As He was going along by the Sea of Galilee, He saw Simon and Andrew, the brother of Simon, casting a net in the sea; for they were fishermen. And Jesus said to them, “Follow Me, and I will make you become fishers of men." Immediately they left their nets and followed Him.
Now follow me, we should be getting on
the Fish are shimmering on the horizon
the Wain is now exactly over Carus,
and the passage on the bank is farther on.
A retired engineer by the name of Richard Santa made the startling discovery that Elgar enciphered the number Pi (π) within the Enigma Theme. Santa’s research was recently reported in the journal Current Musicology published by Columbia University. Pi is a well-known mathematical constant describing the ratio of a circle’s circumference and diameter. In his groundbreaking paper, Santa observed the first four notes of the Enigma Theme sequentially approximate the number Pi using scale degrees (i.e., B flat = 3, G = 1, C = 4, A = 2). Since the theme recapitulates in measure 11, the number Pi is actually encoded twice.
The Enigma Theme is set in common time (4/4), a meter represented by a broken circle resembling a capital C. Since Pi is a ratio based on the mathematics of circles, it is highly coincidental the time signature for this opening movement may be given by a circular symbol. By combining Pi and C together, a phonetic spelling for the Latin word for fish (pisci) is realized. Such a cryptographic pairing is hardly contrived or coincidental, for in Elgar’s Roman Catholic tradition the fish is a widely recognized symbol for the secret dedicatee of Variation XIII – Jesus Christ.
The fish is the most frequently used symbol for Jesus, and for good measure: There are numerous scriptural associations between the two. When he recruited his disciples, Jesus invited them to become fishers of men. When he commenced his public ministry, Jesus was first baptized by John the Baptist. In Christian symbolism the fish also represents baptism, for just as a fish cannot live except in water, so too must a believer live anew by the waters of baptism. Jesus miraculously multiplied five loaves of bread and two fishes to feed the five thousand. When challenged by those demanding a sign of his heavenly authority, Jesus answered he would only give them the sign of Jonah, a prophet who spent three days and nights in the belly of a huge fish.
In the early church, the fish was used as a secret sign for believers. Known as the “sign of the fish,” this Christogram consists of two intersecting arcs whose right ends extend beyond the intersection to resemble the profile of a fish. The Greek letters for fish (Ichthys, IXΘYΣ) were chosen because they form an acrostic based on the first letters of the Greek words “Jesus Christ God’s Son Savior.” An early version of Ichthys is a combination of these letters arranged to resemble an eight-spoked wheel.
Returning to Santa’s discovery of Pi within the Enigma Theme, it is fascinating to observe that a wheel is a circle. Similar to the role of early Christograms such as the fish, ciphers are used to communicate hidden messages. Was Elgar’s obscure reference to the fish a clue that a more complex cipher lurks beneath the surface? The word cipher begins with the letter c. So does the word checkerboard. A fishing net resembles a checkerboard grid. The problem with complex ciphers is they are difficult to detect, to see (C). This is undoubtedly the case with the Enigma Theme as its solution remained a mystery for over a century.
Is there a musical cipher embedded within the opening measures of the Enigma Theme? My original research demonstrates such is the case, and that it is a musical checkerboard cipher. One of three languages used in that special cipher is Latin, something perfectly consistent with Elgar’s background as a Roman Catholic who studied Latin in various Catholic schools and attended Latin Mass. Pisci is the Latin word for fish. Elgar enjoyed fishing, whether it was for a novel counterpoint to a famous theme, a solution to an insoluble cipher, or for fish in the sea.
Turning our gaze skyward, consider the constellation Pisces, the twelfth astrological sign in the Zodiac. It is considered a water sign due to its association with the fish. The constellation is represented by twin fish connected by a string. Recall there are two occurrences of Pi encoded within the Enigma Theme, and both are tied together by the same notes, key and meter. The renowned Roman Catholic poet Torquato Tasso was a Pisces as he was born when the sun was in the sign (February 19 to March 20). At the end of the original score of the Enigma Variations, Elgar quotes from Tasso’s epic Christian poem Jerusalem Delivered. Consequently, it would appear both the beginning and end of the Enigma Variations contain hidden allusions to the fish, and therefore symbolically to Christ – the Alpha and Omega, the First and Last, the Beginning and the End. No wonder Variation XIII musically portrays a marine atmosphere with a distant steamship crossing a calm, undulating sea (C). For Roman Catholics, crossing oneself is a symbolic ritual, and conducting common time replicates this sacred act. Similar to that distant steamship, Jesus crossed a sea by walking on water. The sea that raged and frothed suddenly became serene when Jesus uttered the words, “Be still.” Even the winds and the waves obey the commands of Messiah. To learn more about the secrets of the Enigma Variations, read my free eBook Elgar’s Enigmas Exposed.