It is true that I have sketched for their amusement and mine, the idiosyncrasies of fourteen of my friends, not necessarily musicians; but this is a personal matter, and need not have been mentioned publicly. The Variations should stand simply as a ‘piece’ of music. 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.
"I had the good fortune to be thrown among an unsorted collection of old books. There were books of all kinds, and all distinguished by the characteristic that they were for the most part incomplete. I busied myself for days and weeks arranging them. I picked out the theological books, of which there were a great many, and put them on one side. Then I made a place for the Elizabethan dramatists, the chronicles including Barker’s and Hollinshed’s, besides a tolerable collection of old poets and translations of Voltaire and all sorts of things up to the eighteenth century. Then I began to read. I used to get up at four or five o’clock in the summer and read – every available opportunity found me reading. I read till dark. I finished reading every one of those books – including the theology. The result of that reading has been that people tell me that I know more of the life up to the eighteenth century than I do of my own time, and it is probably true."
Edward Elgar from a 1904 interview for The Strand Magazine
In the original program note for the ‘Enigma’ Variations, Elgar mentions only one person by name: Maeterlinck. For a symphonic work dedicated to his friends pictured within, Elgar could have easily mentioned the names of any of a dozen or so friends. Instead, he does something unconventional – citing the name of a contemporary dramatic writer whose works are in French instead of English. For someone whose literary appetite dined almost exclusively on pre-nineteenth century literature and theology, Elgar's reference to Maeterlinck is oddly out of place. For this very reason, it is worthy of more rigorous analysis and study. Why? Because Elgar routinely entertained himself with ciphers and anagrams, and the name Maeterlinck is rich with cryptographic potential.
Of all people why would Elgar mention Maeterlinck? There are some unusual correlations between the names Maeterlinck and Martin Luther. First, there are four matching letters in identical positions (M, A, T and L). Second, there are three matching equidistant letters (R, I and N). Third, the first names both begin with the letter M.
Recognizing Elgar’s lifelong penchant for anagrams, Maeterlinck was analyzed for possible anagrams that may be credibly connected to Martin Luther. This resulted in the discovery of at least two anagrams drawing specific attention to ‘Martin L’ and suggest Elgar copied that eminent theologian and composer. The anagrams are:
1. CEEK MARTIN L – Seek Martin L(uther)
2. C EE K MARTIN L – See E(dward) E(lgar) copy Martin L(uther)
Maeterlinck consists of eleven letters, three syllables, and begins with the letter M. None of the names for Elgar’s friends "pictured within" the Variations satisfy all three of these criteria. However, there is one name connected to musical fragments quoted in Variation XIII that does: Mendelssohn. Incredibly, the names Maeterlinck and Mendelssohn both consist of 11 letters, three syllables, and start with the letter M.
The possibility of this being a coincidence is highly remote. Both names are of famous artists from continental Europe that exhibits characteristics associated with Germanic spellings. Both names have matching letters in the first and fifth positions (M and E), and two matching equidistant letters (E and L). The matching letters in the first and fifth positions present an interesting parallel since there are fifteen movements in the Enigma Variations. The two matching E’s suggest Elgar’s initials, and the same could be said of the matching letter M’s as they resemble two E’s face down. Is this Elgar’s way of initialing a cryptographic connection between the names Maeterlinck and Mendelssohn? The equidistant letters again suggest that Elgar initialed this cipher, drawing special attention to Variation XIII with the double L’s. Although he originally identified Variation XIII with a solitary capital L, Elgar later added a second L along with a letter M. The subtle message is the cipher key may be found in Variation XIII, or more precisely, keys. Were the extra letters 'ML' the initials for Martin Luther? The number thirteen is the equivalent of the letter M as it is the thirteenth letter of the alphabet. This invites the conclusion that the M and L together form the initials for Martin Luther, and that later Elgar added another 'ML' to reinforce this connection.
The first of the two anagrams invites one to ‘Seek Martin L.’ To seek means to resort to, go in search of, look for, ask for, and try to discover. The second anagram directs one to observe, to ‘See EE copy Martin L.’ To see in this context means to perceive by the eye, come to know, or visualize. However, the only composer Elgar ostensibly copies in the ‘Enigma’ Variations is Mendelssohn. In Variation XIII Elgar inserted four fragments from Mendelssohn’s concert overture Calm Sea and Prosperous Voyage. The word sea is the phonetic equivalent of the letter C, as in the word clue. The L is another clue as it is the very same letter Elgar gave for the original sketch for Variation XIII. The prominence of the letters C and L in the Maeterlinck anagrams draws special attention to Elgar’s unconventional use of another composer’s music. The reason Elgar quotes Mendelssohn in his first extended symphonic work is that Mendelssohn quotes the covert Principal Theme in his first major symphony, the Reformation Symphony. The number of Mendelssohn fragments – four – pinpoints the very movement in which Mendelssohn quotes Ein feste Burg followed by a series of variations. Another reason for Elgar to draw particular attention to the Mendelssohn fragments is that they form an alphanumeric cipher that spells the initials for the covert Principal Theme's title: E.F.B.
This analysis reveals some highly credible connections between Elgar’s reference to Maeterlinck in the 1899 program note, the Mendelssohn fragments in Variation XIII, and the composer of Ein feste Burg, Martin Luther. These correlations reinforce the case for Ein feste Burg as the covert Principal Theme to Elgar's 'Enigma' Variations. To learn more about the secrets behind one of Elgar’s most celebrated symphonic achievements, read my free eBook Elgar’s Enigmas Exposed.