|Photographic negative of the Turin Shroud|
The LORD said to him, “Who gave human beings their mouths? Who makes them deaf or mute? Who gives them sight or makes them blind? Is it not I, the LORD?”
He replied, “Whether he is a sinner or not, I don’t know. One thing I do know. I was blind but now I see!”
The initials for Hew David Stewart Powell (H. D. S-P.) assigned to Variation II of the Enigma Variations contain an oddly placed hyphen between the letters S and P. In his informative book on the Enigma Variations, Patrick Turner confirms Powell’s college records do not show a hyphen anywhere in his name. This obviously raises the question of why Elgar would insert a hyphen where one clearly did not belong. My investigation of the Enigma Variations has shown that anomalies such as the odd placement of a double bar or quotation marks around a short musical fragment point to a cryptogram. Could Elgar’s hyphen be a cryptogram, a harbinger of a hidden message? The answer is a resounding yes.
A compelling connection exists between the initials S and P that dovetails with my discovery that Elgar was inspired by the Shroud of Turin when he conceived of the Enigma Variations. The hyphen between those two letters shows they belong together as part of another person's name, one enveloped and hidden within another. In this instance, it is not Hew David Stewart Powell, but rather Secondo Pia. Pia was an amateur photographer who took the first official photographs of the Shroud of Turn on May 28, 1898. The negative images of that historic photograph became a media sensation and were widely reported in the international and Catholic press. During and after 1898, Pia’s photographic negative was widely distributed and revered among Catholics who believed the Shroud is the authentic burial cloth of Christ. The date of that picture is five months before Elgar began openly composing the Enigma Variations, so the timing is consistent with this theory.
Why would Elgar choose Variation II to provide this hyphenated clue? There are a number of compelling reasons. The Roman numeral (II) provides the first name because the Italian word for second is Secondo. The opening figure in Variation II captures Powell's warm-up routine on the piano by playing Toccata-like diatonic runs. The term Toccata is Italian. The first three letters in the word piano provide the last name Pia. The two Is may be viewed figuratively as a reference to Pia’s experience of seeing the Lord’s face with his own two eyes. Before May 28, 1898, the world was blind to the amazingly detailed image on the Shroud until Pia’s stunning photographic negative brought it all to light in a dark room. Is this perhaps a subtle reference to Elgar’s dark saying? Another of Elgar’s works, the sacred oratorio The Light of Life (Op. 29), tells the story of how Jesus restored sight to the eyes of a poor beggar who was blind from birth. For Elgar, there is a profound artistic and spiritual link between Jesus and the eyes of a poor blind man.
There are numerous allusions to Dante's Divine Comedy throughout the Enigma Variations as I explain here. Elgar's hidden reference to Secondo Pia may be linked to Dante’s greatest poetic work. In Purgatorio 5:134-136, a character named Pia dei Tolomei tells Dante about her tragic life, a drama portrayed in various artistic works such as a play by Carlo Marenco, an opera by Donizetti, and a painting by Rossetti. In a way, Dante was also blind to many spiritual truths until he completed his great trek through the underworld, purgatory to the gates of paradise.
Is it possible Elgar was so moved by the face of Christ hidden in plain sight on the Turin Shroud that he conceived of a symphonic work to honor that discovery? The Enigma Theme is essentially a contrapuntal “negative” of a famous melody, much like the Shroud of Turin is a photographic negative of a crucified man many believe to be Jesus. It took the passage of millennia before technology and modern photography could unlock the secrets of the Shroud. In contrast, it took a comparatively modest 110 years to unmask the hidden theme of the Enigma Variations. The collective failure of prominent Elgar scholars to unravel the many enigmas of the Enigma Variations are redolent of the following words spoken by Jesus: “For judgment I have come into this world, so that the blind will see and those who see will become blind.” To learn more about the secrets of the Enigma Variations, read my free eBook Elgar’s Enigmas Exposed.
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