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Saturday, June 16, 2018

Coded References to Luther in Elgar's Enigma Variations

In this grace and sweetness the Psalms of David especially abound, and have a wonderful power and efficacy in comforting afflicted minds and consciences which are struggling with the terrors of sin, with the fear and dread of death, or with any other kind of trouble. To such, the Psalms are wonderfully sweet, delightful, and full of consolation; because they sing of and predict the Messiah, even when the words themselves or read without any music or singing. But yet, the musical art adds much to their sweetness, as being a wonderful work and gift of God; especially when in a large assembly they all sing with a becoming gravity and devotion.
Of course, the sound of the Strad, that unique ‘Messie,’ turns up again and again in my memory, with its combined sweetness and grandeur, that struck me so much in hearing it.

Edward Elgar embedded a diverse array of coded references to the Protestant Reformation leader Martin Luther within the Enigma Variations. These subtle allusions implicate the composer of the covert Theme, the famous hymn Ein feste Burg (A Mighty Fortress). The Enigma Theme is a counterpoint to this secretive melody that defied discovery for over a century. In honor of Elgar’s mapping of Ein feste Burg in retrograde through and over the Enigma Theme, this overview of sample cryptograms will begin with the ending of the Enigma Variations, a Finale and musical self portrait of the composer himself.
At the conclusion of the original Master Score, Elgar penned the completion date “FEb 18, 1898.” There are at least three flaws with that entry. First, the second letter in the month’s abbreviation is capitalized when it should be lowercase. Second, Elgar completed the orchestration on February 19, not 18. Third, the Enigma Variations were finished in 1899 rather than 1898. Work on that symphonic masterpiece commenced on October 21, 1898, and the orchestration was finalized on February 19, 1899. The gap between the real completion date versus the one shown on the last page of the score is one year plus one day. The difference between the wrong end and right start dates is 246 days, or 8 months and 4 days.





Elgar was far too meticulous with his scores to get both the year and day wrong. Evidence for his fastidiousness is found on the cover page where he accurately recorded the start and end dates for the orchestration as “FEb 5” through “FEb 19, 1899.” Notice that again both Es in those abbreviations of February are also incorrectly capitalized. Two capital Es intimate the composers initials, a feature associated with multiple ciphers in the Enigma Variations.

Autographed cover sheet of the Enigma Variations Op. 36


There are no known cases of erroneous completion dates involving any of Elgar’s other scores. This glaring exception at the end of his breakout work could only have been the product of design. In other words, Elgar intentionally wrote the wrong date. Simon Singh explains in 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.” One of the greatest vulnerabilities of ciphers is their anomalies, features that seem peculiar or out of place. Elgar’s inaccurate completion date is a textbook case of an aberration that enables one to hack and crack his cipher.
Why would Elgar knowingly inscribe the wrong date? Its location at the end of the Master Score suggests contemplating another type of ending, a death. Indeed, another date on that very same page is associated with death. On the last page of the original Finale, Elgar penned a paraphrase of a passage from Torquato Tasso’s Jerusalem Delivered, incorrectly attributing it to the year 1595. That epic Christian poem was first published in 1581, presenting another flawed date which Elgar openly acknowledged by writing sic next to it. Why would he write yet another wrong date, in this case a year, for the Tasso fragment?
In 1595 on the eve of being crowned the Prince of Poets by no less than the Pope, Tasso died at Sant’Onofrio in Rome at the age of 51. Sant’Onofrio is the official church of the Order of the Holy Sepulchre founded by Godfrey of Bouillon, a Frankish knight and leader of the First Crusade who was mythologized in Tasso’s magnum opus. Elgar links one of the two wrong dates on the last page of the original Finale to the death of a famous poet, thereby suggesting that February 18 is also connected to the passing of another eminent artist. That is the crux of the conundrum on which hinges the solution. February 18 marks the anniversary of Martin Luther's death in Eisleben, the city of his birth. This cryptogram is identified as the Luther DOD Cipher.
The specter of death casts a dark and lingering shadow over the Enigma Variations. The silence of the principal Theme is evocative of a passage from Psalm 37:17 that mentions the silence of the grave. For Elgar, there was an indelible link between music and death because as a boy he studied musical scores at a local churchyard while resting on a tombstone. In Variation XIII, he quotes a fragment from Mendelssohn’s concert overture Calm Sea and Prosperous Voyage (Meeresstille und glückliche Fahrt) to portray a ship crossing the ocean. This sonic symbolism was inspired by the poetry of the famed German playwright Goethe whose seemingly benign image of a boat adrift on a windless sea depicts the stillness of death (Todestille). In the original program note for the 1899 premiere of the Enigma Variations, Elgar likens the absent principal Theme to the mysterious protagonist who never appears on stage in dramas by the Belgian playwright, Maeterlinck. That absent character is death, a central element in Maeterlinck's works described as "marionette" plays as the characters rarely move.
The manner in which Elgar wrote the abbreviation for February as “FEb” on the front and back of the Master Score serves as a coded reference to the initials for the covert Theme, Ein feste Burg. He wrote “FEb” twice on the cover page, the appropriate location for the anagrammatic initials of the secret melody. He penned it a third time on the final page as the incorrect date that marks the anniversary of Martin Luther’s death. In each instance, the second letter is capitalized in “FEb.”  This irregularity is explained by the realization that the E is the first letter in a title. Elgar’s fascination for anagrams is thoroughly documented, supporting the conclusion that these three letters are a thinly concealed anagram of the initials for the covert Theme’s title. This fact is hinted at by the three asterisks (***) given as a cryptic title for Variation XIII. The association between those initials and the incorrect date corresponding to the anniversary of Luther’s death is robust evidence for his most famous hymn, Ein feste Burg. This cryptogram is dubbed the Enigma Score Dates EFB Cipher.
Another series of ciphers that refer to Martin Luther appears in Variation XIII, the movement immediately preceding the Finale. Elgar first identified his original sketch of Variation XIII with three X’s and a solitary capital L written in blue.

The earliest sketch of Variation XIII Op. 36

Julian Rushton remarked in his slender tome published on the Variations’ centenary, “An early list of variations among the sketches...gives the incipit of XIII and marks it as finished; it is given the initial L.” Later versions include an ML following the original L. Some interpret these three letters as the initials for Lady Mary Lygon, but there is ample evidence to doubt that interpretation. In his paper Elgar’s Enigmatic Inamorata, Nicholas Reed observed that Elgar was known to annotate his scores years after their completion. Concerning the letters “LML” written on later sketches of that movement he surmises, “...there is no reason to suppose that all such identifications were written on the sketches at the time; in fact, Elgar had a habit of keeping and annotating his sketches years later.” This movement of the Enigma Variations is no exception as he would only later add the letters “ML” after the solitary “L.”

The earliest evidence confirms that Variation XIII was first given the title XXX accompanied by a lone capital L. Elgar sonically portrays a calm sea in Variation XIII by quoting four-note fragments from Mendelssohn's concert overture Calm Sea and Prosperous Voyage. The original German title, Meeresstille und glückliche Fahrt, comes from a pair of poems by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe. To understand the meaning of those melodic snippets, one must delve below the surface, beyond superficial impressions which are the purview and expertise of career academics. As Goethe admonished, “ The hardest thing to see is what is in front of your eyes.“ The initial L appears on the earliest short score of Variation XIII as the first letter in a title, a name. The initial M is furnished by another name associated with the fragmentary quotations, Mendelssohn. When considered together, the letters M and L encode the initials for Martin Luther. Elgar’s decision to later insert the letters “ML” after the original letter L as advanced by Reed is tantamount to a decryption of that cipher. This cryptogram is known as the Variation XIII ML Cipher.
Contrary to conventional wisdom, the three asterisks serving as the cryptic title for Variation XIII do not represent the initials of a secret friend. His initials are encoded by the Roman Numerals XIII using a simple number-to-letter key, and his name is given in the second stanza of Ein feste Burg. The three asterisks instead stand for the initials of the covert Theme. It was previously shown how those absent initials are openly concealed on the cover and last pages of the Master Score by the Enigma Score Dates EFB Cipher. Those three letters are also transparently encoded by an acrostic anagram constructed from the titles of the movements immediately preceding and following Variation XIII. The title for Variation XII is B. G. N. The two titles for Variation XIV are E. D. U. and Finale. Elgar cleverly frames the question posed by the three asterisks with the answer embedded in the titles of the surrounding movements. This cryptogram is described as the Variations XII and XIV Acrostic Anagram EFB Cipher.
There are other remarkable intersections between Luther, Mendelssohn, and Goethe besides a shared national heritage and language. Besides being German, Mendelssohn and Goethe were baptized Lutherans. The appearance of these two names together in conjunction with a body of water is suggestive of baptism. Of even greater significance is that both Mendelssohn and Goethe quote Luther in their respective oeuvres.  Mendelssohn cites Luther’s hymn Ein feste Burg in the fourth and final movement of the Reformation Symphony. In musical settings of scriptural text in German, Mendelssohn relied on Luther’s famous translation of the Bible. Mendelssohn quotes both Luther’s music and his biblical translation produced when Luther was holed up at Wartburg Castle, a literal mighty fortress.
Like his much younger contemporary Mendelssohn, Goethe also quotes from the Luther Bible in his literature. He held in high esteem Luther’s formative influence over the German language, culture, and nation. In The Enlightenment Bible, Jonathan Sheehan encapsulates Goethe’s impressions of Luther’s translation of the Old and New Testament texts:
For Goethe, the Luther Bible was...a translation that far surpassed those “critical translations” of the eighteenth century that served only “for discussion between scholars.” Luther’s “poetic, historical, devout, educating tone” in his translation “did more for religion than if he had wanted to reproduce in detail the characteristics of the original.” Goethe’s exclamation—that “we have sent no prophet to the people except in his language! And thus the German first became a people through Luther”—was only one expression of this new cultural reading of Luther and his translation.
There are some remarkable parallels between the names Goethe and Luther. Both are German and consist of six letters with two syllables. The German pronunciations of “oethe” and “uther” are virtually indistinguishable, presenting elements of assonant and consonant rhymes. These similarities are compelling evidence for a distinctly Elgarian wordplay cipher. It is widely acknowledged that Elgar’s personal correspondence is riddled with phonetic spellings, anagrams, and plays on words. With the solitary capital L on the earliest sketch, Elgar furnishes the first clue by suggesting that the secretive composer’s name begins with this letter. That would explain why the L is capitalized because a name begins with a capital letter. The blue coloring of the L corresponds to the color of the sea, symbolically linking it to the Mendelssohn fragments with a title by the German poet Goethe. This color-coded connection hints that the mystery name starting with L is a German name which sounds like Goethe. Substituting the letter G with L produces Loethe, an alternative spelling of Luther and its phonetic equivalent. This cryptogram is called the Variation XIII Loethe Cipher.
For the published score, Elgar replaced the three X’s on the original sketch of Variation XIII with three hexagrammic asterisks. These substitute for a set of initials, producing an austere and cryptic title comprised of three asterisks (***). Such an unusual title represents an exquisite use of literature by Elgar that points to Martin Luther as the composer of the covert Theme. The unusual title of Variation XIII (***) is the title of a work by Martin Luther. Johannes Eck published a critique of Luther’s Ninety-five Theses titled Obelisks. In response, Luther published a rebuttal with the title Asterisks. It is hardly coincidental that Rehearsal 59 appears in Variation XIII, the reverse of 95. The accompanying subtitle for Variation XIII, Romanza, further hints at Luther’s Roman Catholicism. Luther was a devout Roman Catholic monk, priest, and scholar before his conscience and intimate knowledge of the scripture compelled him to establish the breakaway Lutheran faith. This particular cryptogram is known as the Variation XIII Luther’s Asterisks Cipher.
The Mendelssohn fragments in Variation XIII portray a marine atmosphere, a feature that may be linked to Luther’s refuge at Wartburg Castle. When he was holed up at the Wartburg, Luther resided in a sparsely furnished room. It had a tiled oven, a basic desk and chair, and what biographer Eric Metaxas describes as “one especially curious object...the gargantuan vertebra of a whale…” Whales live in the sea, the very thing symbolized by the Mendelssohn fragments. Metaxas speculates a friend sent this unusual gift to decorate his sparse lodgings because whale bones were reputed to possess healing powers, and Luther was suffering from various ailments at that stressful time.

Martin Luther's study at Wartburg Castle

What Metaxas overlooked in his commentary was something that would have been profoundly manifest to Luther, a proverbial aquatic elephant in the room. Jesus warned his antagonists that the only sign they would be granted proving his heavenly authority would be the Sign of Jonah. He admonished the scribes and Pharisees:
An evil and adulterous generation seeks for a sign, but no sign will be given to it except the sign of the prophet Jonah. For just as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the great fish, so will the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth.
Jonah was a prophet commanded by God to preach a message of repentance to the depraved city of Nineveh. Rather than obeying God’s instructions, Jonah fled in the opposite direction to the port city of Joppa and boarded a ship to Tarshish. Jonah vainly hid from God at sea when suddenly a tumultuous tempest threatened to swamp the ship. The crew suspected that God was angry with one of their passengers and cast lots to unmask the divine offender. Jonah was chosen, and he instructed the crew that the only way to save their ship and precious cargo was to cast him overboard. In desperation, they quickly complied. As soon as Jonah hit the water, the storm subsided and a large whale swallowed him whole. Jonah spent the next three days and nights inside the belly of the leviathan before being vomited up onto dry land. As first instructed by God, Jonah journeyed to Nineveh and preached a message of repentance.  The people listened to his message, and the city was saved. Jesus invoked Jonah’s plight as a symbol of his death and resurrection. This reference explains why one of the earliest and most widely recognized Christograms is the Jesus Fish.


The keys in which the Mendelssohn fragments are heard form a transparent cipher that encodes the letters for a well-known music cryptogram. Two of the Mendelssohn fragments are quoted by a solo clarinet sounding in A-flat major. The third quotation is performed again by the solo clarinet a fourth lower in E-flat major. Another fragment in F minor is performed in octaves by three trumpets and three trombones, located between the second and third quotations but lacking quotation marks because it departs from the original major mode. The key letters of the Mendelssohn fragments—A, E, and F—are an anagram of a well-known musical cryptogram derived from the famed violinist Joseph Joachim’s romantic motto “Frei aber einsam” (Free but lonely).  Elgar coyly hinted at that Teutonic maxim when he wrote in 1912 that the Enigma Theme “expressed when written (in 1898) my sense of the loneliness of the artist.” This cryptogram is identified as the Mendelssohn Fragments FAE Cipher.


During his youth, Elgar dreamed of becoming a famous violinist. The most renowned violinist during the Victorian era was Joseph Joachim, a favorite of Queen Victoria and the British public. Evidence of Elgar’s profound admiration for Joachim is documented in the Plâs Gwyn scrapbook which served as a guest album for Elgar’s residence. In May 1905, Elgar gave a discarded gut string used by Joachim to his niece and personal secretary, May Grafton, describing it as “a precious relic.” Arthur Reynolds writes in The Elgar Society Journal, “Elgar’s effort to  retrieve the jettisoned E-string from Joachim’s instrument, preserve it painstakingly, and despatch ‘the precious relic’ to May for safe-keeping suggests an act of hero-worship by an ardent admirer.” Indeed, Elgar’s coded reference to Joachim’s personal motto in Variation XIII is a clandestine homage to Mendelssohn’s musical protégé.



The importance of this FAE cipher is that Joachim’s initials precisely match those for an alias adopted by Luther when he was a fugitive at Wartburg Castle. To avoid being burned at the stake after being declared a heretic and excommunicated by Pope Leo X, Luther fled to Wartburg Castle and assumed the identity of Junker Jörg (Knight George). To pass himself off as a noble knight rather than a humble monk, Luther grew a beard and exchanged his simple priestly garments for the sartorial attire of a nobleman. This period of Luther’s life corresponds with Joachim’s on multiple levels with matching initials (J. J.), a bearded visage, and the donning of an affluent gentlemen's garments. Joachim’s faith shines the equivalent of a Klieg light on the composer of the covert Theme because like his mentor Felix Mendelssohn, Joachim was a Lutheran. This cryptogram is called the Mendelssohn Fragments Junker Jörg Cipher.

Joseph Joachim (circa 1890)

Martin Luther disguised
as Knight George (circa 1521)

Elgar referred to a “dark saying” in the Enigma Theme whose palindromic rhythms are reprised in the ostinato accompanying the Mendelssohn fragments. The appearance of the Enigma Theme’s rhythmic pattern in conjunction with the Mendelssohn fragments hints at a special connection between these two themes. The key letters of the Mendelssohn fragments encode the initials for Joachim’s romantic motto, a German saying comprised of three words. As it is encoded within music that is rhythmically tied to the Enigma Theme, Joachim’s motto is a type of “dark saying.” A synonym for dark is night, a homophone of knight. Luther assumed the alias of a knight when he hid out at Wartburg Castle, a literal mighty fortress. Joachim’s three-word German motto presents remarkable parallels with the title Ein feste Burg, another three-word German phrase. This is especially the case because two of the letters from FAE match those from the initials for Ein feste Burg, the E and the F. The initials for Joachim’s motto provide the necessary glyphs to form the initials of A Mighty Fortress, a popular English translation of Ein feste Burg by Frederic Hedge. This is possible because the glyphs for the capital E and M are interchangeable as Elgar demonstrated in his famous Dorabella Cipher.  The name of this cryptogram is the Mendelssohn Fragments AMF Cipher.


The Dorabella Cipher with highlighted corresponding E and m characters

Another cipher embedded in the Mendelssohn fragments of Variation XIII encode the initials E.F.B. The key to cracking this code is to add up the number of times a fragment is performed in a particular key and convert that number to the scale degree of that corresponding mode. There are eight notes in a scale numbered 1 through 8. As previously observed, there are four Mendelssohn fragments performed in three contrasting keys: A-flat major, F minor, and E-flat major. Two of these fragments are played in A-flat major. The second degree of A-flat major is B-flat. The third Mendelssohn fragment in F minor appears only once, and the first degree of that scale is F.  The fourth and final Mendelssohn fragment in E-flat major is also played only once, and its first degree is E-flat. The application of this basic decryption key to the Mendelssohn fragments in the order in which they appear produces the note letters B, F, and E. Those note letters are the reverse of the initials for Ein feste Burg, an incredibly revealing discovery as Elgar mapped that famous hymn in retrograde over the Enigma Theme. These initials represent the solution to the riddle posed by the mysterious three asterisks, a cryptogram is known as the Mendelssohn Fragments EFB Cipher.


The keynotes of the Mendelssohn fragments in Variation XIII appear in the order of A-flat major, F minor, and E-flat major. This sequence of these keynotes is significant because they form the last three notes in Ein feste Burg’s Phrase B as realized by Felix Mendelssohn in the Finale of his Reformation Symphony Op. 27. This cryptogram is known as the Mendelssohn Keynotes Cipher.


These three notes are the tail end of a much bigger fish which turns out to be another related cryptogram. The successful decryption of one code led to the netting of another. This pattern also occurred with the decoding of the Enigma Theme Locks Cipher which in turn spurred the discovery of the Enigma Theme Keys Cipher and Enigma Variations Keys Cipher. In Variation XIII, Elgar elaborates each Mendelssohn quotation into a complete seven-bar solo performed by the clarinet. The first and third clarinet solos in A-flat and E-flat major respectively are virtually identical, a pairing suggested by the two integers that form the number thirteen. On closer inspection, it was determined that the notes of the first and third clarinet solos are an anagram of Phrase B from Mendelssohn’s version of Ein feste Burg. This cryptogram is called the Clarinet Solos Music Anagram Cipher.

This overview of various cryptograms in the Enigma Variations demonstrates their decryptions point to Martin Luther or to Ein feste Burg, his most famous hymn which serves as the covert Theme. These ciphers are not an exhaustive list, but serve merely to illustrate an undeniable and larger pattern that reveal a discrete set of mutually consistent and complementary answers. The twelve cryptograms covered in this survey were:
  1. Luther DOD Cipher
  2. Enigma Score Dates EFB Cipher
  3. Variation XIII ML Cipher
  4. Variations XII and XIV Acrostic Anagram EFB Cipher
  5. Variation XIII Loethe Cipher
  6. Variation XIII Luther’s Asterisks Cipher
  7. Mendelssohn Fragments FAE Cipher
  8. Mendelssohn Fragments Junker Jörg Cipher
  9. Mendelssohn Fragments AMF Cipher
  10. Mendelssohn Fragments EFB Cipher
  11. Mendelssohn Keynotes Cipher
  12. Mendelssohn Music Anagram Cipher
There are scores of cryptograms ensconced within the Enigma Variations that divulge the covert Theme, the “dark saying” hidden within the Enigma Them, and the identity of the secret friend portrayed in Variation XIII. To learn more about the secrets of the Enigma Variations, read my free eBook Elgar’s Enigmas Exposed.

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About Mr. Padgett

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Mr. Padgett studied violin with Michael Rosenker (a student of Leopold Auer), and Rosenker’s pupil, Owen Dunsford. Mr. Padgett studied piano with Sally Magee (a student of Emanuel Bay), and Blanca Uribe, a student of Rosina Lhévinne. He attended the Stevenson School in Pebble Beach, California, and Vassar College in Poughkeepsie, New York, where he graduated Phi Beta Kappa with a degree in psychology. At Vassar he studied music theory and composition with Richard Wilson. Mr. Padgett has performed for Joseph Silverstein, Van Cliburn, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Maria Shriver, Steve Jobs, Prince Charles, Lady Camilla, Marcia Davenport, William F. Buckley, Jr., and other prominent public figures. His original compositions have been performed by the Monterey Symphony, at the Bohemian Grove, the Bohemian Club, and other private and public venues. In 2008 Mr. Padgett won the Max Bragado-Darman Fanfare Competition with his entry "Fanfare for the Eagles." It was premiered by the Monterey Symphony under Maestro Bragado in May 2008. A member of the Elgar Society, Mr. Padgett is married with five children.