Most of my’ sketches’,—that is to say the reduction of the original thoughts to writing, have been made in the open air. I finished the Wye round about Mordiford & completed many pencil memoranda of compositions on the old bridge, of which I have vivid & affectionate memories.
Edward Elgar in a letter to G. H. Jacks
A section in classical music that transitions one movement into another without interruption is called a bridge passage. There are three bridge passages in the symphonic Enigma Variations by the British Romantic composer Edward Elgar. The first situated in bars 18-19 is an elaboration of the final cadence from the iconic Enigma Theme. It begins at Rehearsal 2 and precedes Variation I (C. A. E.) that commences in bar 20. The second in bars 185-188 completes the closing section of Variation V (R. P. A). It starts four bars before Rehearsal 19 and links to Variation VI (Ysobel). The third bridge passage in bars 306-308 begins three measures before Rehearsal 33 and forms the ending phrase of Variation VIII (W. N.). A soulful melodic G from the tonic cadence is sustained by the first violins over the barline into Rehearsal 33 to herald the sublime dawn of the most elegiac of the movements, Variation IX (Nimrod).
It is undeniable that Elgar was an expert in cryptography, the discipline of coding and decoding secret messages. His obsession with that esoteric art merits an entire chapter in Craig P. Bauer’s treatise Unsolved! Much of its third chapter is devoted to Elgar’s brilliant decryption of an allegedly insoluble Nihilist cipher unfurled by John Holt Schooling in the April 1896 issue of The Pall Mall Gazette. Elgar was so delighted with his solution to Schooling’s reputedly insoluble cipher that he mentions it in his first biography published in 1905 by Robert J. Buckley. Elgar painted his decryption in black paint on a wooden box, an appropriate symbol as another name for the Polybius checkerboard is a box cipher. The six-word solution — “He who fears is half dead” — is summarized on a set of nine index cards.
On the sixth card, Elgar relates the task of cracking the cipher to “...working (in the dark).” The phrase “in the dark” is enclosed by parentheses, a feature associated with all of the titles from the Enigma Variations except the enigmatic Theme. His use of the word “dark” as a synonym for a cipher is significant because Elgar employs that same phraseology in the original 1899 program note to characterize the Enigma Theme. It is an oft-cited passage that merits revisiting as Elgar lays the groundwork for his tripartite riddle:
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.
A compulsion for cryptography is a reigning pillar of Elgar’s psychological profile. A decade of concerted analysis of the Enigma Variations has netted over eighty cryptograms in diverse formats that encode a set of mutually consistent and complementary solutions. While this figure may seem incredible, it is entirely consistent with Elgar’s obsession with ciphers. More significantly, their solutions provide definitive answers to the core questions posed by the Enigma Variations. What is the secret melody to which the Enigma Theme is a counterpoint and serves as the foundation of the ensuing movements? Answer: Ein feste Burg (A Mighty Fortress) by Martin Luther. What is Elgar’s “dark saying” ensconced within the Enigma Theme? Answer: A musical Polybius box cipher embedded in the opening six bars. Who is the secret friend and inspiration behind Variation XIII? Answer: Jesus Christ, the Savior of Elgar’s Roman Catholic faith.
A conspicuous feature of some of those ciphers is their proximity to double barlines, particularly those situated in unexpected or unusual locations. For example, the Enigma Theme has a double bar line at the end of measure 6. The presence of a double bar line so close to the beginning is decidedly anomalous. This condition also applies to the first bridge passage framed by an end bar line at the start of bar 18 and a double bar line at the end of bar 19. The insertion of numerous double bar lines in less than twenty measures is conspicuously unconventional.
Some remarkable examples of cryptograms found within the opening six bars of the Enigma Theme are the Pi Cipher, Locks Cipher, Keys Cipher, and Psalm Cipher. The presence of so many musical ciphers in these inaugural bars before the first double barline supports the tantalizing prospect that other cryptograms could be hidden away between the end and double bar lines of the Enigma Theme’s concluding bridge passage. This hypothesis precipitated an analysis of Enigma Variations’ three bridge passages individually and collectively with the goal of detecting and decrypting prospective ciphers. What follows is the first installment in a series of essays that will cover key findings from this project.
The Opus Dei Cipher
A performance direction is a standardized word or acronym in music that instructs the performer how to execute a particular passage. One notable cipher at the opening of the Enigma Theme exploits the first letters of its performance directions to encode “EE’s Psalm” as an acrostic anagram. Elgar’s ingenious use of these performance directions spawned an analysis of the performance directions in the first bridge passage. Among the performance directions in bars 18-19 of the published score, only three are followed by a period: tempo., unis., and dim.
The word “tempo” appears three times in bar 18 of the full score, yet only one ends with a period. This discrepancy tipped off the presence of a cryptogram constructed from those three performance directions ending with a period. This suspicion was bolstered by the realization that these three words consisting of twelve letters present two remarkable parallels with the common three-word title of the covert Theme (Ein feste Burg) which also has three words and precisely twelve letters. Three performance directions with periods are suggestive of the three Mendelssohn quotations in Variation XIII that has three cryptic asterisks (***) as a title.
An analysis of those three performance directions ending with periods began by arranging its twelve letters in alphabetical order as “deiimmnopstu.” It was quickly realized that these letters harbor an anagram of “Opus Dei.” This Latin phrase means “The work of God.” The coded occurrence of the word “opus” in an orchestral work is contextually suitable because such major works are routinely assigned opus numbers. In the case of the Enigma Variations, that number is 36. The product of those two numerals (3 x 6) is eighteen, the very same measure number in which the first part of this three-word anagram is found. This opus number is further implicated by the breakdown of the performance directions from the first bridge that have periods (3) and those that lack them (6).
The word “Dei” appears in Elgar’s public dedications for his sacred oratorios The Dream of Gerontius, The Apostles, and The Kingdom. On these Master Scores he wrote the initials “A.M.D.G.” These are the initials for the Jesuit motto “Ad majorem dei gloriam” (For the greater glory of God). Elgar’s multifaceted dedications to Jesus throughout the Enigma Variations interface beautifully with the decryption “Opus Dei” because the greatest work of God was atoning for the sin of humankind through the death and resurrection of Christ.
Backing out the letters needed to spell “Opus Dei” (deiimmnopstu) leaves “immnt.” The letters “im” are a phonetic rendering of “I AM.” This reading is bolstered by the fact that Elgar’s personal correspondence contains an array of inventive phonetic spellings. This is an enigmatic name for God revealed in Chapter 3 of the Book of Exodus that theologians refer to as the “Great I AM.” When Moses encountered the Angel of the Lord at the burning bush at Mount Horeb and requested his name, God answered, “I AM who I AM.” God followed this up with a shortened version of his name as simply, “I AM.” Christian theologians classify this divine encounter and others from the Old Testament canon as a pre-incarnate manifestation of Christ known as a Christophany.
The letters “IM” are repeatedly enciphered in Morse code by the palindromic rhythmic pattern of the Enigma Theme’s alternating pairs of two eighth notes and two eighth notes. The faster and shorter rhythm of two eighth notes is akin to two dots (..) that signify the letter I in Morse Code. The two longer quarter notes are the equivalent of two dashes (--) that represent the letter M. These two letters are encoded together by the Enigma Theme’s rhythmic pattern as “IM” in the odd-numbered measures 1, 3, 5, 11, 13, and 15. Their mirror image as “MI” is enciphered in the same manner in the even-numbered measures 2, 4, 6, 12, 14, and 16. The back-to-back encoding of the letters “IM MI” is a phonetic anagram of the double I AM. Elgar was familiar with Morse Code and used the palindromic telegraphic address “Siromoris.” More significantly, he substituted the phrase “I Am” in a letter with the opening bar of the Enigma Theme.
Jesus answered his critics who challenged his divine authority by calling himself “I Am” in an obvious quotation from the Exodus account. The Book of John lists seven other memorable “I am” proclamations by Jesus.
- “I am the bread of life.” (John 6:35)
- “I am the light of the world.” (John 8:12)
- “I am the door.” (John 10:9)
- “I am the true vine.” (John 15:1)
- “I am the good shepherd.” (John 10:11)
- “I am the resurrection and the life.” (John 11:25)
- “I am the way, the truth, and the life.” (John 14:6)
A veiled reference in the first bridge passage to the phrase “I am” is a theologically compelling hint regarding the identity of the secret friend covertly commemorated in Variation XIII. A bridge is a place to cross an obstacle, and the symbol of the cross is a universally recognized Christogram. This readily explains why Elgar resorted to portraying a sea crossing in Variation XIII. The initials for Jesus Christ are transparently enciphered by the Roman numerals of his movement using a standard number-to-letter key. X represents ten, and the tenth letter of the alphabet is J. III stands for three, and the third letter is C.
Moses met God at the burning bush on Mount Horeb and later received the Ten Commandments on that holy mountain. Remarkably, there are precisely ten written notes that comprise the opening chord of the first bridge section. Mount Horeb is called the Mountain of God. The letters “mnt” are a phonetic rendition of “mount,” a shortened term for mountain. This finding is consistent with the companion decryption of “IM” as “I AM” because that enigmatic name for God was first provided on a mount. The combination of “mount” with “I AM” is a coded reference to Mount Horeb where Moses first heard this unusual name for God. There is another remarkable connection between the word “mount” and the Enigma Theme. Three of his disciples saw Jesus speaking with Moses on the Mount of Transfiguration.
The image of a mountain is tied to the ministry of Jesus and Psalm 46, the source of the title for the covert Theme. In Matthew 17:20, Jesus pits a small amount of faith against a huge mountain. He taught his disciples that faith the size of a tiny mustard seed is sufficient to move mountains. Jesus said, “I assure you that if you have faith the size of a mustard seed, you could say to this mountain, ‘Go from here to there,’ and it will go.” It is telling that the periods after the performance directions in the first bridge passage actually resemble small seeds. This vivid image of a mountain being moved is also found in a passage from Psalm 46, “Therefore we will not fear though the earth gives way, though the mountains be moved into the heart of the sea...” The Enigma Theme is the melodic equivalent of a mustard grain that is transmuted through a series of variations into a mighty melody. In Variation, Elgar carried it into the midst of the ocean with a sonic portrayal of a calm sea using the Mendelssohn fragments performed over an ostinato figure that reprises the Enigma Theme’s palindromic rhythm.
The word “mount” is inextricably linked to the genesis of the Enigma Variations. Elgar taught violin at an all-girls school called The Mount where his daughter Carice attended. After a long day of teaching there on Friday, October 21, 1898, Elgar returned home and first performed the Enigma Theme on the piano for his wife, Alice. That date is commemorated each year by devout Elgarians as Enigma Day.
The languages unveiled by these three decryptions are Latin (Opus Dei), English (I Am), and English (mount). The first letters of those three languages spell LEE. Shortly after completing the Enigma Variations, Elgar moved into a new residence during March 1899 and named it Craeg Lea. The acrostic anagram LEE derived from the languages unveiled by the decryption is a phonetic version of “Lea.”It also contains Edward Elgar’s initials. A variety of cryptograms within the Enigma Variations are initialed by the composer ostensibly as a form of authentication.
A cryptanalysis was performed on three particular performance directions in the first bridge passage from the Enigma Variations because each ends in a period. These three terms have a total of twelve letters, presenting two parallels with the covert Theme’s title that also consist of three words with a total of twelve letters. The three performance directions ending in periods turn out to be an anagram of “opus dei,” “im,” and “mnt.” The Latin phrase “Opus Dei” means “The work of God.” Elgar used the word “Dei” in dedications to God in numerous sacred oratorios. Compositions are routinely given opus numbers, and the Enigma Variations’ is 36. In the first bridge passage, this number is alluded to by the performance directions as three have periods, and six do not.
The next two terms in the decryption are phonetic renderings of “I AM” (an enigmatic name of God) and “Mount.” The letters i and m are encoded extensively in pairs throughout the Enigma Theme via Morse code. The decryptions “I AM” and “mount” are interrelated because God first shared his mysterious name with Moses on Mount Horeb. This encounter between God and man is interpreted as a Christophany by theologians. In heated encounters with the religious authorities, Jesus invoked that unusual name as his own. At the Mount of Transfiguration, the disciples saw Jesus speaking with Moses. The word “mount” is associated with the Enigma Variations because Elgar spent a full day of teaching at a school called “The Mount” before returning home and performing the Enigma Theme on the piano for his wife that evening. The languages unveiled by the decryption are an acrostic anagram of LEE (a phonetic spelling of Lea) that harbors the composer's initials.
This article is the first in a series that will identify and decrypt an assortment of cryptograms embedded within the three bridge passages of the Enigma Variations. You are invited to check back periodically for the next installment. To learn more concerning the secrets of the Enigma Variations, read my free eBook Elgar's Enigmas Exposed.