The Enigma I will not explain – its ‘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 . . .
Edward Elgar from the original 1899 Program Note
. . . Elgar, wishing to write his own libretto for the oratorio, The Apostles, began to collect material. As is well known, his knowledge of the Bible and the Apocrypha was profound. He certainly consulted his friends, both in his own Roman Catholic church and in the Anglican, for instance Canon Gorton, who helped him a great deal in his researches.
W. H. Reed in The Master Musicians: Elgar
In the 1899 program note for the premiere of the Enigma Variations, the composer Edward Elgar advised that the Enigma Theme harbors a “dark saying.” One definition of dark is hidden or secret. A saying is a series of words that form a phrase. The phrase “dark saying” may be interpreted as a hidden set of words. Indeed, Elgar’s carefully parsed language is code for a code. The Enigma Theme is a music cipher that encodes a secret message.
Exhaustive research determined that Elgar’s “dark saying” is a musical Polybius box cipher. This cryptogram rearranges the 24 letters of the missing melody’s title — Ein feste Burg ist unser Gott — into a grand anagram of phonetically spelled words and phrases in English, Latin, and what contemporaneous biblical commentaries misclassified as Aramaic. In all, there are four languages unveiled by the two-tiered decryption: English, Latin, German, and Aramaic. Remarkably, the first letters of those four languages form an acrostic anagram of Elgar: English, Latin, German, and Aramaic. The composer realized this discovery would be so controversial that he covertly signed his cipher within a third layer of encryption.
Only an expert in ciphers and composition could have devised such a sophisticated musical cryptogram. Elgar’s genius for cryptography merits an entire chapter in Craig P. Bauer’s voluminous book Unsolved! Much of that chapter is dedicated to Elgar’s methodical decryption of an allegedly insoluble Nihilist cipher published by John Holt Schooling in an 1896 issue of The Pall Mall Magazine. A Nihilist cipher is based on a Polybius cipher. This means that Elgar studied the Polybius box cipher years before embarking on the Enigma Variations.
The key to a Polybius cipher is a checkerboard grid with ciphertext assigned to the columns and rows. The plaintext or solution that provides the decryption is assigned to individual cells within the checkerboard. A single plaintext letter is encoded by the intersection of its row and column. The ciphertext is formed by combining the characters that designate a given column and row. In the following example of a standard 5 by 5 Polybius cipher, the letter e is encoded by the fractionated text 15. This number designates the intersection of row 1 and column 5.
These rows and columns are labeled with a number or letter, the same convention used to identify the position of pieces on a chessboard. Pairs of letters and/or numbers encode a particular cell within the checkerboard grid that has a particular plaintext letter.
It was determined that Elgar employed pairs of melody and bass notes to encipher his plaintext. This cipher was cracked using frequency analysis. A Polybius cipher is essentially a substitution cipher in which single plaintext letters are replaced by pairs of characters. There are 24 melody notes in the Enigma Theme’s opening six bars. Likewise, there are 24 letters in the six-word German title of the secret melody. Six bars having 24 melody notes present uncanny parallels with a six-word title possessing precisely 24 letters. A frequency analysis of melody and bass note pairs was compared against the letter frequencies in the covert Theme’s title. Plaintext letters were then assigned to melody and bass note pairs with matching frequencies to unveil the decryption. The Enigma Theme Music Box Cipher Key is shown below:
Over its opening six measures, the Enigma Theme uses six melody note letters (A, B, C, D, F, and G) and six bass note letters (A, B, C, D, E, and G). This limitation of six note letters in the melody and bass lines over these opening six bars designates a Polybius cipher key with a 6 by 6 grid in which the similar letters E and F and combined. The assignment of note letters to the rows and columns shows that Elgar conflated the E and F. It is a standard practice in cryptography to pair similar letters together such as i and j. The opus number of the Enigma Variations (36) is the product of six multiplied by itself and hints at the 6 by 6 configuration of Elgar’s Polybius cipher.
Eleven discrete letters appear as plaintext within this key. There is a grand total of fifteen plaintext letters as three appear more than once. The repetition of some letters within a Polybius cipher is done to frustrate attempts to crack the code using frequency analysis. The number fifteen is significant because the Enigma Variations has fifteen movements. Three plaintext letters appear multiple times: G, S, and U. Those three letters are a phonetic spelling of Gesù, the Italian word for Jesus. The Lord and Savior of Elgar’s Roman Catholic faith is the secret friend commemorated in Variation XIII. Elgar’s affinity for phonetic spellings is extensively documented by his personal correspondence.
Letters appearing only once in the Polybius key are B, E, F, I, N, O, R, and T. Shifting the letter F next to the letter O yields the anagram “BIEN FORT.” This French phrase literally means “very strong.” That is an apt description for Elgar’s musical Polybius cipher because a very strong code is difficult to break. The French word fort has an English counterpart. A fort is defined as “a strong or fortified place” and is synonymous with a fortress. This is associated with the title of the hidden melody, A Mighty Fortress.
There are eleven discrete letters and a total of fifteen in this Polybius box cipher key. Pairing together the numbers 15 and 11 produces the year 1511. In that year, Martin Luther went on a pilgrimage to Rome. In that same year, Queen Anne of Brittany attended a private showing of the Holy Shroud, the reputed burial cloth of Jesus. There are numerous coded references to the Turin Shroud within the Enigma Variations.
There are eight letters with a frequency of 1 (B, E, F, I, N, O, R, T), two letters with frequencies of 2 (G and U), and one letter with a frequency of 3 (S). The conversion of those letter frequencies (1, 2, and 3) into their corresponding letters of the alphabet produces A, B, and H. These letters are an anagram of hab, the German word for have. The original title of the hidden melody is in German. This clue brings to mind the quintessentially English expression, “There you have it.” The melodic solution to the Enigma Variations is in German. Elgar sprinkled Germanic clues in the Variations to hint at this fact. In Variation XIII, Elgar cites a melodic fragment from a concert overture by Felix Mendelssohn with the original German title Meeresstille und glückliche Fahrt. The initials for Elgar’s movement (E. D. U.) originate from the first three letters of the German translation of “Edward” as “Eduard.” The titles Enigma and Finale are spelled the same in both English and German. It is noteworthy that the first letters of Enigma and Finale match the first two initials of Ein feste Burg.
There are discernable and relevant letter clusters in the key to Elgar’s Enigma Theme Polybius Cipher. The letters FIRS appear consecutively in the second and third columns labeled by the melody note letters B and C. The Firs is the name of a humble cottage where Elgar was born on June 2, 1857.
The combination of the ciphertext in column 5 (E/F) with the plaintext (b) furnishes the initials of the covert Theme (E. F. B.). The pairing of the ciphertext in column 6 (G) with the plaintext (e, o, and s) is an anagram of “goes.” The cipher and plaintext from columns 5 and 6 encode the phrase, “EFB goes.”
In the original 1899 program note, Elgar described the relationship of the hidden melody to the Enigma Variations. He explained, “. . . through and over the whole set another and larger theme ‘goes’, but is not played . . .” An emphasis is given to the word “goes” via quotation marks. Quotation marks also appear in Variation XIII where they identify melodic fragments from Mendelssohn’s concert overture Meeresstille und glückliche Fahrt (Calm Sea and Prosperous Voyage). Those melodic fragments encipher the initials for Ein feste Burg.
The ciphertext (C) and plaintext (u, r, s, and t) from the third row and column is an anagram of “Curst,” an archaic spelling of cursed.
In Galatians it teaches, “Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us — for it is written, ‘Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree.’” The tree is another name for the cross made of wood. The combination of “curs” with “t” is an allusion to Christ on the cross who became a curse to redeem the word.
The s from “Curst” is next to the plaintext n to form a phonetic rendering of sin and son.
This permits a decryption as “Cursed sin” and “Cursed son.” Although he was free of sin, Jesus as the Son of God willingly bore the curse of sin on the cross. As it says in 2 Corinthians 5:21, “ For our sake he [God] made him [Jesus] to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.”
Three neighboring letters in column 2 is an anagram of fig. These letters are adjacent to “curst” and permit a decryption of “Curst fig.”
When Jesus was preparing to enter Jerusalem knowing that he would soon be crucified, he cursed a fig tree because it bore no fruit. Within a day, that tree withered from the roots up and died. The phrase “Cursed fig” is theologically tied to the life and ministry of Elgar’s secret friend.
The cipher and plaintext from columns 3-4 and row 3 encode the phase, “Curst D-g.” The letters “Dg” are a phonetic spelling of dog.
The Apocrypha describes how Satan entered Judas in the form of a dog. Judas was the greedy disciple who betrayed Jesus for a bag of thirty silver coins. Elgar consulted the Apocrypha when composing his sacred oratorio The Apostles.
Contiguous plaintext in columns 1-3 is an anagram of “first.”
A number of titles for Jesus employ the word “first.” In 1 Corinthians 15:20, Jesus is called the “first fruits.” In Revelation 1:5, Jesus is described as the “firstborn of the dead.” In Revelation 22:13, Jesus calls himself “the first and the last.”
The plaintext in column 6 (soe) is a phonetic spelling of sow, a verb that means “to plant seed for growth especially by scattering.” The ciphertext (G) and plaintext letters (eos) in column 6 in descending order spell “Geos”. The word geo is defined as “earth, ground, soil.” In its plural form, geos refers to different types of soils. There is an organic connection between the act of sowing seeds and a word that refers to soils. This link is bolstered by the overlapping decryptions of soe and Geos.
Jesus taught a famous parable about a sower who scatters seed on different kinds of ground. This parable is recounted in the gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke. This account is referred to as the Parable of the Sower and the Parable of the Soils.
Five contiguous letters within the ciphertext and plaintext from rows 2-4 and column 4 form an anagram of “risn g-d.” This is a phonetic spelling of “Risen God.”
After his crucifixion and entombment for three days, Jesus rose from the dead. A central tenet of Elgar’s Roman Catholicism is the belief that Jesus is the physical manifestation of God. The phrase “risen God” is a theologically sound description of Jesus.
Four neighboring letters in columns 1-2 spell “gift.”
Ephesians 2:8 describes salvation through Jesus as the “gift of God.”
Ciphertext from column 2 (B) neighboring to the plaintext letters u and g in columns 3 and 4 spells “Bug.”
The writer Edgar Allen Poe published a short story in 1843 called The Gold-Bug, and it became his most popular and widely read story during his lifetime. With the help of an unnamed narrator, the character William Legrand decrypts a coded message that leads to a buried treasure. Elgar contemplated a part-song setting of Poe’s poem Israfel, so it is certain that Elgar consulted Edgar Allan Poe’s works. The encoding of the word “Bug” within the Polybius cipher key hints at this famous fictional account that glorifies the art of cryptography.
Elgar exploits adjacent letters in the titles of the Enigma Variations to encode interrelated words and phrases. This encoding technique also appears in the Enigma Theme Music Box Cipher Key. A decade of concerted analysis has netted over ninety cryptograms in diverse formats that encode a set of mutually consistent solutions that furnish 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 melodic cornerstone of each movement? 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 situated in measures 1-6. Who is the secret friend and inspiration behind Variation XIII? Answer: Jesus Christ, the Savior of Elgar’s Roman Catholic faith. To learn more about the secrets of the Enigma Variations, read my free eBook Elgar’s Enigmas Exposed.
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