“I am afraid the schools will prove the very gates of Hell, unless they diligently labor in explaining the Holy Scriptures and engraving them in the heart of the youth.”
February 23 marks the 80th anniversary of Edward Elgar’s death. In July 1904 he was knighted by King Edward VII for his considerable contributions to English music. There is something deeply noble and chivalrous about Elgar’s music, so it comes as no surprise his Enigma Variations make direct or indirect references to several knights like Richard Grenville, Godfrey of Bouillon, Geoffroi de Charny, and General Gordon. These valiant men of old refused to surrender against overwhelming and impossible odds. Some triumphed in victory while others fell in battle. In life or death, their fidelity to their cause secured for them a sacred place in memory and legend. Now one more unlikely knight may be added to that dignified lineup: Knight George.
Who is Knight George, and how does Elgar make reference to him? In Variation XIII Elgar pinpoints the letters for a well-known music cryptogram, FAE. He accomplishes this cryptographic feat using the key letters of the Mendelssohn fragments: F minor, A-flat major, and E-flat major. These initials are a code for the German phrase Frei aber einsam which means "Free but lonely." This was the personal motto of Joseph Joachim, one of the most renowned violin soloists of the nineteenth century and a protégé of Mendelssohn who toured with him in England. The phrase "Free but lonely" echoes what Elgar wrote regarding the haunting Enigma Theme. He explained it "expressed when written (in 1898) my sense of the loneliness of the artist."
The initials for Joseph Joachim (J.J.) match those for Junker Jörg, the German title for Knight George. After Martin Luther was condemned to death at the Diet of Worms, Frederick the Wise of Saxony arranged for him to be abducted and placed into hiding at Wartburg Castle. To conceal his identity, Luther grew a beard, exchanged his monk’s habit for the fine clothing of a nobleman, and adopted the alias Junker Jörg. As a sign of his faith, Bach wrote the initials J.J. on his scores to denote Jesu Juva (Jesus help me). Elgar's coded reference to Joseph Joachim is a coded allusion to Bach's habit while at the same time implicating the unknown friend's real identity.
There are numerous reasons for interpreting Joachim’s initials as a code for Luther’s famous alias. The Enigma Variations harbor overt and covert references to various knights, and it is noteworthy that Luther assumed the guise of a knight while in hiding. In the original 1899 program note, Elgar explained the Variations contain a "dark saying." Another word for dark is night, a homophone of knight. Like Joachim, Luther hailed from Germany and was an accomplished musician and composer. Drawing a connection between Joseph Joachim’s initials to Luther’s assumed identity at Wartburg castle is further supported by the fact Joachim was a Lutheran.
The case for Martin Luther’s knightly identity is sealed by the fact Elgar originally designated Variation XIII with a solitary L. That is the initial for Luther. Elgar only later added the letters ML to produce LML. It is hardly coincidental the letters ML are the initials for Martin Luther. Elgar cleverly hid Luther’s initials behind Joachim’s relying on a well-known alias, but was careful to include Luther’s original initials in his sketches starting with L (Luther) and later adding ML (Martin Luther). Ultimately the FAE Cipher is like a fortress, concealing Luther’s identity behind another famous German musician’s name. Joachim's Lutheranism is merely icing on the cake.
It is not surprising Elgar would work in a coded reference to one of the nineteenth century’s greatest violinists within the Enigma Variations. In his youth, Elgar desperately wanted to be a great violin soloist like Joachim. In Variation XIII he even goes so far as to quote the music of Joachim’s mentor, Mendelssohn. Joachim was likened to a priest by his pupil Leopold Auer who said, “"I always felt as though he were a priest, thrilling his congregation with a sermon revealing the noblest moral beauties of a theme which could not help but interest all humanity." Martin Luther was also a priest and the composer of Ein feste Burg who ardently defended the faith against the corrupting influences of a worldly church. Similar to Luther’s Ninety-Five Theses, Joachim penned a manifesto with Brahms in 1860 condemning the progressive music of the New German School then championed by Wagner.
Why would Elgar interleave a coded reference in Variation XIII to Martin Luther’s assumed identity as Knight George when he hid out at Wartburg Castle? Wartburg Castle is a mighty fortress, and the covert Principal Theme to the Enigma Variations is Luther’s Ein feste Burg. That Elgar did so with four Mendelssohn fragments in three different keys is supremely inspired because Mendelssohn quotes Ein feste Burg in the fourth movement of his first extended symphonic work, the Reformation Symphony. The numerological parallel is difficult to ignore. Elgar's first extended symphonic work was the Enigma Variations. What an elaborate tapestry of interlocking clues!
Not only does the coded reference to Joachim aid in unmasking the composer of covert Principal Theme, it also reveals the name of Elgar’s secret friend. How? Like Luther and Elgar, Joachim’s faith was resolutely placed in Jesus Christ whose initials are encoded by the Roman numerals XIII. X stands for the number 10, and the tenth letter of the alphabet is J. III represents 3, and the third letter is C. There is another less visible link between Joachim and Elgar’s not-so-secret friend. In 1891 Joachim was granted the supreme privilege of playing the Messiah Stradivarius, a fabled instrument now under glass at the Ashmolean Museum. It should be noted Joachim’s first name – Joseph – is the same as Mary’s husband, the step-father of Jesus. It is also a match for the eminent son of Jacob, the dreamer who prefigured Christ.
|The Second Coming of Christ|
Knowing the identity of Elgar’s secret friend, it would be a profound oversight not to mention that Knight of Knights, Jesus Christ himself. In Revelation 19 he mounts a white charger and leads the armies of Heaven to victory at the battle of Armageddon, liberating Jerusalem from Satanic occupation. Tasso poetically alludes to this historic confrontation between good and evil in Jerusalem Delivered, an epic Christian poem Elgar paraphrases at the end of the original score of the Enigma Variations. To learn more about the secrets behind one of Elgar’s most celebrated symphonic achievements, read my free eBook Elgar’s Enigmas Exposed.