were grim harbingers. I enjoyed teaching at a local private music school in Cotati called Music To My Ears, but there were insufficient students to justify remaining in Northern California. When one of my violin students remarked rather despondently that the orchestra program at her high school was being shuttered, I could see the writing on the wall. It was time to leave for greener pastures. This was no longer the California I grew up in when orchestra programs flourished in the elementary, middle and high schools. Plagued by natural and economic drought, California went from being the “breadbasket of the world” to the economic “basket-case” of America. The strings programs had to go, and consequently so did I and my family along with an exodus of countless other economic refugees that continues unabated to this day.
Donald, my twin brother who resides in Plano, urged me to consider relocating to the great state of Texas because of the vibrant strings programs in the public schools. I flew out that July to reconnoiter the market and decided it was worth the risk. I cashed in my modest retirement account with Genworth Financial accumulated over my four-year tenure to finance the biggest move of my life. When I told my father, Wayne, about my plans to move to Texas, he congratulated me and added with a wry grin, “You’re getting out just in time.” Over two long hot days that August, I made the drive to Texas in my 2002 model Toyota Corolla. My wife and children followed in September in our spacious Ford Chateau van nicknamed “El Presidente” towing a small U-Haul trailer packed to the hilt. The drive was unpleasantly sweltering because the van lacked a functioning air conditioner, and during the journey one of the rear tires picked up a nail that caused it to continually bleed off air pressure and require regular inflating.
As I plotted my escape from the People’s Republic of California, my blog attracted the attention of Richard Santa, a retired engineer. He made the remarkable discovery that Elgar encoded the mathematical constant Pi in the Enigma Theme’s opening measure. Santa sent me an early draft of his paper which would later appear in the journal Current Musicology published by Columbia University. My personal history includes a brief foray at Columbia University during the summer of 1986 where I attended the American Federation of Musicians 28th Annual Congress of Strings under Music Director Joseph Silverstein and conductor Brian Salesky. The primary significance of Santa’s insight is that it eventually made me realize the Enigma Variations very likely harbored other cryptograms, a subject that I only vaguely understood or appreciated in those early days of discovery.


Within five months, my melodic solution was casually mentioned in the July 2009 issue of The Elgar Society Journal. At the bottom of page 50, Clive McClelland cites Ein feste Burg as a comparatively recent example of a melodic solution to the Enigma Variations that shares the “right length” with the Enigma Theme. Even McClelland recognized the unusual fit between the rhythmically intact forms of Ein feste Burg and the Enigma Theme, although he too balked at some “howling dissonances” that rendered the mapping untenable. I only recently stumbled upon this reference in January 2019 as I was perusing the archives of The Elgar Society Journal.


Shortly after I arrived in Texas in August 2009, McClelland emailed me a copy of his informative paper Shadows of the Evening: New light on Elgar’s ‘Dark Saying’ which first appeared in the 2007 Winter issue of The Musical Times. As I pressed my case with him through repeated email exchanges, he impatiently threw down the gauntlet by demanding I prove the efficacy of my melodic solution by mapping it over any one of the other movements from the Enigma Variations. McClelland taunted that if I attempted such a project, I would soon be forced to abandon my theory. He based his bold challenge on the original 1899 program note where Elgar states,  “....through and over the whole set [of Variations] another and larger theme ‘goes’ but is not played…” I accepted his challenge, selecting the most popular of the Variations, Nimrod, as the test subject for this contrapuntal tribunal. Through an innovative process known as melodic interval mapping, I sequentially matched notes from Ein feste Burg to Nimrod’s melody and harmony notes to realize a credible counterpoint. That exercise convinced me I had indeed hit on the right solution, and that I should pursue similar mappings for the remaining movements. During the Winter break in late 2009 through early 2010, I locked myself in a room and devoted every waking moment to this extended contrapuntal enterprise.
I prepared an audiovisual demonstration of my melodic mapping of Ein feste Burg “through and over” Variation IX Nimrod, and published it on YouTube. McClelland and Rushton remained unswayed. A far more favorable impression was conveyed by the founder of the American Elgar Foundation, Richard Winter-Stanbridge. He telephoned me out of the blue to congratulate me on my discovery, exclaiming in our first conversation in September 2009 that my mapping of Ein feste Burg over Nimrod was as “clear as a pikestaff.” At that time, Richard was planning a movie to commemorate Elgar’s 150th birthday for which he prepared a short trailer. He invited me to be interviewed for this project with the intention of sharing my melodic solution to the Enigma Variations with a broader audience. The movie never materialized, but Richard’s unexpected call and words of encouragement were perfectly timed to spur me on in my budding enterprise. Little did I realize then that I had barely begun to scratch the surface of the many secrets expertly interwoven into the rich tapestry of the Enigma Variations.


After completing my mappings of Ein feste Burg over each of the Variations, I began connecting key insights that pointed to the presence of a music cryptogram in the opening six measures of the Enigma Theme. The first and earliest was Santa’s discovery that Elgar encoded the mathematical ratio Pi in the first bar relying on the melodic scale degrees. This refuted the presumption there were no cryptograms in the Enigma Variations, a position espoused by Dr. Rushton who considers any “precompositional calculation unlikely.” The second was raised in Dr. McClelland’s paper where he perceptively surmised:
Elgar’s six-bar phrase is achieved by the characteristic four-note grouping, repeated six times with its reversible rhythm of two quavers and two crotchets. This strongly suggests the cryptological technique of disguising word-lengths in ciphers by arranging letters in regular patterns.
There is an audible sense of separation achieved by the systematic placement of quarter note rests in the melody line at the beginning of each of the first six measures. This device implies gaps between coded words or phrases. The odd placement of a double bar at the end of measure six is conspicuous because such a feature usually appears at the end of a movement rather than so close to its beginning. The number of melody notes in these opening six bars is 24 is also remarkable because the complete six-word title of the covert Theme has 24 letters. In the original 1899 program note, Elgar asserts that the Enigma Theme held a “dark saying.” Dark can mean hidden or secret, and a saying consists of words and phrases. Based on these and other observations, I reasoned that Elgar embedded a music cryptogram in the opening measures of the Enigma Theme that definitively resolves his melodic riddle. Contrary to the complaints of scholars insisting that he absconded with his secret to the grave, Elgar concealed the answer within the question itself in the form of a music cipher.
An intense three-month period of cryptanalysis ensued from December 2009 through February 2010 as I feverishly experimented during every free moment with various music ciphers to unlock Elgar’s “dark saying.” Time and again my efforts crashed and receded in failure from this seemingly impregnable seawall. Again I prayed for the Lord’s wisdom and guidance to help me unravel this seemingly impenetrable cipher. 373 days after my personal Enigma Day in February 2009, my second great epiphany arrived on February 10, 2010. It was on that date when it suddenly dawned upon me that Elgar employed melody and bass note pairs to encode his “dark saying” using a Polybius box cipher key, something akin to a chess or checkerboard grid.
The detection and decryption of this elaborate music cryptogram documents how Elgar rearranged the 24 letters of the full six-word German title of the covert Theme into short phonetically rendered words and phrases in three different languages: English, Latin, and what he reasonably believed to be Aramaic (but turns out to be Hebrew). In all, there are four different languages in this cipher—English, Latin, German, and Aramaic. Note how the first letters of these four languages form an acrostic anagram of ELGAR. In a brilliant but stealthy display, Elgar signed his cipher using a code wrapped within another. Now I had confirmation of my discovery from the hand of Elgar himself, signed, unsealed, and decoded.
One would expect to detect and decrypt the most elementary ciphers in the Enigma Variations first, then progress up the stairwell of complexity to crack the most difficult last. My experience was just the opposite, making my discovery and decoding of the most sophisticated of all the ciphers in the Enigma Variations hugely counterintuitive. A major advantage working in my favor was that I knew the number and type of plaintext letters to assign to the 24 melody notes within the Enigma Theme’s opening six bars. A frequency analysis of the melody/bass note pairs was instrumental in quickly narrowing down my options until Elgar’s “dark saying” first mentioned in the original 1899 program note, emerged from the shadows.


I submitted an early draft of my paper about the Enigma Theme Polybius box cipher to Craig P. Bauer, the editor of the journal Cryptologia. After thoughtful consideration, he declined to publish it in his august journal. Bauer would later devote an entire chapter to Elgar’s command of cryptography in his 2017 book Unsolved! The History and Mystery of the World’s Greatest Ciphers from Ancient Egypt to Online Secret Societies. In chapter 3, Bauer focuses particular attention on the Dorabella Cipher and Elgar’s masterful decryption of a variant of the Polybius square cipher known as a Nihilist cipher. Elgar definitely studied the Polybius box cipher at least two years before he embarked on the Enigma Variations because his personal library includes a series of four articles collectively titled Secrets in Cipher by John Holt Schooling which first appeared in various 1896 issues of The Pall Mall Gazette. Schooling’s fourth and final installment concludes with an in-depth look at the Polybius box cipher and a supposedly insoluble Nihilist permutation. When I first hit on Elgar’s adaptation of the Polybius square to music using melody and bass note pairs, I knew nothing at all about the Greek historian Polybius or his ingenious cipher. Looking back it is clear that I was the beneficiary of divine providence in resolving such a colossal conundrum.
Undeterred by the chronic skepticism of career academics, I applied to my alma mater for a time out grant to fund my research. Alumnae of Vassar College approaching their 40th birthday may apply for this special grant to take a year off to devote their energies on trying “to make a difference in the world.” In my application, I explained how I planned to further my study of the Enigma Variations with the objective of preparing a book and website to share my growing body of work that upends decades of Elgar scholarship. My application was summarily denied. In their declination letter, the committee acknowledged awarding the grant to a monk who had resided in a Tibetan Buddhist monastery for 23 years and desired (ironically as that may sound) to test her beliefs in the outside world. As I perused the public profiles of previous time out grant recipients, it quickly became apparent they were all women. I did not realize that white Christian males were placed on a permanent time out from consideration for Vassar College’s Time Out Grant.


Repeated attempts to advance and share my discoveries with the aid of academia and established publishers with an interest in Elgar were greeted with disbelief and a chorus of “No’s.” A mountain of dubious doubters blocked my path, so I decided to speak to my mountain in faith and cast it into the depths of the sea. My decryption of the Enigma Theme Music Box Cipher revealed Elgar’s covert signature, and that was all the confirmation I required to proceed. The publication of this groundbreaking discovery has become my most popular post. A cornucopia of other incredible cryptograms has since emerged from the shadows. One remarkable example is a wordplay cipher based on the unusual name Nimrod. Emboldened by these discoveries, I decided to take and make my case directly before the world using Google’s free platforms Blogger and YouTube. In mid-September 2010 I began releasing the first chapters of my book Elgar’s Enigmas Exposed on this blog, and soon added companion music video exhibits on my YouTube channel.
Media coverage of my research began as a trickle in March 2009 with a brief article by Tim Smith, the fine arts critic of The Baltimore Sun. Dr. McClelland made passing mention of my melodic solution in the July 2009 issue of The Elgar Society Journal.  The popular blog Boing Boing drew favorably highlighted my discoveries in June 2013. The website Unsolved Problems released my paper Elgar’s Music Box Cipher in August 2015.  In 2016 my research was described in an article about the Enigma Variations by Classical Notes. A major coup came in February 2017 with the release of Daniel Estrin’s exposé Breaking Elgar’s Enigma in The New Republic magazine. The local outlet D Magazine quickly followed suit with their article Was This Famous Classical Music Puzzle Solved In Plano? The American Society of Cinematographers refers to my research in their May 2017 article Edward Elgar's Enigma. NPR aired Elgar's 'Enigma’ Still Keeps Music Detectives Busy in March 2018. Two months later, Love + Radio released their program Counter Melody in May 2018. More media coverage will inevitably follow as the bona fides of my discoveries becomes more widely acknowledged and accepted.
Ten years and counting with 131 posts and over 405,000 page views in the rearview mirror, this blog shows no signs of stopping on the eve of the 120th anniversary of the historic premiere of the Enigma Variations this June. The campaign to disseminate my research has proven wildly more successful than I had ever dreamed or anticipated. As Dryden’s character opines in the 1962 classic film Lawrence of Arabia, “Big things have small beginnings.” With feelings of nostalgia mingled with optimism, I look forward to attending the North American Branch Conference of The Elgar Society this May in San Francisco. That harbor city is where my enigmatic voyage commenced in a spirit of bohemian humor and continues in deep seriousness.
With the unmasking of A Mighty Fortress as the covert Theme, Elgar’s seemingly ordinary remarks to F. G. Edwards in a letter dated October 21, 1898, regarding a projected “Gordon” symphony assume a renewed significance. He wrote, “’Gordon’ simmereth mighty pleasantly in my (brain) pan & will no doubt boil over one day.” Something symphonic did indeed erupt on that fateful day when later that evening Elgar first performed the Enigma Theme at the piano for his wife. The appearance of the word “mighty” in his correspondence about a projected symphonic work on that day of days is an extraordinary slip of the pen. To learn more about the innermost secrets of Elgar's sublime symphonic homage to cryptography, read my free eBook Elgar’s Enigmas Exposed.

Friday, December 14, 2018

The Enigma Theme Relative Modes Cipher


After silence, that which comes nearest to expressing the inexpressible is music.

Elgar’s expertise in cryptography—the art of creating and decoding secret messages—is widely acknowledged. Craig Bauer, the editor in chief of the journal Cryptologia, devotes an entire chapter to Elgar’s obsession with secret codes in his book Unsolved! It should come as no surprise that the opening six bars of the Enigma Theme which comprise the first section of its ABA’C structure are permeated by a diverse array of cryptograms. These outwardly distinct yet interrelated ciphers encode solutions to three overarching riddles posed by Edward Elgar’s breakout symphonic masterpiece, the Enigma Variations. The primary one concerns a covert principal Theme to which the Enigma Theme is a cunningly crafted counterpoint. The second is a “dark saying” ensconced in the Enigma Theme. The third is the identity of a secret friend memorialized in Variation XIII.


One of the earliest cryptograms to be decrypted from the Enigma Theme’s opening section was the Enigma Locks Cipher. This secret code was first detected after it was determined the total notes played by each part in the full score does not exceed the number of letters in the alphabet. The note totals played through Section A by the first violins (24), second violins (17), violas (15), and cellos (12) are convertible to their corresponding letter in the alphabet relying on a basic number-to-letter key (a=1, b=2, c=3, etc…). The plaintext solution, LOQX, is a phonetic rendering of the word locks. This decryption is idiomatic of Elgar’s writing style because his personal correspondence bristles with inventive phonetic spellings.

Locks are opened by keys, and so are ciphers. Before venturing further, it is crucial to understand that tonal music is also written in a variety of contrasting keys. The unmasking of the Enigma Locks Cipher spurred a renewed interest in the musical keys of the Enigma Theme, a brief movement performed in the parallel keys of G minor and G major. The accidentals for those keys are B-flat, E-flat, and F-sharp. On closer inspection, the letters of those accidentals turn out to be an anagram of the initials for the covert Theme, Ein feste Burg. In a remarkable development, the Enigma Locks Cipher precipitated the discovery of the Enigma Keys Cipher, an exploratory progression described as a minor and major discovery.
Could Elgar have exploited other aspects of musical keys to encipher further corroborating information? To assess this possibility, a harmonic analysis of the Enigma Theme’s opening six measures was performed. The concept of tonicization is integral to harmonic analysis because the tonal center shifts temporarily due to the use of secondary dominants. The Harvard Dictionary of Music supplies the following definition of tonicization:
The momentary treatment of a pitch other than the tonic as if it were the tonic, most often by the introduction of its own leading tone or fourth scale degree or both. The resulting harmony is most likely to be the dominant of the tonicized pitch and is in such a case often termed a secondary or applied dominant. The triad formed on the leading tone of the tonicized pitch may also function in this way. Tonicization, which may be prolonged beyond a single chord or two, is nevertheless a local phenomenon, as distinct from modulation which implies an actual change in tonic. The boundary between the two, however, is not always easily fixed in practice
When a secondary dominant resolves to a degree other than the tonic, it makes the non-tonic chord sound like the tonic. This process is called tonicization. An accidental is a strong indicator of a secondary dominant because it alters a note’s pitch from what is specified by the key signature.


From the beginning to the downbeat of bar 3, the harmonic progressions are unequivocally based on the tonic key of G minor. The introduction of a C minor added sixth chord on the third beat of bar 3 followed by G dominant seventh chord on the downbeat of bar 4 tonicizes the fourth degree as it resolves to C minor. A German augmented sixth chord on the first beat of bar 5 heralds a return to G minor as it resolves to the tonic chord in the second inversion on beat 3. The tonic key is presaged by a Plagal cadence in bar 6 that resolves via a Picardy third to G major in bar 7 with the start of Section B.
One conspicuous feature of the harmonic analysis of the Enigma Theme’s Section A is the augmented German sixth chord on the downbeat of measure 5. This chord is a gigantic clue because the covert Theme’s complete title is six words in German. Other than the use of an augmented German sixth, the Enigma Theme’s harmonic progressions in Section A did not turn up any other obvious cryptograms.
Tonal music is defined by divergent keys that share certain relationships which are conveniently summarized by the circle of fifths. This geometric representation of a circle shows the twelve tones of the chromatic scale with their related key signatures and corresponding relative major and minor modes. It resembles a clock face with each number replaced by every fifth note in the musical scale beginning with C in the 12 o’clock position. With no sharps or flats in its key signature, C major begins the circle of fifths with a relative key of A minor. The minor key is defined as relative to a particular major key because they share the same key signature.
Proceeding clockwise to the next note a fifth above C is G major which has one sharp and a relative minor key of E. Following a fifth above G is D major with two sharps and a relative minor of B. This is succeeded a fifth above D by A major with three sharps and a relative key of F-sharp minor. This pattern of moving every fifth note higher continues with another sharp added at each step of the way until all seven sharps appear in the key of C-sharp major at the seven 0’clock position.


A similar process involving the flats takes place in the counterclockwise direction. At the 11 o’clock position is the note a fifth below C is the key of F major with one flat and a relative minor of D. The next step counterclockwise a fifth below F is B-flat major with two flats and a relative minor of G. A fifth below B-flat is E-flat with three flats and a relative minor of C. This process cycles through every fifth note lower accompanied by the addition of another flat to the key signature until all seven flats are cited in C-flat major at the 5 o’clock position. There is a remarkable symmetry with the circle of fifths which commences with no sharps or flats in the key of C major and culminates with all seven sharps C sharp major and all seven flats in C flat major. The circle of fifths captures an elegant mathematical precision to the organization of the key signatures in tonal music.
At the 5, 6 and 7 0’clock positions of the circle of fifths are musical keys that may be spelled by either some combination of sharps or flats. For example, G-flat major with six flats sounds indistinguishable from F-sharp major with six sharps. This is possible because the notes F-sharp and G-flat are the same pitch. The ability to spell the same note in two different ways is known as an enharmonic equivalent. This concept proves pivotal in the harmonic analysis of the Enigma Theme’s Section A.
The circle of fifths conveniently summarizes the key relationships between the major and relative minor modes. A major key is related to a specific minor key because they share the same key signature. For example, G major and E minor are related because their key signatures both have an F-sharp. Elgar hints at the cryptographic significance of the circle by encoding the number Pi in the first bar of the Enigma Theme’s melodic scale degrees (3-1-4-2). This mathematical constant is the ratio of a circle’s circumference to its diameter. The Enigma Theme’s time signature (4/4) is also known as common time and may be represented by a capital C, a symbol that originated from a broken circle. This letter occupies the 12 o’clock position in the circle of fifths and is found in both key letters with all seven sharps and all seven flats. The most famous circle in music is indisputably the circle of fifths. By encoding Pi in the Enigma Theme’s first bar with a time signature of common time, Elgar subtly invites the savvy observer to refract the Enigma Theme’s harmonic progressions through the prism of the circle of fifths to reveal a coded message.
An analysis of the opening six measures of the Enigma Theme discloses that the relative modes of the tonal centers encode two of the three initials from the covert Theme’s title. The relative major keys of G and C minor are B-flat and E-flat respectively. These relative key letters are the first and third initials of the covert Theme’s three-word German title, Ein feste Burg. But what about the absent initial f? The German sixth chord furnishes the solution because its enharmonic equivalent is an E-flat dominant seventh with the C-sharp respelled as a D-flat. This alternate spelling comes from A-flat major with a relative minor of F. The enharmonic equivalent of the German sixth enciphers through its relative minor the remaining initial for Ein feste Burg. It is also salient to recognize that the sixth letter of the alphabet just so happens to be F.


The relative modes of the Enigma Theme’s tonal centers in Section A directly encipher two of the three initials for the covert Theme’s title. The absent initial is implicated by the relative mode of the enharmonic equivalent for the augmented German sixth chord. This cipher is merely one of at least seventeen different cryptograms within the Enigma Variations that encode the initials of the covert Theme.


The unique letters from the enharmonic equivalents of the tonicized progressions in Section A are an anagram of the word DEAD. The silence of the principal Theme is evocative of a passage from Psalm 37:17 that mentions the silence of the grave. 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 on stage in various dramas by the Belgian playwright, Maeterlinck. That absent character is death. There was an indelible link between music and death for Elgar because as a boy he studied musical scores at a local churchyard while resting on a tombstone. In Variation XIII, Elgar repeatedly quotes a fragment from Mendelssohn’s concert overture Calm Sea and Prosperous Voyage (Meeresstille und glückliche Fahrt) to portray 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 depicts the stillness of death (Todestille).
Why would Elgar make so many cryptic references to death in the Enigma Variations? The friend honored in secret by Variation XIII is Jesus Christ, the Savior of Elgar’s Roman Catholic faith who died and was miraculously resurrected. A musical cryptogram in that movement encodes DEAD G-D, and a discrete subset of ciphers in the Enigma Variations make veiled various references to Jesus’ burial cloth, the Shroud of Turin. That sacred relic still makes headlines today just as it did in the Spring of 1898 when Secondo Pia took the first official photographs that revealed for the first time on their negative plates the miraculous image of a crucified man many believe to be that of Jesus. The timing works because that historic event transpired five months before Elgar began to work seriously on the Enigma Variations.
Some scholars scoff at the vast trove of ciphers exhumed from the Enigma Variations and subjected to a detailed autopsy. What those career academics fail to appreciate is the old adage that “One man’s junk is another man’s treasure.” Although they contemptuously dismiss my research as dead wrong, the decryption of the Enigma Theme Relative Modes Cipher proves to be dead on. To learn more about the deep dark secrets of the Enigma Variations, read my free eBook Elgar’s Enigmas Exposed.

About Mr. Padgett

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