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 seven years uncovered scores of 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 a coded reference to the book of Psalms from the Bible. What clues led to its discovery? And what evidence implicates the Book of 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" intimates 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 will inevitably object to interpolating the original program note as a coded reference to the Psalms. Martin Gough cogently argues in the April 2013 edition of The Elgar Society Journal that 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: The first and second violins, violas, and cellos. This presents a stunning parallel with Psalm 49 as its "dark saying" is introduced on a stringed instrument. There is also a distinct linguistic connection between the origin of the word psalm and Elgar’s emphasis on the stringed instruments. Psalms originate 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.
Coded references to Jesus and the Turin Shroud in the Enigma Variations reinforces 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 Psalm 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–cleverly encode the initials (EE) for the composer, Edward Elgar. 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. It proved extremely helpful to first isolate the composer’s initials to more easily recognize the acrostic anagram in the remaining terms. Including 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 numbers four and six turn up in a variety of notable ways in the Enigma Theme from Elgar's Enigma Variations. Its puzzling title—Enigma—has six letters. The dedication inscribed on the score—“Dedicated to my friends pictured within”—has six words. Elgar’s commentary cited in the original 1899 program note includes a cryptic reference to a “dark saying” lurking within the Enigma Theme. Notice that the words “dark saying” are four and six letters respectively. It was on a Friday, the sixth day of the week, that Elgar first performed the Enigma Theme at the piano for his wife. He composed the Enigma Variations between late October 1898 and mid-February 1899, a period of four months.
There are further allusions to the numbers four and six in the Enigma Theme’s melody and bar structure. It is divided into four parts resulting in an ABA’C format. The number of measures in the A and B sections is six and four respectively. The Enigma Theme’s melody note totals per bar and the number of measures in Sections A and B underscore a bond between the numbers four and six. Section A in G minor has exactly four melody notes in each of its six bars. Section B in the parallel major has precisely six mel0dy notes in each of its four measures. With these measure and melody note figures in sections A and B, Elgar repeatedly links together the numbers four and six.
The numbers four and six also reoccur in the orchestration, melody and baseline of the Enigma Theme. The orchestration in Section A is confined to four staves, the string quartet comprised of the first and second violins, violas and cellos. The note letters for the melody and bass lines in Section A are confined to six with the melody omitting the E, and the bass line the F. In bars 1-3 of Section A, the bass line rises stepwise from G to an E-flat to cover the span of a minor sixth before descending by a diminished fourth to B in bar 4. This is followed by another stepwise rise of a minor fourth back to E-flat in measure 6. The two E-flats in the bassline found in measures 3 and 6 appear to be a coded version of the composer’s dual initials tied to the work’s opus number (36). Section B’s orchestration begins in measure 7 with instrumental parts dispersed over six staves (the string quartet, the B-flat clarinet, and bassoons) before additional lines weave briefly in and out of the score. The bassline in measure 9 descends from G to D producing a perfect melodic fourth. The glyph for nine (9) is an inverted mirror image of the number six (6).
In 1927, Elgar prepared some descriptive notes for a set of pianola rolls of the Enigma Variations later released in 1929. Portions of these notes were published in book form by Novello under the title My Friends Pictured Within. He made the following perplexing remark concerning the Enigma Theme, “The drop of a seventh in the Theme (bars 3 and 4) should be observed.” Why should these particular sequential intervals be observed? In mentioning these conspicuous and unusual melodic sevenths, Elgar draws indirect attention to the conventional melodic intervals just before, between and immediately after them.
The first melodic seventh of a G descending to A is preceded by a D rising to G which completes a perfect melodic fourth. After the first descending melodic seventh, the line rises from A to F to form a minor melodic sixth. The second melodic seventh is formed by an F descending to G. This is followed by an A to produce a major melodic second. Elgar’s guidance to scrutinize the Enigma Theme’s melodic sevenths attracts implicit attention to the contiguous intervals. The first two adjacent intervals are a fourth and sixth, and the third is a second. The presence of a fourth and a sixth just before and between the descending sevenths is yet another case of these numbers in close proximity to a feature highlighted by the composer.
These recurring numeric associations between the numbers four and six implicate the 46th chapter of the Psalms, a section that inspired the title for the covert Theme to the Enigma Variations, Ein feste Burg by Martin Luther. For those who doubt these multifaceted encrypted connections between the Psalms and the number 46, consider the performance directions as they appear in the first bar of the Enigma Theme as shown in the Master Score:
The total number of characters for the performance directions in the Enigma Theme’s first measure is 46. The link between “Psalm” and the number “46” is firmly established by this stunning convergence in the first bar’s performance directions.
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 Theme to the Variations is a famous hymn inspired by Psalm 46. The program note states the Enigma Theme holds a "dark saying" that cannot be guessed, and the number of letters in those two words are four and six respectively. That phrase also appears in Psalm 49 where a “dark saying” is introduced on the harp. The harp is a stringed instrument, and in a remarkable parallel, Elgar limits the orchestration of the Enigma Theme’s first 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 number of characters used in this cryptogram comes to precisely 46. The Enigma Theme's structure further implicates a particular Psalm by pairing the numbers four and six together in multiple ways. 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.