Beauty awakens the soul to act.
There is a peculiarly positioned double bar at the end of the sixth measure of the Enigma Theme from the Enigma Variations by Edward Elgar. Similar to the unconventional construction of its haunting melody, the double bar’s proximity so close to the opening is both conspicuous and anomalous because it is typically used to indicate the end of a movement or section. With a feature associated with endings appearing near the beginning, something is distinctly out of kilter.
Some researchers have reasonably concluded this unusually positioned double bar at the terminus of bar six from the Enigma Theme actually marks off a special section harboring music ciphers. This conclusion is reinforced not only by the title Enigma but also by an audible sense of separation achieved in the melody by regularly placed quarter rests on the downbeat. Dr. McClelland perceptively observed that this rhythmic motif “...strongly suggests the cryptological technique of disguising word-lengths in ciphers by arranging letters in regular patterns.” It is an incontrovertible fact that Elgar was obsessed with ciphers. As Michael Kennedy remarked, “...he loved puns, acrostics, secret codes and crossword puzzles.” The suspicion that the Enigma Theme’s opening six measures contain various music ciphers is entirely consistent with Elgar’s expertise in cryptography, the art of creating and decrypting coded messages.
There is further evidence that the Enigma Theme incorporates a series of music ciphers. Elgar gave an illuminating description of the Enigma Variations in a letter to Charles Anslie Barry who prepared the program note for the June 1899 premiere. For that program, Barry cites Elgar’s commentary at length:
It is true that I have sketched for their amusement and mine, the idiosyncrasies of fourteen of my friends, not necessarily musicians; but this is a personal matter, and need not have been mentioned publicly. The Variations should stand simply as a ‘piece’ of music. The Enigma I will not explain – it’s ‘dark saying’ must be left unguessed, and I warn you that the connexion between the Variations and the Theme is often of the slightest texture; further, through and over the whole set another and larger theme ‘goes’, but is not played…So the principal Theme never appears, even as in some later dramas – e.g., Maeterlinck’s ‘L’Intruse’ and ‘Les sept Princesses’ – the chief character is never on the stage.
By associating a “dark saying” with the Enigma Theme, Elgar all but concedes it enciphers various words and phrases. Such a reading is justified because one of the definitions of dark is secret, and a saying is a group of words that produce a phrase. A series of hidden words in the Enigma Theme could only be achieved through music ciphers, a specialty of the composer. This would also explain why Elgar cautioned that his “dark saying” must remain unguessed since the plaintext solution may only be realized through a systematic decryption process. Although Elgar playfully teased Dora Penny about being the one to guess the solution, guessing alone would never suffice. His contrapuntal conundrum was calculated with great care and effort, and so too must be its solution.
What would Elgar conceivably encode in the Enigma Theme? The first and most likely candidate is the secret melody's title. The original program note and other publicly available sources published in the years following the premiere specify there is a covert Theme on which the Enigma Variations are based as a series of diverse counterpoints. The principal Theme is not heard because it is not played in its entirety, although short fragments of it do appear in various parts of the score. For example, a four-note segment from its concluding phrase is twice quoted in Dora Penny's Variation X entitled Dorabella. The discovery of these fragments from the covert Theme in her variation accounts for Elgar's insistence that Dora would have been the one to guess the correct tune. The existence of these melodic snippets from the hidden melody is heavily hinted at by a four-note fragment from Mendelssohn’s concert overture Meeresstille und glückliche Fahrt quoted repeatedly in Variation XIII.
A second item that is most probably enciphered in the Enigma Theme is a “dark saying.” This is the case as the original program note mentions a “dark saying” in connection with the Enigma Theme. Elgar’s discussion of a “dark saying” associated with the Enigma Theme (which is itself a counterpoint to a famous melody) clearly specifies that these two riddles are interrelated. There must be some intimate connection between his “dark saying” and the title of the covert Theme. Following this line of reasoning, it is entirely plausible that this encoded message is the secret tune’s title. His use of the term Enigma as the title of the Theme bolsters this tantalizing link between the two.
To detect the presence of prospective music ciphers in the Enigma Theme’s opening measures, it was first necessary to carefully scrutinize the orchestral parts from the full score. The only instruments that perform over the first six measures of the Enigma Theme comprise the string quartet. The first violins play the melody with an accompaniment provided by the second violins, violas, and cellos. In the process of analyzing these opening six measures for the existence of prospective music ciphers, it was quickly discovered that the sum of the notes for each string part does not exceed the total letters of the English alphabet. There are 24 melody notes in the first violin part, 17 in the second violin part, 15 in the viola part, and 12 in the cello part. This realization invited the application of an elementary number-to-letter cipher conversion, triggering the discovery of the Enigma Locks Cipher.
This cryptogram relies on the note totals from each string part over the Enigma Theme's first six measures to encode specific letters of the alphabet. When the cipher key is applied to these note totals by counting forwards in the alphabet (1=A, 2=B, 3=C, and so on), the plaintext solution letters are X for the first violins, Q for the second violins, O for the violas, and L for the cellos. The sequential combination of these letters in reverse order from the bottom of the orchestral score upwards produces the plaintext solution LOQX. This fusion of letters is a phonetic rendering of locks. Like ciphers, locks are opened with keys.
The word association between locks and keys prompted an analysis of the musical keys in which the Enigma Theme is written. This brief opening movement in an ABA’C format alternates between the minor and major modes of G. The accidentals for those two key signatures are B-flat, E-flat, and F-sharp. It is extraordinary that the three letters of those accidentals are an anagram of the initials for the covert Theme’s common three-word title, Ein feste Burg. The unveiling of the Enigma Locks Cipher sparked the discovery of a second cryptogram lurking in the same movement, the Enigma Keys Cipher.
The same decryption method may also be applied to the Enigma Theme’s instrumental section note totals for the opening six bars by counting backward in the alphabet (1=Z, 2=Y, 3=X, and so on). The application of this retrograde conversion results in the plaintext solution letters C for the first violins, J for the second violins, L for the violas, and O for the cellos. Two of the four letters (L and O) from the reverse decryption precisely match two from the standard forward counting decryption. That degree of congruence forcefully indicates a deliberate rather than coincidental construction.
The letters yielded by the retrograde conversion are an anagram of LOJC. In the biblical text, the word lo means to behold or look upon. The remaining two letters are the initials for Jesus Christ, the secret friend commemorated in Variation XIII. The letters LOJC may consequently be read as “Lo JC,” or interpolated more fully as “Behold Jesus Christ.” This interpretation of LOJC is amply supported by numerous ciphers in the Enigma Variations that implicate the Turin Shroud, the burial cloth of Christ venerated by Roman Catholics and other believers for thousands of years. The initials for Elgar’s not-so-secret friend are transparently encoded by the Roman numerals assigned to Variation XIII using the very same encipherment method found in the Enigma Locks Cipher, namely a number-to-letter cipher encryption key. It is precisely the same encryption used with the Roman numerals of Variation IX to encode the initials for Elgar’s other friend, August Jaeger.
On the subject of initials, the music used to construct the Enigma Locks Cipher is noteworthy because there are two E-flats in each of the three string parts that form the accompaniment. Over the opening six measures of the Enigma Theme’s full score where this cipher is positioned, there are two E-flats in the second violin part, two more in the viola part, and a third pair in the cello part. These three pairs of E-flats in the three accompanying string parts are undoubtedly coded versions of the composer’s initials. Three string parts with three pairs of E-flats is a subtle numeric reference to Elgar's initials because 33 is the mirror image of his rounded capital cursive E's. In contrast to the accompaniment, the Enigma Theme’s melody is devoid of any E’s or E-flats. While there are no notes in the first measure of the full score that would suggest Elgar’s initials, there is a Performance Directions Anagram Cipher that ingeniously encodes them. The first letters of the opening measure's seven performance directions are an anagram of EE’s PSALM. This is a revealing decryption because a psalm is a sacred hymn or poem used in worship, and the covert Theme is a hymn with a title drawn from chapter 46 of the Book of Psalms.
The presence of Elgar’s initials in the Enigma Psalm Cipher is not an isolated occurrence as his initials are also woven into the three string accompaniment parts of the Enigma Locks Cipher. In all, there are six E-flats dispersed over five of the opening six measures of the Enigma Theme. That in itself is fascinating as the number five is associated with Elgar’s initials because the fifth letter of the alphabet is E. The frequency and location of each E-flat from the full score of the Enigma Variations opening six bars is summarized in the table below.
The discovery of the Enigma Theme Locks Cipher invites the application of the same number-to-letter conversion (A=1, B=2, C=3, etc…) to the figures associated with the relative frequency of E-flat in the first six measures of the Enigma Theme’s orchestral score. When applied to the measure numbers with an E-flat (2, 3, 4, 5, and 6), this conversion yields the plaintext letters B, C, D, E, and F. Three of those letters—B, E, and F—stand out straight away because they are an anagram of the initials for Ein feste Burg. The remaining two letters—C and D—are an anagram of the initials for the Divina Commedia by Dante Alighieri. This interpretation is endorsed by diverse coded references to The Divine Comedy within the Enigma Variations. For example, Dante places the babbling giant Nimrod who blows his horn to draw attention to himself in the ninth circle of hell. Elgar reprises the link between that name and the number nine by giving the title Nimrod to Variation IX, a movement that concludes with a symbolic blast from the brass section at Rehearsal 37.
After separating out the initials (E. F. B.) for the covert Theme, the remaining letters D and C may be confidently identified as the initials for Dante’s magnum opus Divina Commedia. This discovery invites a further related decryption calling for the application of Elgar’s affinity for phonetic spellings. When the C is treated as an S as in the word circle, the combination of DC may be read alternatively as DS or Dis. In the first canticle of The Divine Comedy called The Inferno, there is a massive fortress city called Dis that encompasses the sixth through ninth circles of hell. Elgar’s coded literary references to Dante’s Divine Comedy and the fortress city of Dis are extraordinary bisecting clues because the literal translation of the covert Theme’s German title Ein feste Burg is “A Mighty Fortress.” A canticle is a hymn or psalm, so Elgar’s coded literary references to Dante’s Divine Comedy and the City of Dis entails multitiered allusions to the Book of Psalms and its famous 46th chapter.
Richard Santa made the remarkable discovery that Elgar encoded the mathematical constant Pi in the Enigma Theme. That special number captures the ratio of a circle’s circumference to its diameter. Santa’s research is featured in Columbia University’s music journal Current Musicology. He perceptively noted the scale degrees of the Enigma Theme’s melody in the first bar are 3-1-4-2, a rounded version of the first five digits of Pi (3.1415). Pi is also encoded within the Mendelssohn fragments of Variation XIII. Elgar’s coded reference to Pi intersects elegantly with Dante’s vivid descriptions in his Divine Comedy of the nine circles of hell and the celestial spheres of heaven.
|Dante and Beatrice gaze into the Highest Heaven|
|The fortress city of Dis|
An analysis of the note E-flat reveals that it is a remarkably efficient vehicle to encode the initials for Ein feste Burg. The note letter itself provides the first initial. The word flat begins with f, giving the second initial. The third initial is furnished by the flat symbol which is known in Italian as bemolle or literally “soft B.” From the very note Elgar uses to encode three sets of his initials in the Enigma Locks Cipher, the initials from the covert Theme may be methodically extracted as an acrostic anagram from “E flat bemolle.” In an extraordinary cryptographic display, Elgar’s uses the note E-flat to repeatedly encode his own initials over the first six bars of the Enigma Theme’s full score as well as the three initials for Ein feste Burg.
There are six E-flats dispersed over the first six bars of the Enigma Theme, and likewise, there are six words in the complete title of the covert Theme. One of those E-flats appears on the downbeat of bar 5 as part of an augmented sixth chord known as a German sixth. That is an illuminating chord because it hints at the covert Theme’s complete German title in six words. The nebulous “dark saying” in the Enigma Theme is actually the six-word German title for the covert Theme, Ein feste Burg ist Unser Gott (A Mighty Fortress is Our God). The existence of this other cipher—a Polybius Square set to music—was suggested by two uncanny numeric parallels between the Enigma Theme and Ein feste Burg’s complete title. There are 24 melody notes in the Enigma Theme’s opening six bars, and likewise, there are 24 letters in the covert Theme’s six-word title. Six bars with 24 notes furnish some remarkable numeric parallels with the covert Theme’s six-word title containing 24 letters. Not coincidentally, that title is a saying.
Returning to the Enigma Locks Cipher, there is one E-flat on the downbeat of bar 5. The pairing of that E-flat’s frequency (1) and beat (1) forms the number 11. That figure is significant because there are eleven unique letters in the covert Theme’s six-word title, a critical sum needed to carry out the standard cryptographic technique of letter frequency analysis. With E as the fifth letter of the alphabet, the appearance of an E-flat on the first beat of bar 5 serves not only as another coded version of Elgar’s initials but also to the symbolic number 515, Dante’s “enigma forte” from Canto XXXIII of the third canticle, Paradiso. The enigmatic title for the Theme was undoubtedly inspired in part by Dante’s poetic puzzle.
A closer look at the frequency and beat numbers of the six E-flats from the full score of Enigma Theme’s opening six bars supplies yet another remarkable layer of cipher solutions. There are 1 or 2 E-flats appearing on the 1st and/or 3rd beats of the Enigma Theme’s opening six measures. The application of the number-to-letter conversion to both their frequencies (1 and 2) and beats (1 and 3) produces the plaintext A, B, A, and C. These letters are identical to the note letters quoted in the first two A-flat major Mendelssohn fragments in Variation XIII, specifically C, B-flat, A-flat, and A-flat. These letters are also the same used to map out the Enigma Theme’s ABA’C structure. There are various interlocking ciphers in the Enigma Theme and the Mendelssohn fragments that use those identical four letters. Another approach to the E-flat frequencies (1 and 2) and beats (1 and 3) is to fuse them together to produce 12 and 13. Converting those figures to their corresponding letters in the alphabet produces L and M. Those two letters are the initials for Martin Luther, the composer of Ein feste Burg. That specific solution cannot be the product of coincidence. Elgar originally identified Variation XIII with a single capital L, and only later added ML—the initials for Martin Luther.
With the strategic positioning of two E-flats in three of the four string parts in the opening six bars of the Enigma Theme’s orchestral score, Elgar provides three sets of his initials in code within the Enigma Locks Cipher. In this cipher cloaked within another, Elgar brilliantly encodes through his own initials the initials for the covert Theme Ein feste Burg and Dante’s Divine Comedy. He also enciphers a phonetic spelling for Dis, the fortress city described in the first canticle of Dante’s Divine Comedy, The Inferno. With the frequency and beat numbers associated with these E-flats, he also encodes the ABA’C structure of the Enigma Theme, the four note letters of the A-flat major Mendelssohn quotations in Variation XIII, and the initials for the composer of the covert Theme, Martin Luther.
Elgar’s genius for cryptograms is nothing short of extraordinary. The six E-flats in the three string accompaniments dispersed over the Enigma Theme’s opening six bars bear his cryptographic fingerprints. The solutions are reciprocal and match those of other ciphers in different parts of the score, some of which are also accompanied by his initials. I suspect one could devote a lifetime teasing apart the cryptograms he so expertly interlaced into his masterful melodic tapestry known today as the Enigma Variations. Elgar’s cryptographic genius is on full display with his brilliantly conceived Enigma Locks Initials Cipher. To learn more about the secrets of Elgar’s Enigma Variations, read my free eBook Elgar’s Enigmas Exposed.