“Truly, you are a God who hides himself, O God of Israel, the Savior.”
“He [God] has willed to make himself quite recognizable by those; and thus, willing to appear openly to those who seek Him with all their heart, and to be hidden from those who flee from Him with all their heart. He so regulates the knowledge of Himself that He has given signs of Himself, visible to those who seek Him, and not to those who seek Him not. There is enough light for those who only desire to see, and enough obscurity for those who have a contrary disposition.”
Elgar dedicated the majority of his major works to God as a public testimony to his Roman Catholic faith. He invariably did so by writing the initials A.M.D.G., an abbreviation of the Jesuit motto Ad Majorem Dei Glorium. The Jesuits founded the Society of Jesus, serving as evangelists for the Roman Catholic Church. An excellent example of Elgar’s devotion is displayed on the cover of his sacred oratorio The Dream of Gerontius composed shortly after the Enigma Variations. While he openly dedicated the Enigma Variations “To my friends pictured within,” Elgar left the identity of at least one of those friends a mystery. All are identified by their initials, names or nicknames with one lone exception. The friend portrayed in Variation XIII is ostensibly represented by three asterisks (***). Is it possible Elgar inserted a secret dedication to God in the score using one of his favorite diversions, cryptography? If so, one would expect to find such a dedication at the beginning.
The A.M.D.G. Cipher
Are any of the letters from A.M.D.G. present in the first measure of the Enigma Theme? The original orchestral score has seven discreet notes in measure 1: A, B-flat, C, D, F-sharp and G. Three of those notes appear three times each: A, D and G. Three notes three times in one measure are highly suggestive of the number 33, the mirror image of Edward Elgar's initials. In a remarkable coincidence, those three note letters are found in the Jesuit acronym A.M.D.G. Together they form the initials A.D.G. Based on Elgar’s characteristic dedication, that acronym may be reasonably interpreted as Ad Dei Gloriam – “Glory to God.” The only missing letter from the Jesuit acronym is M, one not found in the seven-letter musical alphabet. How could Elgar have conceivably encoded it? The answer is by Morse Code. Elgar studied Morse Code, adopting the palindrome Siromoris as his telegraphic address. The rhythmic pattern of the Enigma Theme on beats 3 and 4 consists of two quarter notes. In Morse code those two quarter notes are the equivalent of two dashes, the sequence for M. The case can reasonably be made Elgar encoded a stealth dedication to God in the Enigma Theme’s opening measure using his preferred abbreviation A.M.D.G. Three of the four letters are represented by three notes each stated three times (A, D, and G), and the M is encoded in Morse Code by two quarter notes on beats 3 and 4. This stealth dedication is known as the A.M.D.G. Cipher.
Elgar’s Other God Allusions
Elgar’s covert dedication is hardly an isolated gesture to the hidden God of his Christian faith. There are many other coded references to the Deus absconditus within the Enigma Theme. That unforgettable movement begins on a G minor chord. That is an intriguing choice of harmony because G is the seventh and final letter in the musical alphabet, and seven is the divine number. As previously observed in measure 1, there are seven discreet note types with seven different performance directions. That comes to at least three distinct sevens in the first measure. The two lowest notes of that first G minor chord are G and D, the phonetic equivalent of God. The interval formed between them is a compound fifth, also known as a thirteenth. That number is associated with Jesus since he is the subject of Variation XIII. It is also linked to him because he washed the feet of his twelve disciples like a common servant at the Last Supper as described in John 13. By lowering himself before his disciples, Jesus made himself last – the thirteenth – among them.
The G minor chord supplies G and D, a phonetic spelling for God. The missing O is implied in a roundabout manner by the mathematical constant Pi encoded in measure 1. Without beginning or end, the circle symbolizes eternity, one of the infinite attributes of God. Combining G and D with the circular letter O permits the complete spelling of God. The spiritual foundation of the Enigma Theme is literally spelled out in measure 1, a number at the heart of monotheism, the belief in one God. Little wonder Elgar inserted a secret dedication to God in that measure. The G minor chord repeats on the first beats of measures 2 and 3, and only breaks the pattern in measure 4 with a diminished seventh chord on B. The triple repetition of the G minor chord on the first beats of the first three measures suggests the Trinity, the belief in the triune God.
As described by the prophet Isaiah and Blaise Pascal, God conceals himself from humanity because Adam and Eve first hid themselves from him in the Garden of Eden. In a figurative and imitative fashion, Elgar’s God hides Himself in the Enigma Theme. There are at least 24 coded references to God in the Enigma Theme based on musical note patterns. That is an interesting total since prior research shows the number 24 is itself encoded 33 times in the Enigma Theme, again based on musical note patterns. The bass line in measures 7 and 8 is a sustained G falling to a sustained D in measures 9 and 10 held for seven quarter beats. This is one example of a coded reference to God. Confirmation of this interpretation is found in measures 8 and 9 where the melody line consists of a series of falling fifths in the second violin part from E, A to D. These notes in reverse (DAE) are a phonetic version of Dei, the Latin word for God. This reading is supported by the fact Dei is the third word in the Jesuit motto Ad Majorum Dei Gloriam.
An abundance of covert references to God in the Enigma Theme is complimented by other coded allusions to the second person of the Trinity, Jesus Christ. Nowhere are these God allusions more evident than in the Enigma Theme, an oddly structured counterpoint to a famous yet secretive Principal Theme. Research reveals that elusive melody is the epic hymn A Mighty Fortress Is Our God by Martin Luther who drank deeply from the well of Psalm 46. In a symbolic gesture, Elgar based the Enigma Theme, and by extension the Variations, on a hidden hymn about the hidden God who also happens to be a him. Hymn sounds like him, a play on words evocative of Elgar’s distinctive brand of wordplay. The of that rousing melody liken God to a mighty fortress, naming his son Jesus Christ in the second stanza. The words of the secret melody conveniently provide the solution for the secret friend portrayed in Variation XIII.
The connection between Elgar’s hidden theme and Luther’s famous hymn is implicated by a coded reference to the Psalms in the Enigma Theme’s opening measure. This is done using an anagram using the first letters of the seven performance directions found in measure 1.
The Psalms are a collection of hymns replete with references to God. According to theologians, it also contains many important prophecies about Jesus. The Psalms Cipher solidifies the biblical scope of the Enigma, something already suggested by the scriptural names given to Variations VI (Ysobel) and IX (Nimrod). It also furnishes a vital clue about the identity of the elusive missing melody inspired by Psalm 46.
The number Pi is encoded in measures 1 and 11 of the Enigma Theme based on the scale degrees of the melody (3142). These same numbers are the fingerings for the first violin part in third position on the D string when performing that poignant phrase. Pi is a mathematical constant that captures the ratio of the circle's circumference to its diameter. The circle represents God, symbolizing eternity by having no beginning or end. Building on this is the Pi-C Cipher, also in the first measure of the Enigma Theme. Pi is enciphered in measures 1 and 11 of the Enigma Theme. Three 1’s – one does not need to wonder what theological concept that suggests. The Enigma Theme is set in Common Time, a meter represented by the symbol C. The combination of Pi and C creates the phonetic equivalent of pisce, the Latin word for fish. The fish or Ichthys is a well-known symbol for Jesus. C is the first letter in words like Christ, Cross, Christogram, and Cipher. It is also the phonetic equivalent of sea, something Elgar sonically portrays in Variation XIII using fragments from Mendelssohn’s concert overture Calm Sea and Prosperous Voyage. The Pi-C Cipher is a distinct reference to Christ, the Lord and Savior of Elgar’s Roman Catholic faith. After all, fish inhabit the sea, and one should not be surprised to find a pisce in C.
The rhythmic patterns of the Enigma Theme may be translated into Morse Code. In measure 1 the two eighth notes simulate two dots for the letter I. These are followed by two quarter notes resembling two dashes for the letter M. The Morse Code conversion for the melody in measure 1 is IM. The phonetic equivalent of IM is I am, an important phrase spoken by Jesus to describe himself. The I AM Cipher identifies a uniquely theological title used by Jesus, bolstering the conclusion he is the subject of both the Enigma Theme and Variation XIII. The Catholic belief in the Trinity asserts Jesus is a member of the Godhead, making any reference to him a reference to God. When asked by a disciple to show him the Father, Jesus replied, “Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father.” In Roman Catholic theology, Jesus is the incarnation of God.
Besides harboring multiple codes like the Psalms, I AM, Pi and Pi-C Ciphers, the Enigma Theme’s first measure is part of other larger ciphers. The first six measures of the Enigma Theme are marked off by an oddly placed double-bar at the end of measure six. This six-bar section encompasses two other ciphers. The first and more elementary of the two is the Locks Cipher. It encodes two sets of solution letters: LOQX and LOJC. The fist is phonetic for locks, and those, like ciphers, come with keys. The second solution set – LOJC – forms a phrase, or ‘dark saying.’ Lo means to behold, as in the phrase lo and behold. The letters JC are the initials for Jesus Christ, the secret friend of Variation XIII. In a remarkable twist, the Roman numerals for that movement encode his initials. X stands for the number ten, and the tenth letter of the alphabet is J. III represents the number three, and the third letter is C. The secret phrase revealed by the Locks Cipher (LOJC) is “Behold Jesus Christ.”
The second and more sophisticated cryptogram found in the first six measures of the Enigma Theme is a Music Box Cipher. That description is exquisitely appropriate because Elgar encodes solution letters using bass and melody note pairs to pinpoint specific cells within a checkerboard grid. This type of code is known as a Polybius Square, or more simply as a Box Cipher. Since it is a box cipher set to music, it is more accurately known as a Music Box Cipher. What an exquisite play on words! This unique code reveals twenty-four solution letters from the complete 24-letter German title of the unstated Principal Theme: Ein feste Burg ist unser Gott. What Elgar does is rearrange those letters into phonetic words and phrases in Latin, English and Aramaic, a language spoken by Jesus. For example, the solution letters for measure one are GSUS, a phonetic version of Jesus. To dispel doubt, Elgar authenticates his elaborate cipher by encoding his last name by means of the first letters of the languages from the cipher: English, Latin, German, and Aramaic. He uses a similar device with the Psalms Cipher by pairing his initials with the word Psalm (EE’s Psalm) via the first letters of the performance directions in measure one of the Enigma Theme.
This investigation revealed the first measure of the Enigma Theme harbors a stealth dedication to God, a gesture amplified and expanded on by many other coded references to God throughout rest of the movement. In addition to these are several ciphers that encode the initials, name, and fish symbol for Jesus Christ, the secret friend portrayed in Variation XIII. According to Roman Catholic theology, Jesus is a member of the Trinity, making any mention of him also a reference to God. This insight helps explain why the melody of Variation XIII begins with the notes G and D, a phonetic spelling for God. To learn more about the secrets behind the Enigma Variations, read my free eBook Elgar’s Enigmas Exposed.