“I will incline my ear to a parable;
I will open my dark saying upon the harp.”
A comprehensive analysis of the Enigma Variations performed over a five-year period uncovered forty-one ciphers. These hidden codes are critical because they definitively answer the core conundrums of the Variations. What is the secret Principal Theme to which the Enigma Theme is a counterpoint? What is the secret ‘dark saying’ associated with the Enigma Theme? Who is the secret friend and inspiration behind Variation XIII? The ‘Enigma’ codes authenticate Ein feste Burg (A Mighty Fortress) as the covert Principal Theme, a Music Box Cipher encoded within the Enigma Theme as the ‘dark saying,’ and Jesus Christ as the secret friend portrayed in Variation XIII. A discreet subset of those ciphers refers to the Turin Shroud, the most studied artifact in history that many believe to be the burial shroud of Christ. The connection between the secret friend and this sacred burial cloth is undeniable for a Roman Catholic like Edward Elgar, especially following Secondo Pia’s famous photograph taken in May 1898 at the International Shroud Exposition. That was five months before Elgar began working openly on the Enigma Variations in late October 1898. By that time Pia’s photographic negative had become an international sensation in both the secular and Catholic press.
One of the most recent ciphers to be discovered has coded references to the book of Psalms from the Bible. What clues led to its discovery? And what evidence implicates the Psalms? The search begins with the original 1899 program note for the premiere of the Enigma Variations under Hans Richter. In his cryptic introduction to his first extended symphonic work, Elgar explains the Enigma Theme holds a ‘dark saying’ that cannot be guessed. The operative phrase is ‘dark saying’ because that identical phrase also appears in Psalm 49. In verse four it reads, “I will incline my ear to a parable; I will open my dark saying on the harp.” A parable is an allegorical puzzle that challenges the listener to search for a hidden truth or message. In one sense, a parable may be compared to a cipher. An enigma is defined as obscure speech or writing, a hidden or dark saying. According to that definition, a parable may be likened to an enigma. From a theologically informed perspective, a careful reading of the terms ‘Enigma’ and ‘dark saying’ points to Psalm 49, and more generally, the book of Psalms. These observations strongly imply the Enigma Theme itself is a psalm with a ‘dark saying’ or hidden message that is manifestly theological.
Some may object to suspecting the original program note has a coded reference to the Psalms, Martin Gough notwithstanding. In his article for the April 2013 edition of The Elgar Society Journal, Gough argues Elgar alludes to the Psalms in his oddly worded program note. For those still unconvinced, there are other reasons for concluding the original program note and the Enigma Theme point to the Psalms. The first concerns the orchestration of the Enigma Theme’s opening six measures. In Psalm 49:4 it says, “I will open my dark saying on the harp.” The harp is a stringed instrument, and the first six measures of the Enigma Theme are performed exclusively by the string quartet, namely the first and second violins, violas, and cellos. This poses a revealing parallel with Psalm 49 as its ‘dark saying’ is introduced on a stringed instrument. In addition, there is a distinct linguistic connection between the origin of the word psalm and Elgar’s emphasis on the stringed instruments. Psalms come from the Greek Ψαλμοί (Psalmoi), a derivative of psallein which means to “play on a stringed instrument.” The opening six measures of the Enigma Theme echoes this feature of a psalm because they are performed solely by the strings. These are credible clues that may not be casually glossed over as superficially circumstantial or coincidental.
Cipher references to Jesus and the Turin Shroud in the Enigma Variations bolster the case for suspecting the original program note alludes to the Psalms. At his Triumphal Entry into Jerusalem, Jesus rode on a donkey’s colt as the people rejoiced and sang the Hallel from the Psalms. Jesus often quoted from the Psalms, most prominently twice during his crucifixion. His famous lament, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” is from Psalm 22:1 by King David. Christ’s final words on the cross are traced to Psalm 31:5, “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit.” During his earthly ministry, Christ taught from the Psalms so often that Joel Miller remarks, “Christ lived and died with the Psalms on his lips.” With his nuanced and intimate appreciation of theology, Elgar implicates the Psalms in the Enigma Theme by means of the unusual language in the original program note to describe it, the orchestration confined solely to the strings in the first six measures, the music’s sense of loneliness and lamentation (feelings often evoked in the Psalms), and various cipher references to Jesus who recited and taught extensively from that book of the Bible.
The final piece of the puzzle is nothing short of spectacular because it seals the case for the Psalms Cipher, bringing all of the other elements into sharp focus. In the Enigma Theme’s first measure Elgar uses seven Italian musical terms: Andante, legato e sostenuto, piano and molto espressivo. The first letters of two of these words – e and espressivo – form the initials for the composer, Edward Elgar (EE). More significantly, the first letters of the remaining five terms are an anagram for psalm.
Like his Music Box Cipher, Elgar signs his Psalms Cipher in code to serve as a stealthy mode of validation. In this instance, it proved extremely helpful to first isolate the composer’s initials to more easily recognize the acrostic anagram in the remaining terms. Factoring in the s after the e in espressivo permits the solution to read EE’s Psalm, or Edward Elgar’s Psalm. According to this analysis, the Enigma Theme represents Elgar’s own psalm.
The performance directions anagram points to the Psalms, but which one? There are 150 Psalms in the Bible. Is there some way to narrow that number down to a particular chapter? The Ternary structure (ABA) of the Enigma Theme holds the key to resolving this question. The A section in G minor is 6 measures, and it is followed by the B section in G major which is 4 measures. These two numbers – 6 and 4 – are highly conspicuous because together they form the number 46. This particular pairing is suggested by the fact the A section follows the B section in Ternary form. The number 46 is remarkable because Psalm 46 inspired the title and the bulk of the lyrics for the covert Principal Theme to the Enigma Variations, Ein feste Burg by Martin Luther. In verse 2 the Psalmist explains that since God is our refuge, we should not fear even when the mountains are hurled into the sea. This marine reference presents a parallel with Variation XIII in which Elgar sonically portrays the sea. That movement is dedicated in secret to his Roman Catholic Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ who miraculously walked on the Sea of Galilee. As this analysis shows, the number of measures in the A and B sections of the Enigma Theme implicate a specific chapter in the Psalms, a book encoded by the first letters of the performance directions in the Enigma Theme's opening measure.
Based on elements found in the original 1899 program note as well as the score of the Enigma Variations, Elgar placed multiple coded references to the Psalms, essentially a book of hymns in the Old Testament. That he would do so is a tremendously revealing because the covert Principal Theme to the Variations just so happens to be a famous hymn inspired by Psalm 46. The program note states the Enigma Theme holds a ‘dark saying’ that cannot be guessed, and in Psalm 49 a ‘dark saying’ is introduced on the harp. The harp is a stringed instrument, and in a telling parallel, Elgar confines the orchestration of the Enigma Theme’s opening measures to the strings. More revealing still is the fact that first letters of the performance directions in measure 1 of the Enigma Theme are an anagram for EE’s Psalm, which may be read as Edward Elgar’s Psalm. The Enigma Theme's Ternary structure (ABA) implicates a particular Psalm by pairing in reverse order the number of measures for the A and B sections (6 and 4 respectively) to form the number 46. Psalm 46 provides the title and some of the lyrics for Luther’s renowned hymn Ein feste Burg, the unstated Principal Theme to the Enigma Variations. To learn more about the secrets of the Enigma Variations, read my free eBook Elgar’s Enigmas Exposed.