“The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone. This is the Lord's doing; it is marvelous in our eyes.”
The conventional wisdom has long maintained the Mendelssohn fragments in Variation XIII are extraneous to Elgar’s thematic enigma. That impression seems justified as the Mendelssohn quotations originate from an entirely different work. However, a careful study of those fragments confirms the conventional wisdom overlooks an important key to resolving the Enigma Variations. Years of research have uncovered eight cryptograms encased within those fragments:
- FAE Cipher
- Fragments Cipher
- Mendelssohn Cipher
- FACE Cipher
- Romanza Cipher
- Mendelssohn Keynotes Cipher
- Mendelssohn Pi Cipher
- Mendelssohn Pi-C Cipher
These ciphers are critically important because they answer key questions about the Enigma Variations concerning the covert Principal Theme and the secret friend. Now a seventh cipher has been found nestled among two of the four Mendelssohn fragments, one in the form of a music anagram. In standard practice, an anagram is composed of a word or phrase created by the transposition of another word or phrase. For instance, the letters from debit card may be reshuffled to spell bad credit. The same can be done with the notes from a musical phrase in which one melody is constructed from those of another. This is what Elgar accomplishes with two of the three clarinet solos beginning with the Mendelssohn incipit.
The clarinet solos in A-flat major (measures 507-513) and E-flat major (measures 542-548) begin with a 3 measure fragment from Mendelssohn’s concert overture Meeresstille und glückliche Fahrt (Calm Sea and Prosperous Voyage). This fragment consists of 3 distinct notes (C, B-flat, and two A-flats), and is further elaborated by Elgar into a complete 7 bar solo. A careful analysis of those two clarinet solos reveals the notes are a music anagram of the concluding phrase from Ein feste Burg (A Mighty Fortress). This is subtly hinted at by the Mendelssohn Keynotes Cipher which encodes the last three notes of that ending phrase as quoted by Mendelssohn in the fourth movement of the Reformation Symphony.
Luther’s most renowned hymn has a phrase structure of ABABCDEFB. The closing phrase is second in the sequence and is assigned the letter B. The original version of Luther’s hymn is shown below. When the discreet notes of the A-flat major and E-flat major clarinet solos are treated as an anagram (discounting the repeated note in each Mendelssohn fragment), they may be reshuffled to construct Luther’s original ending phrase from Ein feste Burg.
As previously mentioned, the phrase structure of Ein feste Burg is ABABCDEFB. In a remarkable twist, the last three letters (EFB) are the initials for Ein feste Burg. Multiple ciphers found in the Enigma Variations encode those initials, but do so starting with the last letter (B) first. These include the Keys, Mendelssohn, and Letter Cluster ciphers. By repeatedly encoding the initials for the covert Principal Theme backwards, Elgar ingeniously intimates his enigmatic counterpoint starts with the hidden melody’s ending phrase. Putting the proverbial cart before the horse is also hinted at by the unusual title of the Theme – Enigma. The first letter is a capital E which resembles the lower case of omega. The last letter is a, the lower case of alpha. In the title Enigma the omega (E) symbolically precedes the alpha (a), hinting the end precedes the beginning. The quotation at the conclusion of expanded Finale further hints at Elgar’s ploy of starting his enigmatic counterpoint using the Principal Theme’s end phrase. He paraphrases in two six-word phrases a passage penned by Longfellow, “Great is the art of beginning, but greater the art of ending.” The end is greater than the beginning, meaning it should be granted precedence.
Elgar places a special emphasis on the ending phrase of Ein feste Burg in the score of the Enigma Variations. It is stated virtually verbatim at Rehearsal 66, and twice by the inner voice in Dora Penny’s movement, Variation X. No wonder he goaded Dora on by saying, “I thought that you, of all people, would guess it.” Among the Variations, her movement most clearly presents the end phrase not once, but twice. If only she had searched for the tune’s conclusion rather than its beginning, perhaps then she would have discovered the answer. The last three notes of the concluding phrase are given by the Mendelssohn Keynotes Cipher. Now it is also known the complete ending phrase from Ein feste Burg is encoded as a musical anagram by the clarinet solos in A-flat and E-flat major, both of which begin with Mendelssohn incipits.
The process of mapping Ein feste Burg over the Enigma Theme revealed Elgar began his counterpoint with the closing phrase, and contrary to all expectations, ending it with the opening one. That is an exceptionally wily tactic, one prone to throw off investigators stubbornly intent on mapping prospective tunes from their beginnings. In the documentary Elgar’s Enigma: A Hidden Portrait, Sir Andrew Davis takes the bait hook, line and sinker as he performs prospective tunes from their beginnings over the opening of the Enigma Theme. Dr. Clive McClelland is another investigator thrown off track by Elgar’s contrapuntal ruse. Patrick Turner also falls prey to it. Starting the counterpoint with Ein feste Burg’s closing phrase is the last thing anyone would expect, except perhaps for a church organist who routinely introduced hymns by performing their endings first. Like his father, Elgar served as a church organist at St. George’s Church.
Why would Elgar encode the tail-end of the concluding phrase from Ein feste Burg rather than its beginning? It would certainly be the last thing one would expect (pun intended), and that is undoubtedly what Elgar anticipated. When scouring for clues of a missing melody, the natural tendency is to search for signs of a beginning rather than an ending. Apart from Ein feste Burg, all other purported melodic solutions to the Enigma Theme reflect this deeply entrenched prejudice. Elgar was undoubtedly relying on that innate inclination when openly concealing evidence for the covert Principal Theme. To learn more about the secrets behind one of Elgar’s most celebrated symphonic achievements, read my free eBook Elgar’s Enigmas Exposed.