“Nevertheless the passions, whether violent or not, should never be so expressed as to reach the point of causing disgust; and music, even in situations of the greatest horror, should never be painful to the ear but should flatter and charm it, and thereby always remain music.”
In 1991 Joseph Cooper first proposed the hidden melody to Elgar’s Enigma Variations may be found in the Andante movement of Mozart’s Prague Symphony. His theory was enthusiastically received by Jerrold Northrop Moore, a leading Elgar scholar. Cooper hit on the idea much earlier in 1961, observing similarities between the opening notes of the Enigma Theme and the secondary theme of Mozart’s Andante beginning at measure 35. Nevertheless, these striking similarities alone are insufficient to prove Cooper’s theory, a point conceded by Moore. Could the Andante movement from Mozart’s Prague Symphony actually be the source of the covert principal Theme to Elgar’s Enigma Variations? A credible case can be made only if it can be shown to effectively satisfy six conditions Elgar gave defining the special relationship between the Enigma Variations and the covert principal Theme. Obtained directly from Elgar’s recorded words by multiple, independent, unimpeachable sources, those six conditions are:
- The Enigma Theme is a counterpoint to the principal Theme.
- The principal Theme is not heard.
- The principal Theme is famous.
- Fragments of the principal Theme are present in the Variations.
- The principal Theme is a melody that can be played through and over the whole set of Variations including the entire Enigma Theme.
- 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 both a contrapuntal and horizontal fit. Before attempting this, it is first necessary to adapt a prospective melody to mirror the Enigma Theme’s shifts between the major and minor modes of G. These modulations are necessitated by 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, Cooper’s excerpt from Mozart’s Prague Symphony flunks the test.
Based on this melodic mapping, Mozart’s Andante is not a credible counterpoint to the Enigma Theme. The mapping shows Cooper’s thematic excerpt does not even complete one full cycle, falling 1.25 measures short of completion. On top of these difficulties, it has never been shown how it could conceivably play ‘through and over’ the remaining movements, a requirement Elgar specifically mentions in the original 1899 program note. It is debatable whether that relatively obscure thematic excerpt would satisfy Elgar’s condition requiring that the unstated Principal Theme be famous. The failure to satisfy key conditions given by Elgar leads to one inescapable conclusion: Cooper’s excerpt from Mozart’s Prague Symphony could not possibly be the hidden melody to the Enigma Variations.
The only theme ever shown to successfully satisfy all six of Elgar’s 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 (E 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 Burg. The 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 and forgiveness, the price is free.