“All art is autobiographical.”
Since 1899 no one has persuasively resolved the mysteries posed by Elgar’s Enigma Variations. Why risk writing on this seemingly impenetrable subject confounded by a fog of confusion and conflicting 'solutions'? What are my qualifications? Do I have anything to add that has not already been proffered by prominent Elgar scholars? The many discoveries I was permitted to unmask are considerable, resolving a multitude of unanswered questions about one of the Elgar's most celebrated orchestral works. As this investigation will show, there is far more to Elgar's melodic labyrinth than anyone previously envisioned.
The key to understanding the secrets behind the Enigma Variations is to wade into the mind and motives of Elgar. Three of his most formative influences were his Roman Catholicism, a lifelong fascination with cryptograms, and a penchant for writing counterpoints to famous melodies. The three C's of Elgar's psychological profile are Catholicism, cryptograms and counterpoint. It is vitally important to recognize these influences because a person's character is more often than not a reliable predictor of behavior.
A cardinal sin among Elgar scholars is conjuring the right answers to the wrong questions. This book does not replicate that misguided practice. As one prominent philosopher put it, “Getting the question right is the answer.” So what is the right question? To ask what the covert melodic Principal Theme is the Enigma Variations. All of the answers to Elgar’s remaining enigmas revolve around that elusive theme. The crux of Elgar's Variations is a famous melody, not an abstract concept, metaphor, symbol or number. The remaining enigmas – the ‘dark saying’ linked to the Enigma Theme and the hidden friend of Variation XIII – are essentially branches extending from the trunk of that core question. Those who deny the existence of a hidden melodic Principal Theme contradict the recorded words of the composer by multiple, unimpeachable sources. The focus of any credible search must begin with on a famous melodic theme, for it is the key to Elgar’s melodic safe and its ancillary secrets. The search must be for a song – not a song and dance.
The Enigma Variations were not some random afterthought or capricious constellation of notes scattered haphazardly across the pages of an orchestral score. Elgar meticulously composed the Variations, leaving one inescapable conclusion: The enigmas were methodically and melodically planned and premeditated. The Variations were not the product of afterthought, but forethought.
In the original 1899 program note Elgar explained the Enigma contains a 'dark saying' that must remain 'unguessed.' The capitalized word Enigma clearly refers to the opening Theme. In other words, Elgar claims the Enigma Theme holds a 'dark saying,' a phrase that means obscured words. Elgar was a renowned expert in ciphers, so his cryptic language points to a coded message. What else could be unguessed except a cipher since the solution is not guessed, but decoded?
Variation XIII is dedicated to a hidden friend whose initials are represented by three asterisks (***). Standard solutions to this enigma – Lady Lygon and Helen Weaver – are easily disproved, leaving the question unresolved.
Evidence reveals the covert Principal Theme to the Enigma Variations is Ein feste Burg (AMighty Fortress) by Martin Luther. That sublime hymn satisfies five criteria given by Elgar concerning the correct melodic solution:
1. The Enigma theme is a counterpoint to the Principal theme.
2. The Principal theme is not heard.
4. The Principal Theme is famous.
5. Dora Penny was very familiar with Ein feste Burg because she was the daughter of an Anglican missionary and Rector. Remarkably, her variation quotes the closing phrase of the Principal Theme twice.
It is generally believed by scholars Elgar did not leave a written record authenticating the correct solution to his Variations, opting instead to take his secret to the grave. The conventional wisdom is turned on its head by the discovery of an ingenious music box cipher embedded in the first six measures of the Enigma Theme. This 'Enigma' Cipher confirms the name of the Covert Principal Theme and the hidden friend's identity for Variation XIII. A second cipher encoded in the Mendelssohn quotations of Variation XIII produces the letters E.F.B., the initials for Ein feste Burg. These are the missing initials for the mysterious three asterisks (***) given for that movement. And that is not all. The Enigma Theme modulates back and forth between the minor and major modes of G The accidentals for those keys are E-flat, B-flat, and F-sharp, an exact match for the initials of Ein feste Burg. The cipher evidence overwhelmingly shows Elgar encoded the answer to his melodic riddle in the Enigma Theme and Variation XIII. Not only did Elgar encode the answer to in his Enigma Variations using a breathtakingly original Music Box Cipher, he attached his name to it. How? By means of the first letters of the four languages used in that cipher: English, Latin, German, and Aramaic.
In the Enigma Theme, Elgar brilliantly encodes the initials for Ein feste Burg by means of the keys in which that opening movement is played. The Enigma Theme is played in the minor and major modes of G. The accidentals for those two keys are B-flat, E-flat, and F-sharp. In a remarkable parallel, those same letters furnish the initials E.F.B.
The discovery that Ein feste Burg is the covert Principal Theme to the Enigma Variations shines the equivalent of a Klieg light on Elgar's use of a deceptive cadence in measure 5 resolving to a German Sixth chord. Why? Because the complete title of the hidden theme is comprised of six words in German.
The unusual title for Variation IX – Nimrod – exquisitely captures Elgar nuanced sense of wordplay. In the book of Genesis Nimrod is described as 'a mighty hunter,' a descriptive statement that gives the first two words of unstated Principal Theme's title in the correct order: A Mighty. Nimrod was a famous architect and builder of fortified cities, also commonly known as fortresses. A well known fortress built in the
Northern Golan Heights
is called Nimrod Fortress. The
Biblical connotations associated with Nimrod may be easily culled together to
form the title of the unstated Principal Theme: A Mighty Fortress.
Since Variation IX is dedicated to Elgar's German friend August Jaeger, this
invites translating the English rendering into German as Ein feste Burg.
In Variation XIII Elgar inserts four melodic fragments drawn from Felix Mendelssohn's concert overture Meeresstille und glückliche Fahrt (
and Prosperous Voyage). The key signatures of these fragments are A-flat major,
F minor and E-flat major. Those key letters may be reshuffled to form the well
cryptogram FAE that forms the basis of a famous violin sonata composed
collaboratively by Robert
Brahms and Albert
Dietrich for the famed violin virtuoso Joseph Joachim. Those
letters represent Joachim's personal romantic motto, "Frei aber
einsam." In English that German phrase translates as, "Free but
lonely." The letters FAE are intriguing because when the E is turned
downwards to the right to resemble an M, they become FAM. Those letters form an
anagram of AMF, the initials for A Mighty Fortress. This
interpretation of the letter E as an M is justified because of Elgar's
unconventional treatment of the capital letter E in the Dorabella Cipher dating
from 1897. In that cipher Elgar twists
and turns the capital letter E into a number of configurations
including the letter M. Calm Sea
An ingenious alphanumeric cipher in the Mendelssohn fragments of Variation XIII encodes the initials for Ein feste Burg: E.F.B. This cipher relies on the number of times a fragment is stated in a particular key to pinpoint the solution letter from a series of note letters from each key fragment. Counting backwards the number of times a fragment is performed in a specific key generates the solution letter from a series of unique note letters derived from that fragment.
Although completing the original score on February 19, 1899, Elgar wrote the wrong date on the last page of the Enigma Variations: Feb. 18, 1898. The date is off by 1 year and 1 day. Why would Elgar date the score incorrectly? The erroneous date serves as a clue for February 18 marks the anniversary of Martin Luther’s death. Luther composed the unstated Principal Theme to the Enigma Variations, the hymn Ein feste Burg. More tantalizing still is the fact Elgar chose to write February as 'Feb' because those particular letters are an anagram of EFB, the very same initials revealed by the Keys and Mendelssohn ciphers. One cipher solution may be chalked up to coincidence, but three different ciphers pointing to the same solution letters cannot be so casually dismissed as random or imagined.
Elgar’s secret friend of Variation XIII is not a lady, but a lord – the Lord. This famous friend’s initials are represented by the Roman numerals XIII. X stands for the tenth letter of the alphabet (J), and III for the third (C). His name is found in the lyrics of Ein feste Burg – Christ Jesus. A cipher in the Mendelssohn fragments refers to the Turin Shroud, the famous burial cloth of Christ. The timing of this shroud reference is remarkable since a very famous photograph of the Turin Shroud was taken five months before Elgar began work on the Variations. The photographic negative reveals a miraculous image of a crucified man that many Roman Catholics like Elgar believe to be Jesus Christ.
Ein feste Burg plays ‘through and over’ Variation I C.A.E. with 28 shared notes between both melody lines., an amount equal to two times plus two of that found with the Enigma theme (13). These melodic conjunctions are present from measures 20 to 39, a span of 19 measures. C.A.E. is 21 measures in length excluding the two bar bridge with the Enigma Theme (measures 18 and 19). Analysis reveals this two measure bridge is an extension of the Enigma Theme's ending, and that phrase A of Ein feste Burg plays covertly over this section. There are 90 melody notes in C.A.E., and 75 melody notes in Ein feste Burg. Therefore, 37.3% of the melody from Ein feste Burg overlaps with 31.1% of the melody of C.A.E. Such a high percentage supports the conclusion Variation I is a deliberate counterpoint to Ein feste Burg.
Ein feste Burg plays ‘through and over’ Variation II H.D.S-P., generating 45 melodic conjunctions in 31 out of 55 measures, and 65 harmonic conjunctions covering 32 measures. It was determined the Covert Theme is dormant in the first ten measures (41-50), and the last fourteen (83-96). Theses inactive sections are essentially symmetrical because both consist of ten measure segments at the beginning and end of Ein feste Burg with the last dormant section followed by a four bar codetta. Elgar uses this sandwich technique more than once in the Variations as a sort of camouflage to obscure the start and end points of the Covert Theme. Since it is dormant in 24 out of 56 measures, the Covert Theme plays over almost 43% of the movement.
Ein feste Burg plays ‘through and over’ Variation III R.B.T., producing 34 melodic conjunctions spread over 24 out of 34 measures, and 72 harmonic conjunctions spanning 27 measures. As it is dormant in 7 out of 34 measures (97, 105, 121-123, and 131-132), the Covert Theme plays over approximately 79% of the movement.
Ein feste Burg plays ‘through and over’ Variation IV W.M.B., generating 26 melodic conjunctions dispersed over 28 of 32 measures, and 113 harmonic conjunctions covering 28 measures. Since it is dormant in 4 out of 32 measures (178 through 181), the Covert Theme plays over almost 88% of the movement.
Ein feste Burg plays ‘through and over’ Variation V R.P.A., producing 68 melodic conjunctions spread over 20 out of 24 measures, and 166 harmonic conjunctions dispersed over 22 measures. Since it is dormant in 2 out of 24 measures (172 and 173), the Covert Theme plays over almost 92% of the movement.
Ein feste Burg plays ‘through and over’ Variation VI Ysobel, generating 39 melodic conjunctions in 17 and 105 harmonic conjunctions spanning 21 measures. The Covert Theme plays over all measures or 100% of this movement. It is remarkable the cover theme plays over the entire variation without any dormant measures in the first two movements dedicated to women (I and VI).
Ein feste Burg plays ‘through and over’ Variation VII Troyte, producing 75 melodic conjunctions over 39 measures, and 236 total note conjunctions spread over 64 measures. Since it is dormant in 8 out of 72 measures (210 through 213, 223 through 225, and 252), the Covert Theme plays over almost 89% of the movement.
Ein feste Burg plays ‘through and over’ Variation VIII W.N., generating 60 melodic conjunctions and 159 harmonic conjunctions in 26 out of 27 measures. Since it is dormant in the final measure (307), the Covert Theme plays in just over 96% of the movement. If the final G of Ein feste Burg in measure 307 is tied over to the G major chord in measure 308, the case could be made the Covert Theme plays ‘through and over’ the entire movement without any dormant measures. This would present a third instance in which the covert Principal Theme plays over the entire length of a movement dedicated to a woman (I, VI and VIII).
Ein feste Burg plays ‘through and over’ Variation IX Nimrod, generating 27 melodic conjunctions spread over 20 measures and 150 harmonic conjunctions over 36 measures out of a total of 43. Since it is dormant in 13 measures (341, 349-350, 356, 361-364, 368-372), the Covert Theme plays over virtually 70% of the movement.
Ein feste Burg plays ‘through and over’ Variation X Dorabella, producing 104 melodic conjunctions spread over 35 measures, and 172 harmonic conjunctions over 41 measures out of a total of 74 measures. Since it is dormant in 33 measures (385, 397-404, 415-424, 437-450), the Covert Theme plays just under 58% of the movement. It is remarkable that in both instances when the Covert Theme concludes one complete cycle it is immediately followed by a carefully placed double bar in the score (measures 414 and 436). The odds of such a coincidence are astronomically low, reinforcing the conclusion Ein feste Burg must be Elgar’s missing melody. More importantly, the phenomenon of marking off the end of the counterpoint with the covert Principal Theme is not isolated to this movement.
Ein feste Burg plays ‘through and over’ Variation XI G.R.S., generating 62 melodic conjunctions spread over 28 measures, and 241 harmonic conjunctions over 33 out of a total of 41 measures. The Covert Theme is dormant in 5 measures (457, 490 – 493) with four of these five inactive measures consisting of a codetta at the end of the movement. Consequently there are shared melody notes in 28 out of 35 active measures, or 80% of the movement when Ein feste Burg plays. There are matching notes dispersed over 33 of 35 active measures, or 92% of the movement when Ein feste Burg plays. When factoring in all measures, matching notes occur in 80% of the movement.
Ein feste Burg plays ‘through and over’ Variation XII B.G.N., producing 23 melodic conjunctions spread over 23 measures, and 100 harmonic conjunctions over 23 out of a total of 28 measures. Since it is dormant in five measures (494-495, 515, 520-521), the Covert Theme plays in just over 82% of the movement. Inactive sections are symmetrical insofar as two consist of two measure segments at the beginning and end of Ein feste Burg, and the third near the middle at measure 515. This sandwich technique serves to camouflage the start and end points of the covert Principal Theme, and is also found in Variation II.
Ein feste Burg plays ‘through and over’ Variation XIII, generating 46 melodic conjunctions in 85 measures, and 173 harmonic conjunctions over 46 out of a total of 51 measures. The Covert Theme is dormant over 21 quarter note beats dispersed over 8 bars (532-534, 548, 564-566, and 572). Consequently there are matching notes in 46 out of 51 active measures or 90% of the movement when Ein feste Burg plays. When factoring all measures, the Covert Theme plays over almost 83 % of this section. Melodic conjunctions begin in measure 522 and continue through the double bar at measure 553 where Ein feste Burg finishes one complete cycle. The conclusion of Ein feste Burg precisely at the double bar is not an isolated coincidence as this pattern also appears in other variations containing double bars such as X.
Ein feste Burg plays ‘through and over’ Variation XIV E.D.U., generating 204 melodic conjunctions over 85 measures, and 464 harmonic conjunctions over 148 out of a total of 236 measures. Since it is dormant in 77 bars (598-603, 626-634, 647-652, 671-674, 685-687, 702-703, 732-739, and 767-809), the Covert Theme plays in slightly over 67% of the final movement. It is significant 55% of dormant measures (41) are found in the extended ending Elgar added shortly after the 1899 premiere. This suggests Elgar tapered his sophisticated counterpoint to permit greater flexibility in his treatment and elaboration of the closing material.
The evidence for Ein feste Burg as the missing Principle Theme to the ‘Enigma’ Variations is multifaceted, multivalent, and entirely consistent with Elgar’s character and faith. From early youth well into adulthood, Elgar was drawn to creating counterpoints to famous melodies, and his 'Enigma’ Variations are no exception. Multiple streams of data converge into a mighty river proving Elgar’s elusive melody is the same quoted by Buxtehude, Pachelbel, Bach, Mendelssohn, Meyerbeer, Wagner, Liszt, and Raff. The preponderance of the evidence makes – not breaks – the case for Ein feste Burg as Elgar’s covert Principal Theme.
A comprehensive analysis of the Enigma Variations over a five year period uncovered thirty-five different kinds of ciphers. While seemingly extraordinary, such a high number is entirely consistent with a reigning facet of Elgar’s psychological profile, an intense fascination for ciphers. More importantly, the decryptions provide definitive answers to the central questions posed by the Variations. What is the secret melody on which the Enigma Theme is a counterpoint and the ensuing movements are based? Answer: Ein feste Burg (A Mighty Fortress) by Martin Luther. What is the ‘dark saying' associated with the Enigma Theme? Answer: A Music Box Cipher embedded in the opening six measures of the Enigma Theme. Who is the secret friend and inspiration behind Variation XIII? Answer: Jesus Christ, the Lord and Savior of Elgar’s Roman Catholic faith. A subset of these ciphers also reveal one of Elgar's sources of inspiration was Secondo Pia's historic photographic negative of the Turin Shroud taken five months before work was begun openly on the Enigma Variations.
An unusual number of parallels between the Enigma Variations and the Turin Shroud are presented. A famous photographic negative of the Turin Shroud taken five months before Elgar began work on the Variations suggest a rationale for unusual approach to his work. Just as the Turin Shroud contains a secretive image of a famous man in the form of a photographic negative, Elgar devised a contrapuntal negative of a famous hymn in the form of the Enigma Theme.
At the conclusion of the extended Finale to the Enigma Variations, Elgar quotes a paraphrase from the last stanza of Longfellow’s Elegiac Verse. In a remarkable coincidence, the stanza number from Longfellow's poem matches the Roman numeral assigned to the Finale, XIV. There are other equally fascinating parallels between Longfellow's Elegiac Verse and the Enigma Variations that illustrate Elgar's subtle and informed use of literature.
Edward Elgar draws special attention to the number six throughout the Enigma Variations. The opus number (36) is the product of six multiplied by six. There are six titles for different movements that are six letters long. The first of these is Enigma. There is an oddly placed double bar at the end of measure 6 within the Enigma Theme. Less obvious but equally relevant is the presence of a 6 x 6 music box cipher embedded within the Enigma Theme. When decoded it reveals Elgar’s ‘dark saying’ first mentioned in the 1899 program note for the premiere. The compete title of the unstated Principal Theme is six words in length: Ein feste Burg ist unser Gott. There are 24 letters in that title, the sum of four sixes. The lyrics for Luther's most famous hymn come from Psalm 46, a chapter number that ends in six. The names Martin and Luther are both six letters in length. Elgar's use of the German sixth chord in the Enigma Theme alludes to the missing melody's six word title in German. Even his dedication alludes to the number six, for it is six words long: “Dedicated to My Friends Pictured Within.” These overt and covert references to the number six within the Enigma Variations invite a closer evaluation of the orchestral score at Rehearsal 66.
Elgar's first biographical sketch in the October 1900 issue of The Musical Times begins with two poetic excerpts, the first from Piers Plowman by William Langland, and the second from The Lost Bower by Elizabeth Barrett Browning. Both excerpts mention the
Hills, a prominent topographical feature of Elgar’s birthplace.
These poems are theological allegories making rich use of characters and places
to symbolize a distinctly Christian worldview. For the composer of sacred
oratorios like The Dream of Gerontius and The Light of Life, these intensely
theological poems capture Elgar’s artistic gestalt. They also
mirror a practice of Jesus to teach by telling parables. More importantly,
these poetic excerpts elegantly hint at the title of
the unstated Principal Theme to the Enigma Variations (Ein feste Burg),
the hidden friend of Variation XIII (Jesus),
and a major source of inspiration, the Turin
In early 1905 Sir Edward Elgar received an invitation to visit
America from his friend Samuel Sanford, Professor of Applied Music
at Yale University. Following his acceptance
(and at ’s
urging), Yale officially invited Elgar to receive an Honorary
Doctor of Music. On June 28 Elgar
attended the commencement at Woolsey Hall to
receive his honorary degree. Incredibly, Elgar's conferment
was immediately followed by a performance of Ein feste Burg. Sanford
Eleven of the most popular melodic ‘solutions’ to the Enigma Variations are analyzed and refuted.
9. Dies Irae
10. Auld Lang Syne
11. Tallis Canon
My ability to penetrate the mysteries of Elgar's 'Enigma' Variations was granted by divine providence. Secular academics failed to unravel the puzzles of the Enigma Variations because they proudly gazed inward for answers when they should have humbly looked upwards. They ignored the proverb, "The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, and knowledge of the Holy One is understanding." Wedded to their worldly wisdom, secular scholars reasoned themselves into intellectual cul-de-sacs devoid of any spiritual insight consistent with Elgar’s faith.
There are a number of astonishing links between Jesus and the violin that undoubtedly fueled Elgar’s identification with the "king of the orchestra." A survey of these uncanny parallels helps unmask the secret friend and inspiration behind Elgar’s violin concerto.
Photographic negatives of the Turin Shroud