|Ancient Greek Sphinx|
“Though everything else may appear shallow and repulsive, even the smallest task in music is so absorbing, and carries us so far away from town, country, earth, and all worldly things, that it is truly a blessed gift of God.”
In The Code Book author Simon Singh likens the art of code breaking to climbing a smooth stone cliff. Any imperfection enables a determined climber to scale the summit. Anomalies within a code are comparable to small cracks and crevices on a sheer rock face. The skilled analyst hones in on these oddities to crack the code. For instance, the Tasso quote at the end of the original manuscript of Elgar's Enigma Variations contains some peculiar features that lead to a revelatory resolution. The date Elgar wrote on the original manuscript of the Enigma Variations is another revealing anomaly.
Why Elgar wrote the wrong date on the original score (Feb. 18, 1898) has never been satisfactorily explained. The problem is the work was completed February 19, 1899. For some reason, he wrote a date that was off by one year and one day. Elgar was exceedingly fastidious with his scores. In April 1899 he wrote to Jaeger regarding the Enigma Variations, "If you have preserved my list of corrections (& I'll scalp you if you haven't) I will make 'em myself in two minutes - only I should like to see an example of your Scoring." Consequently, the superficial impression he absentmindedly penned the prior year and day by mistake is emphatically inadequate.
If it cannot credibly be explained as a careless mistake, why would Elgar deliberately write an erroneous date? On closer inspection, the wrong date is actually right, for it is another example of Elgar's penchant for cryptograms.
Let's begin with the month. It is remarkable Elgar wrote the month as Feb, not February. In a stunning coincidence, the letters FEB are an anagram for E.F.B., the initials for the unstated Principal Theme (Ein feste Burg). Elgar encodes those same initials in Variation XIII within the Mendelssohn fragments with an alphanumeric cipher, covertly spelling out the mysterious three asterisks. Concerning the numbers, these are best understood within the context of the sums for the even and odd integers.
The sum of the odd numbers (1+1+9) is 11. In a stunning parallel, there are 11 unique letters in the covert Principal Theme's complete title (Table 1.2). The sum of the even numbers (8+8+8) is 24, posing yet another connection as there are 24 letters in the title Ein feste Burg ist unser Gott. These numerical allusions to the unstated Principal Theme's title are anything but illusory or contrived.
The numerological connections between the odd date and Ein feste Burg do not end with these numerological associations. Just as there are six numbers in the incorrect date, there are six words in the unstated Principal Theme's complete title. The year 1898 was the thirtieth anniversary (30) of the publication of Mendelssohn’s Reformation Symphony, a work commemorating the tercentennial (300) of the Augsburg Confession. The similarity between 30 and 300 should not be overlooked. Elgar inserted four Mendelssohn fragments within Variation XIII to allude to the fact Mendelssohn quotes Ein feste Burg in the fourth movement of his first extended symphonic work, the Reformation Symphony. The incorrect date can hardly be described as an error because February 18 marks the anniversary of Martin Luther's death in 1546. Luther's most famous hymn is Ein feste Burg, a sublime theme quoted in the works of Bach, Beethoven, Mendelssohn, Liszt, Raff, and Wagner. Now we know this legendary theme is quoted surreptitiously by yet another devoted disciple of the German School, Edward Elgar.
Why would Elgar cryptically draw attention to the end of Martin Luther's life? The most likely explanation is he did so because the Enigma Theme's haunting counterpoint begins with the ending phrase of Ein feste Burg, not with its opening phrase as one would normally expect. By hinting at the end of Luther's life via his date of death, Elgar intimates the search for the missing melody should also begin with its end rather than its beginning. For instance, he quotes the principal theme's closing phrase twice in the inner voice of Variation X, more commonly known by the subtitle Dorabella.
The eighteenth of February is not only the anniversary of Martin Luther's death, but also the same date in 1884 when General Gordon arrived at Khartoum where he would ultimately meet his heroic demise in January 1885. There are multiple allusions to that famous general in Variation XIV, the rousing Finale of the Enigma Variations that sounds like a military march. In October 1898 Elgar was not planning a set of symphonic variations, but rather his first extended symphony in honor of General Gordon.
The date Elgar affixed to the original manuscript of the Enigma Variations was no mistake – it was a cipher. To learn more about the secrets of the Enigma Variations, read my free eBook Elgar’s Enigmas Exposed.