Aller guten Dinge sind drei.
(All good things are three)
On the cover of the autographed score of the symphonic Enigma Variations, the composer Edward Elgar penned the six-word phrase, “Dedicated to My Friends Pictured Within.” He devotes each variation to a particular friend by using either their initials, name, or nickname as a title. For instance, the first variation is dedicated to Elgar’s wife with the title C.A.E., the initials for Caroline Alice Elgar. A survey of all of these headings identified one unusual term (Enigma), one name (Troyte), three nicknames (Ysobel, Nimrod, and Dorabella), three subtitles (Intermezzo, Romanza and Finale), and nine sets of 27 initials (C.A.E., H.D.S-P., R.B.T., W.M.B., R.P.A., W.N., G.R.S., B.G.N., and E.D.U.). The frequencies of these five title categories are one, three, and nine.
It is conspicuous that out of seventeen different titles and subtitles, three are discernibly German. The first is Enigma, a word spelled identically in English and German. That puzzling title was penciled on the Master Score above the opening bars of the original theme by August Jaeger. He would have only added this finishing touch at the behest and explicit direction of Elgar. Jaeger is the dedicatee of Variation IX, the most elegiac of the movements. Jaeger is the only German portrayed in the Variations, and it is remarkable that he was tasked with writing “Enigma” on the original score. Jaeger’s exclusive role in adding this word to the score clarifies its linguistic lineage as German.
Some speculate that since Jaeger only added the title “Enigma” after Hans Richter agreed to conduct the premiere, this addition must have been an afterthought or marketing gimmick. To the contrary, Elgar’s unconventional theme received its strange title before both publication and premiere. Consequently, the title “Enigma” could only be the product of deliberation and forethought. This conclusion is affirmed by the original 1899 program note in which Elgar explicitly addressed in advance the subject of his Enigma.
The second German title is implicated by the initials of Elgar’s musical self portrait in Variation XIV. Elgar derived his own initials (E.D.U.) from the first three letters of the German translation of his first name as Eduard. Elgar studied German, and his wife was also conversant in that language. It was Alice who gave him the pet name “Edoo” based on the pronunciation of the first three letters of Eduard. The third and final German word is Finale, the subtitle for Variation XIV. Like Enigma, that word is also spelled the same way in English and German.
Among the seventeen terms that populate the fifteen titles of the Enigma Variations, three are distinctly German: Enigma, E.D.U. from Eduard, and Finale. These three German words are illuminating because the title of the hidden melody is also three German words: Ein feste Burg (A Mighty Fortress). A variety of cryptograms from the Enigma Variations harbor the composer’s initials. For example, Barnaby Martin does an admirable job of describing a performance directions cipher in the first bar of the Enigma Theme that encodes “EE’s Psalm.” Martin failed to mention there are precisely 46 characters in these performance directions, a remarkable number as the title of the hidden melody comes from Psalm 46. The three German Words Cipher also includes Elgar’s initials. The first letters of those three German titles are E, E, and F. The two Es are Edward Elgar’s initials that bookend the first and last titles of the Variations. The two discrete letters of those German titles are E and F. Remarkably, the first two initials of Ein feste Burg are also E and F. It should be mentioned that the first three letters of Enigma are an anagram of Ein, the first word in the title of the absent melody.
Another set of initials that stand for three German words is encoded by the Mendelssohn fragments in Variation XIII. These absent initials are suggested by that movement’s cryptic title of three asterisks (***). In this movement, Elgar cites a four-note incipit on four occasions from a subordinate theme in Felix Mendelssohn’s concert overture Calm Sea and Prosperous Voyage (Meeresstille und glückliche Fahrt). The first two quotations are performed by the principal B-flat clarinet in A-flat major. The third fragment is performed by the brass section in F minor. The fourth and final quotation is played again by the principal clarinet in E-flat major. The key letters of these four Mendelssohn fragments (A, F, and E) are anagram of the well known music cryptogram F-A-E. These are the initials of the romantic German motto “Frei aber einsam” (Free but lonely) coined by the renowned violinist Joseph Joachim around 1851. This saying elegantly intersects with Elgar’s assertion that the Enigma Theme “expressed when written...my sense of the loneliness of the artist.”
The F-A-E Violin Sonata was composed by Robert Schumann (Elgar’s youthful “ideal!”), Albert Dietrich, and Johannes Brahms in that year in honor of their friendship with Joachim. Each movement makes use of the notes F, A, and E as a musical cryptogram in recognition of Joachim’s personal motto. Schumann wrote an Intermezzo for the second movement, and a Finale for the fourth. The Enigma Variations also celebrate friendship, and its movements include an Intermezzo (X) and a Finale (XIV). The German dedication reads, “F.A.E.: In Erwartung der Ankunft des verehrten und geliebten Freundes JOSEPH JOACHIM schrieben diese Sonate R.S., J.B., A.D.” The translation is, “F.A.E.: In expectation of the arrival of their revered and beloved friend, Joseph Joachim, this sonata was written by R.S., J.B., A.D.” The appearance of the composers’ initials in the dedication is noteworthy, particularly as Elgar made liberal use of initials for nine of the titles in the Enigma Variations.
The key letters of the Mendelssohn fragments in Variation XIII are A, F and E. Two of those three letters (E and F) conveniently provide the first two the initials of Ein feste Burg. The absent B is furnished in a variety of ways. First, it is given by the B-flat clarinet that performs the three Mendelssohn quotations. Second, the A-flat major Mendelssohn quotation is performed twice, and the second letter of the alphabet is B. Third, the second note in the A-flat major quotations is B-flat. The remaining key letter A is the literal translation of Ein.
The cryptic title of Variation XIII (***) denotes the absence of three letters. Like those missing initials, the covert Theme is also absent. In a stunning parallel, the absent Theme’s common title consists of three words that may be represented by three initials. The encryption of three initials for Joachim’s romantic motto in Variation XIII suggests that the absent theme’s title is three German words. This same conclusion is supported by the identification of three German words in the titles of the Enigma Variations. Remarkably, these missing initials are provided by an acrostic anagram formed by the neighboring movements of Variation XIII. The first letters from the titles of Variations XII (B.G.N.) and XIV (E.D.U. and Finale) are an acrostic anagram of the covert Theme’s initials (E.F.B.). These absent initials are also encoded by the Mendelssohn fragments.
These cryptograms illustrate Elgar’s expertise in cryptography, a subject that merits an entire chapter in Craig P. Bauer’s treatise Unsolved! 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 concerning the secrets of the Enigma Variations, read my free eBook Elgar’s Enigmas Exposed.