Wednesday, January 26, 2011

F.A.E. and the initials for "A Mighty Fortress"

Beautiful music is the art of the prophets that can calm the agitations of the soul; it is one of the most magnificent and delightful presents God has given us.

In Variation XIII Elgar uses a musical cryptogram to spell the initials for Joseph Joachim’s romantic motto “Frei aber einsam” (Figure 18.1). This motto forms the basis of a musical cryptogram made famous in a work for violin, the F-A-E Sonata.  Elgar was a concert violinist who had aspirations of becoming a famous soloist like Joachim, but his hopes were dashed through a lack of private instruction during his formative years. Elgar continued to identify closely with the violin, and even composed a concerto for the instrument. As I explain in this post, Elgar achieves this cryptographic sleight of hand by his choice of keys for the Mendelssohn fragments: F minor, A flat major and E flat major.  The German motto portrayed by the initials F.A.E. means "Free but lonely", a meaning that dovetails precisely with Elgar's comments about the Enigma Theme capturing his "sense of the loneliness of the artist." Variation XIII is the only movement lacking any initials or name that can be linked to one of the composer's friends. In place of the initials Elgar placed three mysterious asterisks (***).  Based on my original discovery of the F.A.E. cipher in Variation XIII, the initials for this romanticized motto fill in those missing letters. More importantly, they pinpoint the identity of the unstated Principal Theme: A Mighty Fortress. How? By means of Elgar's favorite pastime, cryptography of course.
The initials F.A.E. are virtually identical to those for A Mighty Fortress (A.M.F.), the literal English translation of Ein feste Burg.  Two of the letters are exact matches (A and F), and the third differs only in terms of orientation as the letters E and M are essentially duplicates. This insight is graphically portrayed by one of Elgar's most famous cryptograms, the Dorabella cipher.

The Dorabella Cipher

With this code, Elgar employs a capital cursive E at different angles including one oriented like the letter M. The Dorabella cipher was conceived in 1897, just under two years before Elgar composed the Enigma Variations. Although it is a simple substitution cipher, it was only recently cracked in 2009 by Tim S. Roberts. As Robert’s analysis shows, a major reason why the Dorabella cipher was so difficult to solve was due to Elgar’s use of multiple languages, phonetic spellings, and simple letter substitutions based on shape (e.g., c used in place of o, and b in place of p). My analysis of another one of Elgar’s ciphers – the Enigma Cipher – uncovered many of the same cryptographic techniques including the use of multiple languages and phonetic spellings. It is extremely telling that these two cipher discoveries were made within a year of each other by independent investigators on different continents who both happen to share the name Robert.
Since the letters E and M are essentially indistinguishable except by orientation, it is reasonable to interpret Elgar's cryptographic allusion to the initials F.A.E. as an anagram for A.M.F. – the initials for A Mighty Fortress.

This cryptographic reading is bolstered by the realization that Elgar originally identified Variation XIII with a solitary capital L, the first letter in Martin Luther's last name.  Luther composed Ein feste Burg around 1529, and his most famous hymn is quoted widely in the German School by such prominent composers as Bach, Mendelssohn, MeyerbeerLiszt, and Wagner.  Elgar was a devoted disciple of the German school and deeply admired these composers. Ein feste Burg was performed at the 1890 Worcester Music Festival, an event that included Elgar's newly composed concert overture Froissart. Elgar later added to the L for Variation XIII the letters ML, the initials for Martin Luther's full name. M just so happens to be the 13th letter of the alphabet. In Variation XIII Elgar quotes Mendelssohn four times from his concert overture Calm Sea and Prosperous Voyage, a work inspired by the poetry of the great German poet Goethe. This melodic eccentricity is easily explained following my discovery of the unstated Principal Theme because Mendelssohn quotes Ein feste Burg in the fourth movement of his first major symphonic work, the Reformation Symphony.  Elgar quotes Mendelssohn four times because Mendelssohn quotes Ein feste Burg in the fourth movement of his first symphony. The Enigma Variations was Elgar's first major symphonic work, and undoubtedly his most performed by major orchestras throughout the world.
There is bit of Elgar's wordplay involved with the musical allusion to Goethe's poetry and the capital letter L. By substituting the G in Goethe's name with L, a German phonetic spelling of Luther is realized (Loethe). In conclusion, my exploration of Elgar's cryptographic brilliance concealed within the Enigma Variations compels me to quote his 'ideal' composer, Robert Schumann: "Hats off , gentlemen, a genius!" To learn more about the secrets behind one of Elgar’s most celebrated symphonic achievements, read my free eBook Elgar’s Enigmas Exposed.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Nimrod, Elgar and Wordplay

He as a mighty hunter before the LORD; that is why it is said, "Like Nimrod, a mighty hunter before the LORD."
A sublime example of Elgar’s multipronged wordplay hinges on his use of the biblical name Nimrod for Variation IX. That elegiac movement portrays his German friend August Jaeger, a devoted champion of Elgar’s music at Novello & Company. In German Jaeger means hunterand Nimrod is described in the book of Genesis as "a mighty hunter before the LORD."  At first glance, the hunter reference appears sufficient to explain Elgar’s peculiar choice of nickname. Virtually everyone concludes their analysis with that cursory explanation. However, there is far more to this puzzle to excavate.
The discovery that Ein feste Burg (A Mighty Fortress) is the covert principal Theme to the Enigma Variations exposes Elgar’s multifaceted wordplay in bestowing on the ninth variation the title Nimrod. The covert theme’s common title is three words long, and remarkably the first two are "A Mighty." Elgar's overt scriptural reference conveniently offers in order the first two words of the absent theme's title.
Nimrod is mentioned by name in Dante’s Divine Comedyand by deed in Tasso’s Jerusalem DeliveredElgar makes various allusions to Dante's famous epic poem in the Enigma Variations with Variation IX serving as an excellent illustration because Nimrod is described by Dante as inhabiting the ninth circle of Hell.  Elgar penned a paraphrase from Tasso's epic poem at the end of the original score. In Jerusalem Delivered, Tasso describes Nimrod as a rebel who spearheaded the construction of the Tower of Babel. In the Old Testament Nimrod is portrayed as an architect of fortified cities – fortresses. His reputation as a builder is so well established that a medieval castle on the northern slope of the Golan Heights is known as Nimrod Fortress. A rather cursory analysis of the meanings attached to the name Nimrod makes it relatively easy to cull together the title A Mighty Fortress. Since the movement is dedicated to Elgar's German friend, this calls for translating the English into German from A Mighty Fortress to Ein feste Burg. With one famous title, Elgar cleverly hints at another. Further evidence in support of this wordplay cipher is provided by Mendelssohn's version of Ein feste Burg played "through and over" Nimrod.

Elgar’s Nimrod Wordplay Cipher
“…a mighty hunter before the Lord.
He built fortified cities, i.e.fortresses
The first two words are a mighty
Nimrod Fortress is a famous medieval castle
A Mighty
The combination of these two connotations yields A Mighty Fortress
Variation IX was dedicated to Elgar’s German friend, August Jaeger
A Mighty Fortress translated into German produces Ein feste Burg

As a token of his gratitude, Elgar gave a copy of Longfellow's Hyperion to the conductor Hans Richter who conducted the premiere. In the pages of that little novel, Longfellow mentions Luther and his sublime hymn A Mighty FortressNo wonder Elgar thought the hidden theme would be quickly discovered, for he literally gave away the answer. Just the opposite was the case as the search lingered for 109 years before Ein feste Burg was unmasked as the mysterious missing melody on the bicentennial of Felix Mendelssohn's birth.

There is a theological explanation for why Elgar would employ the name Nimrod in the Enigma Variations. According to the Jewish historian Josephus, Nimrod oversaw the construction of the Tower of Babel. At the Tower of Babel, humanity was united by a universal language. As described in the Genesis account, God caused the people to speak a gaggle of languages, prompting them to abandon construction on the tower and disperse to populate the whole earth. That is why it was called Babel. Theologians describe this event as the Confusion of Tongues. In a letter written in 1900 to The Musical Times, Elgar described the Enigma Variations:
…As to myself the following are F A X about me. Just completed a set of Symphonic Variations (theme original) for orchestra – thirteen in number (but I call the finale the fourteenth, because of the ill-luck attaching to the number). I have in the Variations sketched portraits of my friends – a new idea, I think – that is, in each variation I have looked at the theme through the personality (as it were) of another Johnny.
By refracting the Enigma Theme through the personalities of his friends, Elgar generates a musical kaleidoscope of tone colors and textures. Like the confusion of tongues, the Enigma Variations are a metaphorical "confusion of notes" that conceals a hidden source melody and propels each variation off into new styles and directions. Every movement conveys a distinct musical language reflecting some trait of a friend pictured within. In a stunning parallel within the Enigma Variations, Nimrod is followed by Dorabella, a movement in which Elgar pokes fun at a friend's speech impediment, Dora Penny's stutter. Is this not an exquisite musical metaphor for the confusion of tongues symbolically and suitably placed immediately after Nimrod?
The description of Nimrod's most famous architectural project as the Tower of Babel contains a distinctly English element, one at the heart of Elgar's British heritage and enigma wordplay. It concerns the first two words of the phrase, "The Tower of Babel." There is a famous castle in London known as the Tower. Built by William the Conqueror following his successful invasion of England in 1066, it is officially known by the six-word title Her Majesty's Royal Palace and Fortress. For the sake of this analysis, the keywords are tower and fortress. The hidden melody to the Enigma Variations is commonly known as A Mighty Fortress, but William F. Bunting translated it as A Strong Tower. Both the terms fortress and tower are linked to the missing theme's title. Elgar's ingenious wordplay built around Jaeger's nickname subtly and elegantly implicates Ein feste Burg.
There is a giant connection between Nimrod and the covert Theme. Like Tasso, Augustine describes Nimrod as a "gigans"  a giant. Another famous giant from the Old Testament is Goliath who fell before a youthful David. Besides being a mighty man of valor, David was an accomplished musician who composed the Book of Psalms. So what is the giant connection between Nimrod and the covert Theme? The title of Martin Luther's hymn Ein feste Burg originates from Psalm 46To learn more about the secrets behind one of Elgar’s most celebrated symphonic achievements, read my free eBook Elgar’s Enigmas Exposed.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Elgar's Enigma Theme and the Plagal Cadence

Devoting one's strength to religious music remains the supreme goal of an artist.

In Wagner’s age, the plagal cadence was a topos for sacred music. Many of Wagner’s redemptive conclusions to his operas employ this gesture, often involving the minor subdominant.

"This book contains the height, the depth, the breadth, the sweetness, the sorrow, the best and the whole of the Best of This World and the Next."
Edward Elgar, written in a vocal score of Tristan und  Isolde

The discovery that Ein feste Burg is the covert Principal Theme to the Enigma Variations imbues Elgar's use of the plagal cadence in the Enigma Theme with new meaning and significance. The plagal cadence (IV-I), also known as the Amen cadence due to its extensive use in sacred music, features prominently in the music of the Romantic composers.  It also appears often as a closing cadence for Protestant hymns, one of the most famous of all time being A Mighty Fortress. The minor to major resolution (iv-I) is a favored version among the romantics, particularly with Elgar's idol, Richard Wagner. One of the most illustrious examples of this minor-major plagal progression occurs at the end of Tristan und IsoldeElgar's musical heroes were predominantly Romantic composers, and Wagner is undoubtedly the Emperor of the Romantic School. As the epigraph makes plain, the plagal cadence symbolizes the redemptive and sacred in Wagner's music. It was popular in the baroque and romantic periods but fell out of favor during the classical era. The major version of the plagal cadence occurs at the end of the Hallelujah Chorus from Handel’s Messiah. The minor-major form appears in the opening of Mendelssohn’s Overture to A Midsummer Night’s DreamRobert Schumann's Second Symphony closes with a lingering plagal cadence. Wagner's Prelude to Die Meistersinger concludes with an expansive plagal cadence.  Understanding the symbolic and theological importance of the plagal cadence to Romantic composers, Elgar harnesses it within the haunting Enigma Theme as a harmonic talisman of the sacred and redemptive.
The plagal cadence is found twice in the Enigma Theme. It first occurs in measures 6 and 7, and a second time in measures 16 and 17.  It is remarkable the sum of 16 and 17 is 33, the mirror image of Elgar's cursive initials. Following this same vein, the sum of 6 and 7 is 13, the number assigned to the most mysterious of the Variations. With both plagal cadences in the Enigma Theme, Elgar states the C minor subdominant with the sixth (A) briefly introduced as an upper neighbor tone before resolving to the G major tonic.

A cursory explanation for why Elgar may have used the plagal cadence in the Enigma Theme is that he was 41 years old when he composed the Enigma Variations. The plagal cadence is described in Roman numerals as the IV-I cadence, the very same numerals for Elgar's age from October 21, 1898 - Enigma day - until he finished orchestrating the Variations on February 19, 1899. Elgar did not turn 42 until June 2, 1899. It is fascinating the elapsed time between October 21, 1898, and February 19, 1899, is exactly 3 months 30 days. The repetition of the number three is remarkable since Elgar's initials are the mirror image of the number 33.

Edward Elgar's Signature

A more nuanced explanation for Elgar's use of the plagal cadence in the Enigma Theme is its close and widely recognized association with Protestant hymns and the Romantic school. Ein feste Burg (A Mighty Fortress) is one of the most famous Protestant hymns in history. It was composed by Martin Luther, a leader of the Reformation who distinguished himself as much for his musical compositions as his sermons. Ein feste Burg is quoted by many of Elgar's favorite composers. Bach cites it extensively in his most famous sacred cantata, Ein Feste Burg BWV 80. Mendelssohn quotes it in the fourth movement of his first major symphonic work, the Reformation Symphony. It is also quoted in the most famous and performed grand opera of the 19th century, Les Huguenots by Meyerbeer, a cousin of Mendelssohn.  Wagner quotes it in his Kaiser March, a work performed at both the 1902 and 1911 coronations in England. Each coronation was a global event attended by representatives from the far corners of the British empire as well as foreign dignitaries spanning the globe. Franz Liszt sketched an unfinished symphony featuring Ein feste Burg, composed an organ fantasy based on that rousing hymn, and transcribed Otto Nicolai's Ecclesiastical Festival Overture on the Chorale 'Ein feste Burg ist unser Gott' Op. 31Elgar's "ideal" composer, Robert Schumann, spent years planning to compose a vast oratorio about Martin Luther with a final, rousing chorus of Ein feste Burg.
Given the plagal cadence's significance to sacred music, its conspicuous and repeated presentation in the Enigma Theme subtly hints at the source of the covert principal Theme: A Protestant hymn. Like the word plagal, the first letter of the word Protestant is P. This letter also appears in the Chi Rho, a famous Christogram embedded in the title of Variation XIII as I explain here. The double presentation of the plagal cadence in the Enigma Theme may be interpreted as a subtle hint about the presence of a box cipher. Why? Because a box has four sides, the plagalfour-one cadence (IV-I), there are two plagal cadences, and two sides of the box cipher delineate the cipher. Known as a Polybius square, a box cipher is a checkerboard array with two sides of the square used to label the columns and rows. It is noteworthy the solution grid is shaped like an inverted capital L since Elgar used this letter to label the earliest sketch for Variation XIII. L is the first letter in the name Luther. By substituting this letter for the first in the name of the poet pinpointed by the Mendelssohn fragments (Goethe), this produces a phonetic spelling for Luther ("Loethe"). This is just the kind of wordplay Elgar would be pleased and proud of producing.

As I explain here, Elgar uses a sophisticated music checkerboard cipher to secretly communicate a "dark saying" based on an anagram of the unstated Principal Theme's title. The anagram is 24 letters in length, the identical number of letters found in the title Ein feste Burg ist unser Gott.  With two plagal cadences in the Enigma Theme, Elgar hints at two "fours" - the number 24. There are 24 melody notes in the first six measures of the Enigma Theme segregated by an oddly placed double bar at the end of measure six. There are six words in the title of the covert principle Theme for a total of 24 letters. Six measures, 24 melody notes, six words, 24 letters - this is surely more than mere coincidence. The number four is closely associated with the sacred, particularly in early music. Medieval music notation employed square notes on a four line staff. This early form of notation was reserved almost exclusively for religious music. According to his first biographer, Elgar composed music on a four line staff when he was a boy. It is not difficult to see how he developed an early and lasting association between the sacred and the number four, particularly given the significance of the plagal cadence to the Romantic school of composers. To learn more about the secrets behind one of Elgar’s most celebrated symphonic achievements, read my free eBook Elgar’s Enigmas Exposed.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Modulations in Variation XIII spell 1313

I call architecture "petrified music." Really there is something in this; the tone of mind produced by architecture approaches the effect of music.

This is my thirty-first entry posted on the thirteenth of January 2011. With the appearance of the number thirteen and its inversion, it is timely to revisit Variation XIII from Elgar’s Enigma Variations. This movement is divided into five major sections ranging from six to sixteen measures in length:

1)      Measures 522 – 531: G major (10 Measures)
2)      Measures 532 – 547: A flat major (16 Measures)
3)      Measures 548 – 553: F minor (6 Measures)
4)      Measures 554 – 563: G major (10 Measures)
5)      Measures 564 – 571: E flat major (8 Measures)

There is a sixth section in measure 51 that forms a plagal cadence, but it is too brief to warrant attention for the purposes of this analysis. Excluding the last measure, there are a total of 50 measures divided into five sections culminating in E-flat major. E is the fifth letter in the alphabet, and the Luther Rose featured above the epigraph has five petals. The prominence of the number five is difficult to overlook, particularly since the composer's initials are E.E. It is equally intriguing Elgar's numerical allusions within the structure of this movement extends to its harmonization. For instance, it is hardly a coincidence the intervals formed by the key modulations between these five suggest the number 1313:
  • G major to A flat major is a rise of 1 note forming a minor second
  • A flat major to F minor is a drop of 3 notes forming a minor third
  • F minor to G major is a rise of 1 note forming a major second
  • G major to E flat major is a drop of 3 notes forming a major third
Elgar's cryptographic spelling of 1313 in Variation XIII is significant on a number of levels. For instance, the Roman numeral assigned to this movement is XIII. Another example occurs in the accompaniment to the Mendelssohn fragment consisting of a pulsating figure alternating between the first and third degrees of the scale.

Variation XIII Romanza
In the A flat major section (measures 532 – 547), the accompaniment figure sways back and forth between A-flat (the first) and C (the third). On the viola the fingering for these notes is 1 and 3, posing yet another spelling of this movement's Roman numerals. In the F minor (measures 548 – 553), the accompaniment figure rocks between F and A-flat, again the first and third degrees of the scale. Finally, in the E-flat major section (measures 564 – 571), the accompaniment figure ebbs between E-flat and G, which again the first and third degrees of the scale. Elgar employs the Alto clef for two instruments in the orchestral score of the Enigma Variations, namely the trombone and viola. The Alto clef, also known as the C clef, closely resembles the number 13. Even the score contains a veiled reference to 1313. Moreover, the number of letters in viola and trombone add up to precisely thirteen.

Alto Clef
There is far more to this puzzle than just the repetition of the numbers one and three. Consider the following observations:
  • The Rosicrucian Order was founded in the year 1313. This mystical order was first openly described in the anonymous manifesto Fama fraternitatis Roseae Crucis published in Kassel, Germany.
  •  Alchemy is closely tied to the history of Rosicrucianism. Elgar developed an interest in chemistry, a science that emerged from alchemy. He also had a deep fascination for ciphers, another discipline linked to the Rosicrucian Order.
Elgar in his laboratory
  • Some believe Dante Alighieri was a Rosicrucian based on his extensive use of Rosicrucian symbols in The Divine ComedyAs I explain here, Elgar employs a considerable amount of symbolism in the Enigma Variations that clearly alludes to Dante and his great epic Christian Poem composed around the year 1313.
  • Another famous poet thought to have been a Rosicrucian based on his extensive use of Rosicrucian symbols was Goethe. In Variation XIII Elgar quotes a fragment from a concert overture by Mendelssohn inspired by Goethe's poem Meeresstille und glückliche Fahrt (Calm Sea and Prosperous Voyage).
  • The symbol of the Rosicrucian Order is the Rosy Cross.
  • Martin Luther’s wax seal was a cross inside an open rose. As I explain here, the unstated Principal Theme to Elgar's Enigma Variations is Ein feste Burg by Martin Luther.
  • The symbol of the Knights Templar is the Red Cross, a symbol equivalent to the Rosy Cross. According to researchers at the Vatican, the Knights Templar hid the Shroud of Turn and secretly venerated it for more than a century. As I explain here, Elgar refers to the Shroud of Turin using an elimination cipher embedded in Variation XIII. Some believe the Knights Templar merged with the Order of the Rose-Croix in the 1300’s, the same era when Dante composed The Divine Comedy.
  • A founding member of the Knights Templar was Godfrey de Saint-Omer. The name Godfrey belongs to a leading protagonist in Torquato Tasso's Jerusalem Delivered, an epic Christian poem glorifying the end of the First Crusade and the liberation of Jerusalem. The story ends with the Godfrey shedding his armor and worshiping at the Holy Sepulchre, the tomb of Christ. It is highly revealing Elgar concluded the original score of the Enigma Variations with a quote by Tasso from this famous epic poem. Tasso was deeply influenced by Dante and The Divine Comedy, so Elgar's numerous allusions to that work within the Enigma Variations are salient and mutually reinforcing.

The Rosy Cross

A Rose By Any Other Name

There are many more pieces to this exquisite puzzle that time and space prevent from exploring at length.  For instance, consider the cryptic symbolism Elgar gave Variation XIII in the form of three asterisks. Elgar was a Roman Catholic, and his use of the asterisks (***) suggests by their floral appearance an ancient rite of the Roman Catholic Church. In the fifth century, the Pope consecrated roses and had them placed over confessionals to denote secrecy. The rose is the emblem of silence, accounting for the Latin phrase sub rosa. In more recent times this practice developed into the ceremony of the Golden Rose. On the fourth Sunday of Lent (Laetare Sunday), the Pope wears rose-colored vestments and blesses a Golden Rose. The rose symbolizes Christ because he is described in scripture as “the flower of the field and the lily of the valleys.” In poetry, Jesus is metaphorically portrayed as a Rose. One superb example of this practice is displayed in a poem by W. B. Yeats called The Secret Rose. This poem first appeared in September 1896, three years before Elgar completed the Enigma Variations. Elgar admired Yeat's poetry and set at least one of his poems to music in 1901. It is remarkable the rose is also a symbol for Martin Luther and the Rosicrucian Order. The broad outlines of this overview point from many different angles at the same thing, namely that Christ is Elgar's secret friend. Elgar was a true tone poet of the highest rank whose talent for musical cryptograms equals if not eclipses those of his musical forebears. To learn more about the secrets of the Enigma Variations, read my free eBook Elgar’s Enigmas Exposed.

About Mr. Padgett

My photo
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.