For God’s sake, let it alone! Look at me — I have been composing for many years, yet no-one in England took any notice of me till a German said my music was good.
Edward Elgar replying to John Ireland when he expressed his intent to be a composer
The cipher-savvy composer Edward Elgar penned an Italian paraphrase from Torquato Tasso’s Jerusalem Delivered at the conclusion of the original Finale to the Enigma Variations. He wrote the following six words, “Bramo assai, poco spero, nulla chieggio.” After the Tasso fragment, he added “sic 1595” in parentheses and the name Tasso enclosed by brackets. On the reverse of the same page, he included the nine-word translation, “I essay much, I hope little, I ask nothing.” No conventional scholar has ever adequately explained why Elgar would append an Italian fragment by a renowned Renaissance poet at the end of the Autograph Score to the Enigma Variations. Could Elgar’s use of literature in this instance hinge on something more daedal and nuanced?
|The original ending to the Enigma Variations with an incorrect completion date|
The first step in analyzing Elgar’s Tasso fragment is to consider its source. Tasso’s heroic poem La Gerusalemme liberata mythologizes the capture of Jerusalem by an army of Christian knights during the First Crusade. Like his muse Tasso, Elgar was a self-professed Roman Catholic who publicly dedicated many of his major works to God. The rampant and corrosive secularism of modern scholarship readily explains their callused and shallow insouciance towards the Tasso fragment. Glossed over by career academics blinded by a sclerotic secular weltanschauung, the inescapable Christian character of the Tasso fragment proves to be a robust forensic tool for uncovering the famous melody that serves as the contrapuntal twin to the Enigma Theme as well as the hidden friend eulogized in Variation XIII. Like the Mendelssohn and Longfellow fragments cited in Variation XIII and at the conclusion of the expanded Finale respectively, the Tasso fragment is a multitiered cipher.
Three Tasso Anomalies
Simon Singh explains in his seminal work The Code Book, “Cracking a difficult cipher is akin to climbing a sheer cliff face: The cryptanalyst is seeking any nook or cranny that could provide the slightest foothold.” Singh makes a compelling case for tackling complex ciphers by honing in on their anomalies, features that stand out as incongruous and out of place. Legacy scholars such as the imperturbable Julian Rushton are quite adept at identifying and cataloging the minutiae of sundry anomalies in the Enigma Variations, yet they are utterly incapable of detecting or decrypting any cryptograms. That disparity is largely accounted for by their collective embrace of the specious assumption that the Enigma Variations hold no cryptograms, obviating the necessity for conducting a rigorous or disciplined search. The dominance of such an obtuse opinion constitutes a classic case of confirmation bias codified by a peer review process straight-jacketed by a crafty cabal of platitudinous pedants bereft of credence who assiduously exclude from consideration any counterexamples to their knavish narrative.
A veritable mountain of evidence overwhelmingly demonstrates the Enigma Variations are riddled with ciphers that dislodge the identities of the hidden melody on which the entire work is based, and the name of a secret friend memorialized in Variation XIII. The recognition that the Enigma Variations harbor a cornucopia of ciphers demands a fresh reappraisal of the Tasso fragment with an emphasis on its anomalous features. There are three distinct anomalies associated with Elgar’s use of literature in this case. The first is that he altered the original quotation from the third to the first person. The second is that the date is incorrect because Jerusalem Delivered was published in 1581, not 1595. The third is that Elgar’s translation is partially inaccurate because brama means desire, not essay. These irregularities are the keys to unlocking Elgar’s Tasso Ciphers.
The First Tasso Anomaly
The first anomaly is that Elgar personalized the Tasso quotation by modifying it from the third to the first person. The original quotation is seven words in Italian, “Brama assai, poco spera e nulla chiede.” Elgar changed brama to bramo, replaced the e (and in Italian) with a comma, and altered chiede to chieggio. With these alterations, the number of words is reduced from seven to six, the syllables from fourteen to thirteen, and the characters (including punctuation marks) from 40 to 36. The numbers 13 and 36 are relevant and striking because Elgar cites an outwardly disparate Mendelssohn fragment in Variation XIII, and the opus number of the Enigma Variations is 36. The number 6 is also important because Elgar imposes a subtle yet pervasive emphasis on that figure throughout the work.
Elgar embeds his initials into heterogeneous cryptograms dispersed throughout the Enigma Variations to signal the presence of a cipher and convey a stealthy form of authentication. His modification of the Tasso quotation continues this pattern on two levels. The first centers on the total number of characters (36) and syllables (13) as the two 3’s are the mirror image of Elgar’s initials (EE). The second concerns the appearance of precisely two e’s in the Tasso fragment, one in the fourth word and a second in the sixth: “Bramo assai, poco spero, nulla chieggio.” The objective of encoding his initials in the Tasso fragment would account for Elgar’s decision to substitute the third e with a comma. The first e appears as the 19th character, presenting an extraordinary numeric parallel with the Enigma Theme which is actually nineteen measures in length. That the fourth and sixth words only contain the letter e presents a remarkable convergence because the covert Theme’s title, Ein feste Burg, originates from the first line of Psalm 46. In another cipher located in the Enigma Theme’s opening measure, Elgar uses the first letters of seven different performance directions to encode “EE’s PSALM” as an acrostic anagram.
The Number Thirteen and Elgar’s Secret Friend
In changing the Tasso fragment from the third to first person, Elgar cleverly pinpoints the numbers one and three. When paired together, these two integers form thirteen (13). This conclusion is bolstered by the realization that the Tasso paraphrase is made up of thirteen syllables. The second e in the Tasso fragment which is linked to a coded version of Elgar’s initials is the 31st character, a palindrome of thirteen. The number thirteen stands in stark relief to the rest of the symphonic work because Variation XIII conceals the identity of a secret friend. Like the hidden Theme, that covert friend’s identity is famous.
The secret friend’s initials are transparently encoded by the Roman Numerals applying a basic number-to-letter cipher. The Roman numeral “X” is the number ten, and the tenth letter of the alphabet is J. The Roman numerals “III” represents three, and the third letter is C. This number-to-letter conversion is not unique to the Roman numerals of Variation XIII. Elgar employs the same encipherment technique in Variation IX to encode the initials of his friend and champion at the publishing firm Novello, August Jaeger, whom he gave the pseudonym Nimrod. That unusual nickname is a marvelous Elgarian wordplay on the covert Theme’s title.
There is a robust theological connection between the number thirteen and Jesus. On the eve of his crucifixion, Jesus lowered himself to the level of a common servant at the Last Supper by washing the feet of his twelve disciples. He even washed the feet of Judas, the one who would soon betray him. Through this selfless act, Jesus effectively ranked himself the least and, consequently, the last in this assemblage of thirteen. In an interview printed in the October 1900 issue of The Musical Times, Elgar specifically mentions the “ill-luck” associated with the number thirteen in connection with the Enigma Variations. That ominous figure clearly weighed on his mind as he composed his breakout symphonic masterpiece.
Elgar’s paraphrase from Tasso’s Jerusalem Delivered mirrors specific elements of the Mendelssohn fragments from the concert overture Calm Sea and Prosperous Voyage cited in Variation XIII. Both are fragments that are enclosed by double quotation marks. Like the Tasso paraphrase, the Mendelssohn fragments are modified from the original. In making changes to these literary and melodic fragments, Elgar highlights the numbers one and three. As previously observed, the Tasso quotation was transformed from the third to the first person, reducing the number of characters from 40 to 36 and the total syllables from fourteen to thirteen. In a similar vein, Elgar departs from the original key, tempo, and rhythm of the Mendelssohn fragment to produce a melodic paraphrase. Like the Tasso paraphrase, Elgar imposes a subtle but discernable emphasis on the numbers one and three by citing the altered Mendelssohn incipit once in a minor key, and three times in contrasting major keys. The Roman numerals assigned to this movement invite pairing the integers one and three together to form thirteen (13).
Elgar was perfectly comfortably changing the Tasso quotation to suit his artistic and cryptographic needs. This flexible approach is mirrored by his fluid treatment of the Mendelssohn fragments by departing from the original A major mode, slower tempo, and rhythm. It is entirely reasonable to anticipate this Promethean impulse would extend to his handling of the covert Theme. And indeed, it does. Like the Tasso quotation and the Mendelssohn fragment, the source melody is not left wholly intact. This would explain why Elgar requested that the work be given the austere title Variations.
Exhaustive contrapuntal analysis confirms that the covert Theme is itself a variant assembled from contrasting phrase fragments sourced from three versions of Ein feste Burg. Elgar compiled his source melody from fragments drawn from the original by Martin Luther, an adaption by J. S. Bach, and another by Felix Mendelssohn. Luther, Bach, and Mendelssohn are three titans of the German School. Elgar was a staunch disciple of the German tradition and revered the works of the great German masters. With phrases selectively drawn from three distinctive renderings of the covert Theme and fused together to produce one unique composite dubbed a tribrid, the numbers one and three resurface yet again. The subtle but discernable emphasis placed on the numbers one and three found with Elgar’s flexible manipulation of the Tasso and Mendelssohn fragments provides illuminating clues regarding his elastic treatment of the covert Theme done ostensibly to insulate it from straightforward detection and as a stealth homage to the German School.
The Tasso Position Cipher
One of the simplest elements of the Tasso Ciphers is undoubtedly its position in the score. Elgar placed the Tasso fragment at the end of the original Finale, the fourteenth and final variation. The placement of the Tasso fragment at the Finale’s conclusion is a clue that strongly suggests consulting the ending of Jerusalem Delivered for hints regarding the covert Theme and the secret friend. In its final canto, Tasso’s poetic magnum opus concludes when the Christian Knight Godfrey enters the “holy house of Christ,” sheds his armor and “devoutly adores the great Sepulcher, and discharges his vow.” The empty tomb at the core of the Christian faith shares some unmistakable parallels with an absent principal Theme and a missing friend.
As one would naturally expect, such a literary and theologically informed insight would never cross the minds of secular academics. The grand irony is that there are multiple references to crossing in the Enigma Variations, a ritual blessing at the core of Elgar’s Roman Catholic faith. For example, Elgar’s decision to write the Enigma Theme in common time (4/4) hints at this because conducting in this time signature replicates the sign of the cross. The capital “T” from Tasso’s name further resembles the shape of the crux commissa, a type of cross on which Jesus was most likely crucified.
The initials for crux commissa are two Cs. In the first six bars of the Enigma Theme that form the haunting opening phrase in G minor, Elgar restricted the orchestration to the string quartet made up of the first and second violins, violas, and cellos. This trinity of instruments each has a pair of C bouts or two Cs. There are 24 melody notes played by the first violins in these opening six measures with precisely four per bar, and only two of these are C. The first is played on the third beat of measure 1 as the fourth note in the melody. The second occurs on the latter half of the fourth beat in measure 2 as the eighth melody note. In those same two measures, Elgar encodes the phrase “Jesus Gratias” (Thanks be to Jesus) using a Polybius Square Music Cipher. A Polybius square is also known as a box cipher.
Elgar’s most sophisticated cryptogram in the Enigma Theme may be aptly described as a Music Box Cipher, providing yet another example of Elgar’s gift for wordplay. It is remarkable that the encryption of this Music Box Cipher is confined to the stringed instruments which are essentially wooden boxes designed to amplify sound. In connection with the Enigma Variations, Elgar references specific names with matching dual initials to ingeniously encode the six initials for the complete six-word German title of the covert Theme. A coded reference to Jesus in the Enigma Theme’s opening measures with precisely two Cs in the melody line performed on instruments with exactly two C bouts and in common time, a time signature that, when conducted, replicates the sign of the cross, collectively convey a coded reference to the crux commissa. Even the layout of the Enigma Variations implies this as there are fourteen numbered Variations, a figure that parallels the fourteen Stations of the Cross.
A Second Tasso Anomaly
The second anomaly associated with the Tasso fragment is that the year 1595 it is inaccurate because Jerusalem Delivered was published in 1581. The difference between these two figures is fourteen years. That number is significant because there are fourteen movements in the Enigma Variations assigned Roman numerals, and the original Tasso quotation has fourteen syllables. Elgar’s parenthetical remark sic confirms he recognized the publication date was not 1595, for that was the year when Tasso, the prince of poets, met his earthly finale. Tasso’s terminal illness was in 1595, so the term sic phonetically intimates Tasso was indeed sick in that year. The use of the Latin term sic in reference to the year of Tasso’s final illness furnishes an overlooked example of Elgar’s penchant for wordplay. On the eve of Tasso’s death, he stayed up all night singing Psalms with his confessor and a select group of Roman Catholic priests. Tasso’s death throes consequently present an illuminating connection to the covert Theme because Ein feste Burg draws its title from Psalm 46. The deathly stillness portrayed in Variation XIII may be tied to Tasso’s passing because he was 51 years old when he died, and there are 51 measures in that movement. J. H. Wiffen’s translation of Jerusalem Delivered in Spenserian verse mentions both a “holy hymn” and “tuneful psalms” in the second stanza of Canto XI:
Begin from Heaven, invoke with holy hymn,
With public prayer and reverential deed,
The armed hosts of Saints and Seraphim,
By whose blest aid success may be decreed;
In sacred garments let the Priests precede,
And tuneful psalms with suppliant voices raise;
Whilst thou and thy illustrious Nobles lead
The multitude along, that, as they gaze,
Shall catch from you the flame of piety and praise.
The incorrect year assigned to the Tasso fragment is not an isolated anomaly tied to misdating in the Master Score of the Enigma Variations. Elgar incorrectly dated the completion of the Enigma Variations as “FEb. 18, 1898.” The actual date the orchestration was finished was February 19, 1899, a difference of one year and one day. From the erroneous date he did not begin work on the short score until 246 days later on October 21, 1898, which is known among Elgarians as Enigma Day. The significance of the incorrect date is that February 18 marks the anniversary of Martin Luther’s death. The placement of this anomalous date on the final page of the Master Score mirrors the Tasso fragment’s position at the end of the Finale paired with an inaccurate year that corresponds with a notable person’s death.
Tasso was born in 1544, two years before Martin Luther died in 1546 at the age of 62. Tasso was 37 when Jerusalem Delivered was first published, and he died at age 51. When paired together as a palindrome, the ages of the deaths of Luther (62) and Tasso (51) produce 1526. According to one account, it was in that very same year when Martin Luther composed his renowned hymn Ein feste Burg. It must be conceded that most historians estimate it was most likely written one year later in 1527. This discrepancy may well be hinted at by Elgar’s incorrect completion date on the Master Score which is one year earlier than the actual date. Now consider the separate integers from the ages 51 and 62 when translated by a number-to-letter key. 5 is E, 1 is A, 6 is F, and 2 is B. It is absolutely stunning that the initials for the covert Theme (Ein feste Burg) are furnished by the three of the four integers (5, 6, and 2), and the English translation of the first word of its title is given by the number 1. The icing on the cake is that Elgar wrote the month as “FEb,” incorrectly capitalizing the second letter as E. This irregularity is yet another cipher because “FEb” is an anagram for the initials of the covert Theme, Ein feste Burg. This feature is not an idiosyncrasy of his penmanship, for Elgar did not capitalize the e in “Feb” in any of his correspondence dating from February 1898 or 1899.
A Third Tasso Anomaly
The third irregularity is that Elgar’s translation is not entirely accurate because brama means desire, not essay. The definition of essay is “to try, to put to a test, to make an often tentative or experimental effort to perform.” The poet Elizabeth Browning features the unaltered Tasso quotation at the beginning of An Essay on Mind. The source for the modified Tasso fragment was accidentally discovered by Geoffrey Hodgkins while browsing one of Elgar’s large account books that contained the following entry:
‘Bramo assai, poco spero, nulla chieggio’ Tasso
See ‘Sir Rich Grenville’15 –
Elgar acknowledged Browning’s An Essay on Mind as the source of the original Tasso quotation. This could explain why he deliberately mistranslated brama as essay rather than desire, for the term essay appears in the title of Browning’s poetic magnum opus. This is yet another example of Elgar’s skillful use of wordplay. Edward Fairfax’s translation of the original Tasso fragment is, “Loved much, hoped little, and desired nought.” A more modern translation is, “Desire much, hope little, and demand nothing.” Browning’s faith was at the very core of her art. She wrote, “"We want the touch of Christ’s hand upon our literature as it touched other dead things — We want the sense of the saturation of Christ's blood upon the souls of our poets, that it may cry through them in answer to the ceaseless wail of the Sphinx of our humanity.” She could have easily been writing not about herself, but Tasso.
Elgar’s mistranslation of the Tasso fragment is an obvious anomaly that serves as a beacon for yet another cryptogram. A comparison of the second words in the Tasso paraphrase (assai) with Elgar’s mistranslation (essay) reveals two interesting parallels. The first is that both are five letters in length. The letter e is the fifth letter of the alphabet, so the appearance of its numeric equivalent hints at the composer’s dual initials. The second is a corresponding letter sequence in the second through fourth positions of assai and essay. The matching sequential letters “ssa” are the reverse initials of the common English translation of Ein feste Burg as A Safe Stronghold. This famous English translation was made by Scottish essayist and philosopher Thomas Carlyle who is credited with the discovery in mathematics of the Carlyle Circle. The unusual connection between a particular English translation of the covert Theme and the mathematics of circles would account in part for why Elgar encoded Pi in the Enigma Theme’s opening bar.
In a letter to Jaeger describing the genesis of the Enigma Variations, Elgar explained, “I’ve written the variations each one to represent the mood of the ‘party’ — I’ve liked to imagine the ‘party’ writing the var: him (or her) self & have written what I think they wd. have written — if they were asses enough to compose . . .” His use of the term asses to characterize his friends’ imaginary compositional forays may be appreciated as yet another example of Elgarian wordplay because the initials for A Safe Stronghold are “A. S. S.” The word asses shares three sequentially matching letters with assai, and four in reverse order with essay.
The Tasso Performance Direction Cipher
Two of the terms in Elgar’s Tasso fragment (assai and poco) are common performance directions in music. Assai means “very or extremely.” Poco means “little,” and is defined as “to a slight degree, somewhat.” The Enigma Variations is 780 measures in length, yet nowhere does the term assai appear. In contrast, poco is only found in measures 205-206. Its location is four and five bars after Rehearsal 22 near the conclusion of Variation VI Ysobel. The music term poco is essentially a fragment of a fragment, for it is just one of six words from Elgar’s Tasso fragment. The number six crops up in multiple ways in that movement. The Roman numeral is VI, the subtitle has six letters, and the time signature of 3/2 has six quarter beats per bar. Elgar’s coded emphasis on the number six is not haphazard as the complete German title of the covert Theme is six words in length and is encoded by a six-by-six Polybius Square Music Box Cipher in the opening six bars of the Enigma Theme.
The conspicuous presence of the performance direction poco from the Tasso fragment in one solitary measure of the entire Enigma Variations is a “little” word that serves as a big clue intimating the presence of a cryptogram. In measure 206 the performance directions for the first oboe (Oboi I), clarinet (Clarinetti I in B flat), bassoon (Fagotti I), and French horn (Corni in F) are poco marc. Concerning orchestral musicians, another title for the first chair is the Principal. For instance, Liang Wang is known as the Principal Oboist of the New York Philharmonic. Elgar used this exact terminology in the inaugural 1899 program note to characterize the absent principal Theme of the Enigma Variations. The performance direction marcato means accented or stressed and is often abbreviated as marc. In the oboe and French horn parts, this is followed in the same bar by the standard abbreviation of diminuendo (dim). The combination poco marcato means slightly accented or stressed. The term diminuendo means “to gradually become softer.” The notes performed in measure 206 by the first oboe, clarinet, bassoon, and french horn are summarized in the table below where blank cells indicate a rest.
The Principal Oboe plays the same notes concurrently an octave higher as the Principal French Horn, an orchestration technique known as doubling. The Principal Clarinet in B-flat also doubles the First Bassoon at the octave. The two Es on the sixth beat of the bar furnish the initials for the composer, Edward Elgar. The appearance of his initials in this measure is noteworthy because the decryptions of multiple ciphers in the Enigma Variations incorporate those same initials ostensibly as both a form of personal identification and authentication. It is remarkable that the last three notes in this bar for instrumental parts singled out by the presence of the performance direction poco are F, B, and E. These letters are an anagram of the initials for Ein feste Burg. Among these four parts, the two transposing instruments are the clarinet in B-flat, and the french horn in F. Like Elizabeth Browning’s name, those letters provide two of the three initials for Ein feste Burg.
The first three notes of the instrumental parts with the performance direction poco in measure 206 also encode a related cryptogram. The first three notes (D, G, and C) are an anagram of “CGD,” a phonetic version of the phrase “See God.” The letter C is phonetic not only for see but also sea. This suggests consulting the Mendelssohn fragments in Variation XIII which sonically portray the sea. The discovery of multiple ciphers in the Enigma Variations pointing to the Turin Shroud bolsters the phonetic reading of “C G-D” as “See God.” A famous photographic negative of the Turin Shroud taken in May 1898 by the Italian amateur photographer Secondo Pia revealed for the first time in history a lifelike image of a crucified man, one that many Roman Catholics revere as Jesus of Nazareth. News of this stunning picture circulated widely in both the secular and Roman Catholic press. This stunning picture was taken only five months before Elgar began to work on the Enigma Variations.
The Turin Shroud preserves as a photographic negative two distinct perspectives of a crucified man. The Shroud’s lower half shows the posterior image of the body’s front. The Shroud’s upper half presents a dorsal view of the body’s back. Like a cipher, the full content of these dual images remained inaccessible until the invention of photography more than a millennium after its genesis. There are some remarkable parallels between the Turin Shroud and the Enigma Variations. Like the two images of one body on the Shroud, the Enigma Variations are based on two themes that synergistically culminate through fourteen diverse interpretations into one unified work. There are fourteen variations, and the Turin Shroud is just over fourteen feet long. Elgar’s perplexing pairing of the Enigma Theme played forwards with Ein feste Burg mapped over it in retrograde reflects the Turin Shroud’s dualism. The Enigma Theme is played forward, a feature that represents the front. The covert Theme is played backward in retrograde and appropriately symbolizes the back. The hidden character of the principal Theme is akin to the Turin Shroud’s secret image only unmasked by a photographic negative. Elgar’s inventive counterpoint to the covert Theme is similar to a photographic negative because it sounds very different than the source melody yet harmonizes perfectly with it as a type of contrapuntal negative.
A central tenant of the Roman Catholic faith is the belief that Jesus is the incarnation of God. The opportunity to gaze in devout contemplation at a lifelike image of Christ’s crucified body was first made possible by that historic photographic negative of the Turin Shroud. In Variation XIII Elgar encodes references to Jesus, the “Dead God,” and the Turin Shroud. In Variation II he also enciphers the name of the Italian amateur photographer who took the first official photograph of the Turin Shroud, Secondo Pia. There is a surprising link between Tasso and the Turin Shroud. When it first arrived in the city of Turin in 1578, a special mass was celebrated with a distinguished guest of honor who publicly venerated the relic: Torquato Tasso. Like Pia, Tasso was Italian.
In measure 206, the abbreviation of marcato (marc.) is tantalizing because the second book in the New Testament is the Gospel of Mark. Marc is phonetic for Mark, the shortest and, therefore, the smallest of the canonical gospels with only sixteen chapters. The performance directions poco marc. appear to be a coded reference to that little book. The significance of this Elgarian wordplay cipher is that the Gospel of Mark originally ends with the discovery of the empty tomb. This presents an uncanny parallel with Tasso’s Jerusalem Delivered which concludes with a heroic knight kneeling and praying before the Holy Sepulchre, that same empty tomb. Marc also sounds like mark as in “X” marks the spot. An “X” is also a recognized symbol of the cross.
The Mendelssohn Scale Degrees Cipher
There are mutually reinforcing ciphers associated with the Tasso and Mendelssohn fragments. In measure 206 the performance direction poco found in the Tasso fragment makes its only appearance in four instrumental parts: The first oboe, the first clarinet in B flat, the first bassoon, and the first french horn. These opening three notes (D, G, and C) and the reverse of “C G-D” reads phonetically as “See God.” This decryption parallels a cipher in the Mendelssohn fragments in Variation XIII based on its scale degrees. The scale degrees of the notes in the Mendelssohn quotations sequentially are 3, 2, 1, and 1. The application of a simple number-to-letter cipher to these scale degrees produces C, B, A, and A. These are the actual note letters of the first two Mendelssohn fragments in A flat major. The letters “CBAA” are an anagram of “CABA” which may be read phonetically as “See Abba.” It is remarkable the Enigma Theme's “ABAC” structure is a palindrome of “CABA.” Jesus claimed to be the Son of God, and that God was his Father. He assured his disciples, “He that hath seen me hath seen the Father.” The decryptions from the Measure 206 Tasso Cipher (“See God”) and the Mendelssohn Fragments Scale Degrees Cipher (“See Abba”) are complementary and mutually reinforcing because the Christian doctrine of the Trinity holds that God is three consubstantial persons and that the first is God the Father.
Fragments of Ein feste Burg
In 1923, Troyte Griffith, the friend portrayed in Variation VII, asked Elgar if the missing melody was God save the King. Elgar replied, “No, of course not; but it is so well-known that it is extraordinary no one has spotted it.” In addition to establishing its fame, such a reply suggests that fragments of the absent Theme are present in the Variations, for otherwise there would be nothing to spot. This hunch is bolstered by the original program note that describes the link between the absent Theme and the Variations as being “. . . often of the slightest texture. . . .” Merriam-Webster defines slight as “very small in degree or amount,” and one definition for texture is “the various parts of a song…and the way they fit together.” Elgar’s judiciously parsed words specify the discernable bond between the Variations and the absent Theme is comprised of short sequences of shared notes or fragments. This condition is further alluded to by the brief four-note Mendelssohn fragments quoted in Variation XIII.
A careful assessment of measures 205-206 in Variation VI was carried out because it is the only bar in the entire Enigma Variations that has a fragment of the Tasso paraphrase, the performance direction poco. Merriam-Webster defines a fragment as “a part broken off, detached or incomplete.” A fragment is a little piece of something, and poco (which means little) is a little piece of the Tasso paraphrase. It was previously determined that specific notes played by four instrumental parts assigned this term encode the initials for Ein feste Burg and a phonetic spelling of the phrase, “See God.” The last word in the covert Theme’s complete six-word title is God, originally spelled Gott in German. It is intriguing that Torquato Tasso’s initials form the last two letters in Gott. The Measure 206 Tasso Cipher encodes the initials (EFB) for the common three-word German title of the covert Theme in addition to the English translation of the sixth word from the full title (A).
The appearance of the initials for the composer and the covert Theme’s title in measure 206 among the notes of those instrumental parts given the performance direction poco, a fragment from the Tasso paraphrase, suggests that there could be fragments of Ein feste Burg in this area of the score. This impression is bolstered by the realization that initials are essentially fragments of complete names. Further analysis reveals the melodic line performed by the first violins in measures 205-206 is constructed almost entirely of three fragments sourced from the concluding phrase of Ein feste Burg. This hymn may be subdivided into six distinct phrases labeled A through F with an overall structure of “ABABCDEFB.” Notice that its German initials occur sequentially in the final three phrases (ABABCDEFB). Out of the six phrases, Phrase B is performed the most often with three cycles in the second, fourth and ninth. These three melodic segments are a melodic anagram as they may be rearranged to form Phrase B from Ein feste Burg.
A coded version of covert Theme’s closing phrase is stealthily inserted in the very same bar where the initials for Ein feste Burg are encoded by instrumental parts with the performance direction poco. Fragments of Ein feste Burg are not unique to Variation VI. In Variation XIII, the seven measure clarinet solos beginning with the Mendelssohn quotations also encode that same ending phrase using the same encoding technique, a melodic anagram.
There is an extraordinary link between Mendelssohn’s Finale from his Reformation Symphony, and his overture Meeresstille und glückliche Fahrt. In The Cambridge Companion to Mendelssohn, Douglass Seaton eloquently describes this connection:
Out of the closing unison G of the slow movement come the flutes, playing the Lutheran hymn “Ein’ feste Burg ist unser Gott.” Like the opening of the symphony, this introduction to the finale proper is scored only for winds and the lower strings, with groups of instruments added in stages, again producing the organistic effect of adding registration. This gives way to a preparatory crescendo that brings in the body of the Allegro maestoso, a rather pastiche-like succession of ideas ranging from overture-like flamboyance, to contrapuntal seriousness, to military-band-like ceremony, to cantus firmus quotations of the chorale. The coda somewhat recalls the ship’s arrival in the Meeresstille und glückliche Fahrt overture but ultimately gives way to a triumphal, homorhythmic setting of the first two chorale phrases.
Elgar’s decision to quote a superficially disparate incipit from Meeresstille und glückliche Fahrt in Variation XIII adroitly hints by imitation at the prospect that Mendelssohn cites the covert Theme in one of his own orchestral works. The number of times Elgar features this fragment further alludes to the precise movement in which Mendelssohn introduces Luther’s famous hymn. There are four Mendelssohn fragments, and Mendelssohn introduces Luther’s famous hymn at the outset of the fourth movement of his Reformation Symphony. The numeric parallel is precise, relevant, and difficult to ignore. The Reformation Symphony concludes with an augmented restatement of Phrase B from Ein feste Burg, something that ties in elegantly with what Elgar achieves in Variation X.
Elgar’s cryptic remarks about Variation X, a movement dedicated to Dora Penny whom he gave the pseudonym Dorabella, draw particular attention to the inner voice without providing any clear-cut explanation. He wrote, “The inner sustained phrases at first on the viola and later on the flute should be noted.” In choosing the word “noted” to emphasize the importance of the inner voice, Elgar’s choice of words strongly suggests scouring the actual notes for clues.
After identifying the fragments of Ein Feste Burg in Variations VI and XIII, it now becomes abundantly plain why Elgar would emphasize the inner voice. An augmented version of the first four notes of Phrase B from Ein feste Burg is quoted twice by the inner voice in Variation X. These four note fragments provide a precise parallel with the four-note Mendelssohn fragments from his Meeresstille und glückliche Fahrt overture cited in Variation XIII. In both instances, these Dorabella fragments are played by the flute section. Elgar’s choice of instrumentation and mode for this fragment is a revealing orchestration technique for three reasons. First, the opening key of Mendelssohn’s Finale and Elgar’s Variation X are exact matches: G major. Second, Mendelssohn introduces Ein feste Burg on the flute in the Finale of his Reformation Symphony, a work that concludes with a sustained restatement of Phrase B. Third, Martin Luther was an avid flutist.
This pattern of inserting fragments of the covert Theme within the fabric of the orchestral score extends even to the Enigma Theme itself. In measures 1 through 3, the first six notes in the baseline performed by the cello section comprise the parallel minor version of Phrase B’s final six notes in retrograde. It is remarkable the measure numbers framing this introductory fragment supply a coded reference to the number thirteen. This fragment is reprised in measures 11 through 13 by the cello and bass sections. In measures 7 and 8, the violas perform the last five notes from Phrase A from Mendelssohn’s adaption with the characteristic rising and falling broken thirds. In these same bars, the cellos complete Phrase A by playing the opening four notes in an elongated fashion with an octave jump between the first two and a tie between the second and third before dropping an interval of a fourth to the fourth note. The rosalia figure in measures 7 through 10 is constructed almost entirely of Phrase B’s opening four notes restated four times in retrograde. The restatement of a four-note fragment four times precisely mirrors what Elgar accomplishes with the Mendelssohn fragments in Variation XIII. In measure 14, the second violins perform the first four notes of Phrase B in the melodic minor mode. This is shortly followed in measures 16 and 17 where the second violins play the remaining six notes of Phrase B in a tonal version transposed up a major third.
With such a profound emphasis on the covert Theme’s concluding phrase, it is exquisitely fitting and symbolic that Elgar appended the following quotation from the fourteenth stanza of Longfellow’s Elegiac Verse at the conclusion of the extended Finale: “Great is the art of beginning, but greater the art is of ending.” Elgar’s use of literature in this instance may also be considered as a coded reference to Jesus who said, “I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End, the First and the Last.”
Elgar’s paraphrase of a quotation from Torquato Tasso’s epic poem La Gerusalemme liberata published in 1581 presents certain anomalous characteristics that collectively point to a series of revelatory cryptograms in the Enigma Variations. From the number of its syllables to its transformation from the third to first person, the Tasso fragment furnishes direct and indirect allusions to thirteen, an ill-fated number. This investigation verifies that the Tasso paraphrase is a multivalent cipher, a feature shared by the Mendelssohn fragments in Variation XIII, and Longfellow fragment at the end of the expanded Finale.
The Tasso fragment’s placement at the end of the orchestral score in combination with an incorrect year (1595) corresponding to his death both firmly implies the need to consult the ending of La Gerusalemme liberata and Tasso’s earthly end for evidence regarding the covert Theme and Elgar’s secret friend. Tasso’s epic poem concludes with the victorious knight Godfrey kneeling reverently before the empty tomb of Christ, the secret friend depicted in Variation XIII. The empty tomb shares a striking similitude with the Enigma Variations’ absent principal Theme and the missing friend eulogized in Variation XIII. As Tasso lay dying in April 1595, he sang psalms with his Confessor and dignified priestly attendants. The covert Theme’s title originates from Psalm 46. By incorporating his initials into the modified Tasso fragment in the fourth and sixth words, Elgar deftly encodes that precise chapter from the Book of Psalms from which the covert Theme draws its title. Longfellow routinely described poetry as song, a fact amplified by the title of his epic poem The Song of Hiawatha. Tasso’s epic poetry may also be characterized as a song, and the biblical synonym for song is psalm. Elgar’s use of a small literary fragment to allude to such a treasure trove of relevant and interconnected information is a masterstroke of genius.
Elgar’s mistranslation of the Tasso fragment is another anomaly that signals the presence of another cryptogram. Elgar acknowledged Elizabeth Browning’s book An Essay on Mind as the source of the Tasso quotation. This would help explain why he deliberately mistranslated brama as essay rather than desire since essay appears in the title of her poetic tome. This is another instance of Elgar’s skillful exercise of wordplay. A comparison of the second words in the Tasso paraphrase (assai) with Elgar’s mistranslation (essay) reveals that both are five letters long and share a corresponding letter sequence in the second through fourth positions. The matching sequential letters “ssa” in assai and essay are the reverse initials of the well-known English translation of Ein feste Burg (A Safe Stronghold) by the Scottish essayist and philosopher Thomas Carlyle.
In using the term asses to characterize his friends’ imagined attempts at composing, Elgar embraces his flair for wordplay because the initials for A Safe Stronghold are “A. S. S.” Like the butt of a joke, the word ass implies the posterior or backend of something. This ties in brilliantly with how Elgar sprinkles fragments of the covert Theme’s ending phrase both forward and backward throughout the Enigma Variations. Fragments of the ending phrase from Ein feste Burg are encoded by various music anagrams in Variations VI and XIII, and are quoted literally in an augmented form by the inner voice in Variation X. Sections of Phrases A and B are cleverly inserted into the full score of the Enigma Theme.
The modified Tasso quotation includes the performance directions assai and poco which are commonly used in musical scores. A careful study of the Enigma Variations full score revealed no use of assai and the appearance of poco in one bar of Variation VI. In bars 205-206 only four instruments are assigned poco in combination with marcato (abbreviated marc.), the oboe, clarinet in B-flat, bassoon, and french horn in F. The note letters for these parts in this solitary measure include the composer’s initials (EE), the initials for Ein feste Burg (EFB), and a phonetic rendering of “See God” (C G-D). The composer’s initials turn up in multiple cryptograms throughout the Enigma Variations, serving as a marker to signal the presence of a cipher and to authenticate the accompanying decryption. Elgar’s initials and those for the covert Theme nestled among the five distinct note letters in measure 206 are obvious.
The phonetic reading of the notes “C G-D” as “See God” is not so straightforward. A more flexible phonetic reading of these note letters is justified because Elgar’s personal correspondence is riddled with phonetic spellings. The letter C sounds like see and sea. In Variation XIII Elgar cites four Mendelssohn fragments to sonically portray the sea in a covert tribute to Christ who miraculously walked on the Sea of Galilee. In the Gospel of Mark, we read how Jesus rebuked the wind and the sea, commanding them to be still. The image of a calm sea is connected to the power of Christ and his earthly ministry. Coded references to Jesus and the Turin Shroud are found in Variation XIII.
Roman Catholics believe Jesus is the incarnation of God, and that his image is miraculously preserved as a photographic negative on the Turin Shroud. The amateur Italian photographer Secondo Pia secured the first official picture of the Turin Shroud in May 1898, five months before Elgar first began working openly on the Enigma Variations. The sequence and timing of these events are credible circumstantial evidence. Pia’s remarkable photographic negative became an immediate international sensation in the secular and Roman Catholic press. It is not an unwarranted stretch to connect the decryption “See God” with Elgar’s other coded references to Christ and the Turin Shroud. It is not a coincidence that Secondo Pia’s name and initials are encoded in Variation II.
The discovery of these mutually reinforcing ciphers could not conceivably be the result of my limited imagination. They are like an ornate spear hurled valiantly by Elgar into the distant future, piercing a time and place in which we only now find ourselves, permitting us to finally withdraw it and decrypt its elaborate script inscribed up and down its shaft. A more fitting time could not have been chosen, for the era of October 2017 marks the 500th anniversary when Martin Luther, the composer of Ein feste Burg, nailed his Ninety-Five Theses on the door of All Saint’s Church in Wittenberg and sparked the Protestant Reformation. It was also in October 1898 when Elgar first performed the Enigma Theme for his wife, Alice. On this issue, Jesus sums up my personal feelings in the Gospel of Mark where he quotes the Psalms, “This is the Lord’s doing, and it is marvelous in our eyes.” To learn more about the secrets behind one of Elgar’s most performed symphonic achievements, consult my free eBook Elgar’s Enigmas Exposed.
|Martin Luther and his Ninety-Five Theses|
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