Whoever has seen me has seen the Father.
Jesus speaking to his disciples
And he said, “Abba, Father, all things are possible for you. Remove this cup from me. Yet not what I will, but what you will.”
Jesus praying at Gethsemane on the eve of his arrest and crucifixion
Edward Elgar cites a melodic fragment from Felix Mendelssohn’s concert overture Calm Sea and Prosperous Voyage in the fourteenth movement of the Enigma Variations. The first two Mendelssohn fragments in Variation XIII are set in the key of A-flat major. The third is in F minor and the fourth in E-flat major. The key letters of those fragments—A, E, and F—are an anagram of a well known musical cryptogram (FAE) that originates from the initials for violinist Joseph Joachim’s romantic motto “Frei aber einsam” (Free but lonely). It is astounding that for over a century a myriad of musicians and musicologist like the much vaunted Julian Rushton failed to detect this elementary musical cryptogram concealed so transparently among the key letters of the Mendelssohn fragments. As Elgar’s not-so-secret friend would paraphrase the prophet Jeremiah regarding this oversight, “They had eyes but could not see, and ears but could not hear.” Elgar’s cryptographic genius is on full display with this demonstration of concealing something so obvious in plain sight.
The conventional wisdom has doggedly insisted that the Mendelssohn fragments, and by extension Variation XIII, are unrelated to the Enigma Variations. That staid opinion seems justified as the melodic incipits originate from an entirely different work. Far from being extraneous, those fragments conceal a rich cache of cryptograms that disclose and authenticate the covert melodic Theme and the secret friend memorialized in Variation XIII. These cipher discoveries should come as no surprise because Elgar was an expert cryptographer, a prominent facet of his psychological profile that the so-called experts glossed over or completely ignored. Contrary to the cretinous ruminations of scholars woefully lacking in a modicum of cryptographic expertise, the Mendelssohn fragments contain in whole or in part at least thirteen cryptograms. These Mendelssohn ciphers are listed below with links to their detailed descriptions and decryptions:
- “See Abba” Mendelssohn Cipher
The thirteenth cipher is known as the “See Abba” Mendelssohn Cipher, and it is described here for the first time. This particular cryptogram is a phonetic anagram based on the four note letters of the Mendelssohn quotation in A-flat major. The first and second Mendelssohn quotations in A flat major are comprised of four notes: C, B-flat, and two A-flats. These four note letters (C, B, A, and A) may be rearranged as an anagram to form CABA, a reordering which may be read phonetically as “See Abba.” Elgar’s affinity for phonetic spellings is thoroughly documented in his personal correspondence, so a phonetic reading of CABA as “See Abba” is amply warranted.
What is the significance of the decryption “See Abba?” The central person of the Trinity according to Elgar’s Roman Catholic profession of faith is God the Father. As documented in the epigraph, Jesus called God “Abba” which is Aramaic for “Father.” Jesus further declared that those who have seen him have seen his heavenly Father. Jesus is the secret friend personified in Variation XIII, and the Romanza Cipher in that movement refers to his burial cloth, the Turin Shroud. This coded reference to Christ’s death would explain Elgar’s decision to quote a melody from Mendelssohn’s tone poem that represents the deathly stillness of the sea (Todesstille fürchterlich!) described so poignantly by the German poet Goethe. The DEAD G-D Cipher reinforces this interpretation, for Roman Catholics believe Jesus is divine and that he died at Calvary as an atonement. There are numerous cryptographic references to the Turin Shroud in the Enigma Variations. According to Elgar’s Roman Catholicism, to see the image on the Turin Shroud is to see an impression of Jesus, and by extension, his heavenly Father.
Why would Elgar encode a reference to seeing God the Father in Variation XIII? The explanation is provided by a famous photographic negative of the Turin Shroud first captured by Secondo Pia in May 1898, five months before Elgar began to work openly on the Enigma Variations. In the process of the developing the first photographic glass plates of the Turin Shroud in a dark room, Pia made the remarkable discovery that the Turin Shroud is itself a photographic negative. A negative of a negative is a positive, so the image on Pia’s photographic negative unveiled for the first time a remarkably detailed image of a crucified man that many Catholic believe is the body of Christ. Pia was so shocked by his discovery that he almost dropped the photographic glass plate as the image emerged during the process of developing.
Pia’s remarkable discovery was widely reported in the secular and Catholic press, and the Turin Shroud remains a popular topic in the press to the present day. In witnessing for the first time a lifelike image of Jesus miraculously preserved as a photographic negative on his burial shroud, Roman Catholics like Elgar and Pia believed they were gazing on an actual image of their Lord and Savior, and by extension, their heavenly Father. My own grandmother was a Roman Catholic, and she proudly displayed a copy of Pia’s photographic negative of the Holy Face in her living room. Confirmation that Pia’s photograph of the Turin Shroud inspired Elgar to compose the Enigma Variations is found in Variation II which contains within its Roman Numerals and subtitle a coded reference to Secondo Pia.
The efficacy of the “See Abba” Mendelssohn Cipher is confirmed by a companion cryptogram in the Enigma Theme that encodes the identical phrase using the same letters. In a remarkable convergence, the four note letters of the A-flat Mendelssohn fragments are an anagram of the Enigma Theme’s ABA’C structure. When read phonetically in reverse, the Enigma Theme’s ABA’C structure sounds like “See Abba.” It is remarkable that the “C ABA” Cipher contained in the Enigma Theme’s structure is also present in the four-note Mendelssohn quotations in A-flat major. According to Elgar’s Roman Catholic faith, the central person of the Trinity is God the Father. So the A-flat Mendelssohn fragment encodes not only the four structural components of the Enigma Theme but also a revealing phrase that hints at the divine inspiration behind the Enigma Variations and the secret friend memorialized in Variation XIII.
The number four turns up repeatedly in connection with Elgar’s use of the Mendelssohn fragments in the fourteenth movement, Variation XIII. There are four Mendelssohn fragments. Each quotation is comprised of four notes. The original German title of Mendelssohn’s overture—Meeresstille und glückliche Fahrt—is four words. Variation XIII is set in G major, and the fourth scale degree of that key is C which is also known as the subdominant. That particular note presents a phonetic parallel with the Mendelssohn fragments because they sonically portray the sea, a word which sounds indistinguishable from the letter c.
The number four is also closely associated with the Enigma Theme’s unconventional melodic structure. Its 4/4 time signature may also be represented by a capital C which stands for common time. As previously observed, the letter C is a phonetic rendering of sea which is sonically symbolized by the four Mendelssohn fragments in Variation XIII. The opening six measures of the Enigma Theme are framed in G minor. This is the first of four parts in an ABA’C format with the first labeled Section A. As previously observed, the four notes that comprise the A-flat major Mendelssohn fragments (C, B-flat, and two A-flats) are an anagram of the Enigma Theme’s ABA’C structure.
The Enigma Theme’s brooding melody in Section A consists of unusual four-note groupings of alternating pairs of eighth notes and quarter notes separated by regularly spaced quarter rests on the downbeat of each bar. Section B commences in measure 7 with a rosalia modulating sequence in the parallel G major mode, the same key as Variation XIII. The opening thematic material in Variation XIII consists of three descending perfect 4ths, an interval also granted a marked emphasis in the Enigma Theme’s B Section. The melody in Section B begins with a rising four-note linear scale sequence covering a perfect fourth followed by a rising and falling perfect 4th. This six-note rosalia formula is repeated four times over four measures with six melody notes per bar.
There are four melody notes per bar in Section A which is six measures in length. These figures are reversed in Section B which is four measures long and has six melody notes per bar. The pairing of the number of melody notes per bar (4 and 6) with the number of measures in Sections A and B respectively (6 and 4) is indeed a cipher that encodes the number 46. That number is significant because Martin Luther drew inspiration from Psalm 46 to compose his epic hymn Ein feste Burg, the covert Theme to the Enigma Variations. To ensure that specific chapter number was linked to that particular Psalm, Elgar enciphered the word Psalm in the performance directions of the Enigma Theme’s first measure as an acrostic anagram and even went so far as to include his initials in the decryption. It is also extraordinary that the number of letters in the phrase "dark saying" first introduced by Elgar in the original 1899 program note concerning the Enigma Theme are 4 and 6 respectively. His carefully chosen words harbor layers of cryptographic meaning.
The number of melody notes in parts A and B of the Enigma Theme is identical (24), a figure that precisely matches the total number of letters in the covert Theme’s complete German title—Ein feste Burg ist Unser Gott. Section A is reprised at measure 11 in a more embellished format with counter-melodic material and a more sustained accompaniment, concluding in measure 17 with a Picardy third in G major. As a result of these modifications, the repetition of this first section is identified as A’ or A prime. This is followed by Section C, a two-bar bridge in measures 18 and 19 that circles back to the G minor mode followed by a double barline that marks the terminus of the Enigma Theme. It is known with complete certainty that Section C forms the fourth and final component of the Enigma Theme because Elgar specified so in writing. In the late 1920’s he provided descriptive notes for a set of pianola rolls published in 1929. Regarding Variation I he wrote, “There is no break between the theme and this movement.” That is a critical disclosure because it confirms the Enigma Theme does not terminate until Variation I begins. This is most definitely measure 20 where the first variant of the Enigma Theme is introduced.
The number four reverberates with distinct theological overtones. In the Hebrew scriptures, God’s name possesses four letters (JHVH), and for this reason is known as the Tetragrammaton. The two matching letters closely resemble a reversed capital E in both Paleo-Hebrew and old Aramaic, a remarkable parallel with Edward Elgar’s initials. Four rivers flowed out of the Garden of Eden (Genesis 2:10-14), and rivers commonly course towards the sea. When Jesus was stripped of his clothing at his crucifixion, the Roman soldiers divided it into four parts (John 19:23-25). They then cast lots—gambled—for his outer tunic because it was woven from a single piece, a seamless garment worn by a sinless man. Another fabric Jesus wore briefly in death was a sacred linen cloth known famously today as the Turin Shroud.
Elgar bolsters an association between the letter c and the imagery of the open sea conveyed through the Mendelssohn fragments through his orchestration. The Mendelssohn quotations are accompanied by a pulsating ostinato that reprises the Enigma Theme’s palindromic rhythm, a phenomenon that suggests a deeper connection lurking beneath the surface between these two melodies. One link already identified is that the four note letters of the A-flat Mendelssohn fragments are an anagram of the Enigma Theme’s ABA’C structure. With the first two Mendelssohn quotations in A-flat major, the ostinato figure is performed by the viola section as alternating sixths with the lowest note fixed on the open C string. That same C is played by the Timpani as a distant metallic roll intended to imitate the sound of a steamer crossing the open sea. Elgar clearly intended by his orchestration to associate the note C (played by the violas and the timpani in tandem with the Mendelssohn fragments) with a sea crossing. The concept of crossing is also openly conveyed by a string crossing motif in Variation VI which is also set in C major. The significance of multiple overt references to crossing in the Enigma Variations is that it alludes to the sign of the cross, a ritual blessing performed by Roman Catholics, Lutherans, and other Christian denominations.
The viola part is written in the alto clef, and the Timpani is notated in the bass clef. These two clefs share uncanny associations with the letter c. The alto or viola clef is known as the C clef because it designates the third line of the staff as Middle C. The alto clef resembles two reversed C’s placed above and below the third or center line. The bass clef used by the Timpani is known as the F clef because it identifies the fourth line with the two dots around it as the F a fifth below Middle C. Like the two reversed C’s in the alto clef, the bass clef closely resembles the letter C. By writing the accompaniments to the first two Mendelssohn quotations in the alto and bass clefs, Elgar further enhances the connection between his sonic symbolism of the sea and the letter C.
The letter C is a huge hint concerning the identity of the friend covertly memorialized in Variation XIII. One of his most commonly invoked titles begins with that letter: Christ. It is also the first letter in the term used to identify his followers: Christian. It is also the first letter in the words cross and crucifix. In the midst of a storm, Jesus walked on the Sea of Galilee during the fourth watch of the night to a boat carrying his disciples. As soon as he entered the boat, the storm retreated and calm was restored. On another occasion when Jesus and his disciples were crossing the Sea of Galilee, a powerful windstorm storm produced large waves that threatened to swamp their boat. Jesus rebuked the storm by commanding, “Peace! Be still!” Again, calm was restored.
There are distinct theological associations between Jesus and a calm sea. The concept of calm is also referenced in Psalm 46 where it reads, “Be still and know that I am God.” Jesus made a further connection between his death and the sea by referring to the sign of Jonah, a prophet who was swallowed by a whale and spent three days in the ocean before being spit out onto dry land. The initials for Jesus Christ are openly encoded by the Roman numerals for Variation XIII through an elementary substitution method known as a number-to-letter cipher. The Roman numeral for ten is X, a heraldic symbol known as a saltire or St. Andrew’s Cross. The tenth letter of the alphabet is J. The Roman numeral for three is III, and the third letter of the alphabet is C. The X and three I’s are a basic number-to-letter code for the initials of Jesus Christ. The cross and three nails are also integral features on the Jesuit emblem which has at its center the Christogram IHS.
The initials (H. D. S-P.) and Roman numerals assigned to Variation II may be interpreted as an anagram for the Christogram IHS, and the word DIP. The initials IHS are represented in bold by the first and third initials of H. D. S-P., and the first letter in the Roman numerals II. The second word, DIP, is formed by the remaining letters. There are several significant theological connections between Jesus and the act of dipping. In John Chapter 13, it describes how Jesus told his disciples at the Last Supper that one of them would betray him that very night. When someone asked Jesus to reveal the identity of the traitor, Jesus replied it would be the one to whom he would give a morsel of bread after he had dipped it in a bowl. In Revelation Chapter 19, Jesus is described as “clothed in a robe dipped in blood.” The Turin Shroud is stained by type AB male human blood, the same found on the Sudarium of Oviedo, a cloth used to cover the face of the deceased shortly after death according to Jewish burial custom. The first two letters from the Greek word for Christ form another Christogram known as the Chi-Rho. This Christian symbol is encoded in the title of Variation XIII and its subtitle Romanza. The X represents the Chi, and the Rho is captured phonetically by the first two letters of Romanza.
The key signatures of the Enigma Theme and Variation XIII are the parallel keys of G minor and G major. The accidentals for G minor (B-flat and E-flat) and G major (F sharp) encode the initials for Ein feste Burg, the covert Theme to the Enigma Variations. In both movements, the number four is granted a coded prominence. The Enigma Theme’s time signature of 4/4 may be represented by the letter C, and the four Mendelssohn fragments in Variation XIII sonically portray the sea. The application of a simple number-to-letter cipher to the number four converts it to the letter D. The letters G, D, and C are an anagram of “C G-D” which may be read phonetically as “See God.” This may be linked to the “See Abba” decryptions in both the Enigma Theme Structure Cipher and the Mendelssohn A-flat Fragments Cipher. The “See Abba” and “See God” cipher decrypts are mutually reinforcing and are persuasively connected by multiple coded references to the Turin Shroud and its first official photographer, Secondo Pia. To learn more about one of Elgar's greatest symphonic achievements, read my free eBook Elgar’s Enigmas Exposed.