He was a mighty hunter before the Lord. Therefore it is said, “Like Nimrod a mighty hunter before the Lord.”
In the Enigma Variations Elgar portrays various friends, acknowledging them primarily by their initials, and in a few isolated instances with nicknames. The most unusual of the nicknames is Nimrod given to August Jaeger, the friend portrayed in the elegiac Variation IX. Jaeger, whose German name means hunter, was Elgar’s devoted champion at the London publisher Novello. In the book of Genesis Nimrod is described as ‘a mighty hunter before the LORD,' providing a cursory explanation for Elgar’s odd choice as both names refer to a hunter.
The name Nimrod serves as a sublime play on words since the classic biblical description conveniently provides the first two words from the title of the covert Principal Theme: A Mighty Fortress. Nimrod’s reputation as a builder of fortified cities injects the final piece of the puzzle – fortress – to complete the famous phrase that opens Psalm 46. With the nickname Nimrod, Elgar exploits the overlapping meanings of Jaeger in German with the biblical description of Nimrod to elegantly capture the hidden melody’s title. And by using an atypical version of the hunter’s name, Elgar invites us to hunt for the solution. The musical counterpoint between Nimrod and Ein feste Burg is ample confirmation of this interpretation.
The IX Cipher
Just in case anyone missed the linguistic connection between Nimrod and Jaeger, Elgar enciphered his friend’s initials using the Roman numerals IX. I stands for the number one, and the first letter of the alphabet is A. X represents the number ten, and the tenth letter is J. Together the Roman numerals IX translates alphanumerically into AJ for August Jaeger. Just in case no one caught the overlapping meaning between Nimrod and Jaeger, Elgar encodes Jaeger’s initials via the Roman numerals. This is not the only movement in which Elgar employs a Roman numeral cipher, for he also encodes the initials of his secret friend of Variation XIII in the same manner.
The interrelated decryptions of the Enigma Variations Ciphers are mutually consistent and reinforcing, erecting an elaborate yet rational set of solutions to one of musicology’s enduring mysteries. With so many ciphers pinpointing the same answers, there is no longer room for doubt. The ciphers are genuine, so the answers must be true and correct. The secret melody to the Enigma Variations is Ein feste Burg by Martin Luther. The secret friend of Variation XIII is Jesus Christ, Elgar’s inspiration behind not only the Enigma Variations, but also to his sacred oratorios: The Light of Life, The Dream of Gerontius, The Apostles and The Kingdom. To learn more about the secrets of the Enigma Variations, read my eBook Elgar’s Enigmas Exposed.