It is the glory of God to conceal a matter; to search out a matter is the glory of kings.
Some of the most prevalent “solutions” to Elgar’s Enigma Variations are listed by Wikipedia, a virtual clearinghouse of “peer-reviewed” theories. Could any of the following tunes be the unstated covert principal Theme to the Variations?
- Pop goes the Weasel
- For He’s a Jolly Good Fellow
- Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star
- Beethoven’s Pathétique Piano Sonata
- Now the Day is Over
- Mozart’s Prague Symphony
- God Save the King
- Rule Britannia
- Dies Irae
- Auld Lang Syne
- Tallis Canon
- Pergolesi's Stabat Mater
Before being recognized as the solution, the correct melody must first satisfy six specific conditions issued by Elgar describing the special relationship between the covert Theme and the Enigma Variations. These conditions come from three primary sources: The original 1899 program note, the 1900 interview for The Musical Times, and Elgar's 1905 biography. A credible case can be made if and only if it can be shown a candidate melody effectively satisfies all six conditions. Secured directly from Elgar’s recorded words by multiple, independent, unimpeachable sources, those six conditions are summarized below:
- 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 such a mapping 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 the structure of the Enigma Theme which opens in G minor (bars 1-6), continues in G major (bars 7-10), returns to G minor (bars 11-16), cadences in G major (bar 17), and modulates back to G minor in the bridge (bars 18-19) leading to Variation I that beings in measure 20. Even when granting these generous accommodations to facilitate a contrapuntal mapping, the top eleven “solutions” fail to establish a credible counterpoint with the Enigma Theme.
So much for Wikipedia’s staid reliance on the “peer review” process, an abject travesty that places all the emphasis on peer and nothing on review. In post-modern academia “peer review” has become a euphemism for straining out a gnat to drink a camel. Such a desperate condition was diagnosed long ago by Allan Bloom who warned, “Reason transformed into prejudice is the worst form of prejudice because reason is the only instrument for liberation from prejudice.” Academics have grown far too comfortable with their pet theories to permit any light to chase away the darkness of their shrinking and shriveled intellects. Their unchanging mantra is to publish or perish. Predictably they publish, and just as predictably the truth perishes. Yet in the end, who needs them? With Google, Blogger, and YouTube serving as a virtual ten-pound sledgehammer, one may apply the necessary force to obliterate these obsolete theories propped up by the “peer review” process and Wikipedia.
The only theme that successfully satisfies all of Elgar’s conditions is Ein feste Burg (A Mighty Fortress) by the German Reformer Martin Luther. That well-known hymn successfully plays one complete cycle “through and over” the Enigma Theme, establishing an uncanny horizontal fit. A precise vertical alignment between the two melodies illustrates Elgar's unique treatment of Ein feste Burg in an augmented form as a retrograde counterpoint. This unconventional method accounts for the profound difficulty in detecting a contrapuntal fit because one typically plays the beginning of a prospective melody over the beginning of the Enigma Theme. Such a predictable approach produces a mismatch, throwing off researchers even when the right melody is assessed.
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 in the orchestral score. When discovered, the decrypted answer would remain unguessed just as Elgar prescribed. 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. The accidentals for those two keys are E-flat, F-sharp, and B-flat. Remarkably, the letters of those accidentals furnish the initials for Ein feste Burg.
The odd nickname for August Jaeger’s movement (Nimrod) is linked to the title A Mighty Fortress by one of 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 found. Even the wrong date on the original score is a revealing clue since it falls on the anniversary of Luther’s death. According to a scale degrees cipher within the Mendelssohn fragments, the missing initials for Variation XIII (✡ ✡ ✡) are “EFB”, 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.
If he were alive today, Elgar’s reply to this panoply of alleged melodic solutions would likely be, “No, nothing like it. I do not see how the tunes you suggest fit in the least.” To learn more about the secrets behind one of Elgar’s most celebrated symphonic achievements, read my free eBook Elgar’s Enigmas Exposed. Like my heavenly Father’s gift of salvation and forgiveness, the price is free.
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