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Friday, July 20, 2012

Elgar’s Enigma is not "For He’s a Jolly Good Fellow"


For he's a jolly good fellow, for he's a jolly good fellow
For he's a jolly good fellow, and so say all of us
And so say all of us, and so say all of us
For he's a jolly good fellow, for he's a jolly good fellow
For he's a jolly good fellow, and so say all of us!


One theory suggests the secretive melody to the Enigma Variations by Edward Elgar is For He’s a Jolly Good Fellow. A credible case can be made for that candidate theme only if it can be shown to effectively satisfy six conditions Elgar gave describing the relationship between the Enigma Variations and the covert principal Theme. Secured directly from Elgar’s recorded words by multiple, independent, unimpeachable sources, those six conditions are:
  1. The Enigma Theme is a counterpoint to the principal Theme.
  2. The principal Theme is not heard.
  3. The principal Theme is famous.
  4. Fragments of the principal Theme are present in the Variations.
  5. The principal Theme is a melody that can be played through and over the whole set of Variations including the entire Enigma Theme.
  6. The Enigma Theme comprises measures 1 through 19.
Any theme that violates just one of those six conditions must be ruled out as invalid. The first and foremost test is to play a candidate melody “through and over” the Enigma Theme to assess whether there is credible evidence for a contrapuntal and horizontal fit. Before mapping a prospective melody above the Enigma Theme, it is first necessary to transpose it into the corresponding major and minor modes of G. These alterations between the major and minor modes are necessitated by the structure of the Enigma Theme which opens in G minor (measures 1-6), continues in G major (measures 7-10), returns to G minor (measure 11-16), cadences in G major (measure 17), and modulates back to G minor in the bridge leading to Variation I (measures 18-19). Even when granting these generous accommodations to facilitate a contrapuntal mapping, For He’s a Jolly Good Fellow flunks the test.

Based on this melodic mapping, For He’s a Jolly Good Fellow does not present a credible counterpoint to the Enigma Theme.  Strike one. It finishes prematurely four measures before the Enigma Theme concludes. Strike two. More fatally, it has never been shown how For He’s a Jolly Good Fellow plays “through and over” the remaining movements, a requirement Elgar specifically mentions in the original 1899 program note. Strike three. The failure to satisfy these and other key conditions permits one inescapable conclusion: For He’s a Jolly Good Fellow could not possibly be the covert principal Theme to the Enigma Variations. If he were alive today, Elgar's response to this bogus theory would undoubtedly be, “No, nothing like it. For He’s a Jolly Good Fellow does not fit in the least.”
The only theme to successfully satisfy Elgar’s six specific conditions is Ein feste Burg (A Mighty Fortress) by Martin Luther. A precise vertical and horizontal alignment between the two melodies is realized by Elgar's sophisticated treatment of Ein feste Burg as a retrograde counterpoint in an augmented form. Such an unconventional approach accounts for the profound difficulty in detecting a contrapuntal alignment because researchers invariably pair the beginning of a prospective melody with the beginning of the Enigma Theme. Such a predictable approach produces a mismatch even when the correct melody is considered.
The case for Ein feste Burg as the covert Principal Theme to the Enigma Variations is extensive and persuasive. Confirmation that Ein feste Burg is the hidden theme is given by a diverse range of music ciphers in the Enigma Theme and Variation XIII. Within the Enigma Theme is concealed a music box cipher, Elgar’s "dark saying" linked to the Enigma mentioned in the original 1899 program note. Incredibly, Elgar did not take his secret to the grave, but rather enciphered the answer within the orchestral score to ensure its survival and organic connection to the work. When discovered, the decrypted answer would remain unguessed just as Elgar predicted. He even went so far as to encode the initials for the hidden melody in the Enigma Theme which modulates between the minor and major modes of G. It is remarkable the accidentals for those two keys (flat, F sharp, B flat) are the initials for Ein feste Burg.
The odd nickname for Jaeger’s Variation (Nimrod) is linked to the title A Mighty Fortress by of one Elgar’s favorite pastimes, wordplay. When he gave a copy of Longfellow’s novel Hyperion to the conductor Hans Richter following the premiere, Elgar literally gave away the answer.  No wonder he suspected the solution would soon be discovered. Even the wrong date on the original score is a revealing clue since it falls on the anniversary of Luther’s death. According to an alphanumeric cipher within the Mendelssohn fragments, the missing initials for Variation XIII (***) are E.F.B. – the initials for Ein feste BurgThe mapping of Ein feste Burg over Nimrod is so self-evident that the melodic solution to Elgar's Enigma Variations is as plain a pikestaff.
To learn more about the secrets of the Enigma Variations, read my eBook Elgar’s Enigmas Exposed. Like my heavenly Father’s gift of salvation, the price is free.



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About Mr. Padgett

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Mr. Padgett studied violin with Michael Rosenker, 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.