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Friday, September 18, 2020

Elgar's 1899 Program Note Quotations Ciphers

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 late dramas – e.g., Maeterlinck’s ‘L’Intruse’ and ‘Les sept Princesses’ – the chief character is never on the stage.

Edward Elgar


The British romantic composer Edward Elgar supplied explanatory notes for his symphonic Enigma Variations in a letter to Hans Richter’s agent, Charles Ainslie Barry. This insightful commentary was cited in Barry’s original program note for the June 1899 premiere. In his remarks, Elgar enclosed the following five words and phrases in quotation marks:

  1. ‘piece’
  2. ‘dark saying’
  3. ‘goes’
  4. ‘L'Intruse’ (The Intruder)
  5. ‘Les sept Princesses’ (The seven Princesses)

The quotation marks are reminiscent of those Elgar placed around the Mendelssohn quotations in Variation XIII. Prior investigations uncovered multiple cryptograms embedded within those anomalous melodic incipits. Could the quotation marks signal the presence of yet another cipher?

No serious musicologist questions Elgar’s obsession with encoding and decoding secret messages. His expertise in cryptography merits an entire chapter in Craig P. Bauer’s treatise Unsolved! As a skilled cryptographer, Elgar conceived of elaborate coded messages like the Dorabella Cipher. Recent research found that his unusual reference in the program note to the Belgian playwright Maeterlinck and two of his plays encipher the word psalm, the number 46, the initials for Martin Luther and his hymn Ein feste Burg. These solutions are extraordinary because the covert Theme to the Enigma Variations is Ein feste Burg (A Mighty Fortress) by the German Reformation leader Martin Luther. In light of this recent revelation, it is exceedingly probable that Elgar’s comments in the program note harbor other cryptograms.

Among the most promising candidates for a cipher are the words enclosed by quotations. These quotations in Elgar’s commentary break down into four English words (piece, dark saying, goes) and five French terms (L’Intruse, Les sept Princesses). The application of a number-to-letter key (1 = A, 2 = B, 3 = C, and so forth) to these word totals converts 4 to D and 5 to E. These two letters may be arranged to spell Ed, the short form of the composer’s first name (Edward).

Elgar’s quotations possess a total of 55 characters excluding spaces. These 55 characters break down into 44 letters (4 upper case and 40 lower case), 10 quotation marks, and 1 apostrophe. The number 55 is a coded reference to Elgar’s initials because E is the fifth letter of the alphabet. The quotations in Elgar’s program note cleverly encode the composer’s initials (EE) and the short form of his first name (Ed). This is consistent with other ciphers in the Enigma Variations that encode the composer’s initials, first or last name.

The encoding of Elgar’s first name and initials by his program note quotations supports the conclusion that they must be a cipher. An analysis of the last letters in terms enclosed by quotation marks (ekgsests) revealed they are a telestich anagram of “kst geses.” There are two es in this anagram that are another coded version of the composer’s initials.

  1. ‘piece
  2. ‘dark saying
  3. ‘goes
  4. ‘L'Intruse
  5. ‘Les sept Princess

The phrase “kst geses” is a phonetic permutation of “Kissed Jesus.” Elgar embedded a musical Polybius box cipher within the opening six bars of the Enigma Theme that encodes a similar phonetic version of Jesus (Gsus) in its first bar. A phonetic reading is bolstered by Elgar’s use of inventive phonetic spellings in his personal correspondence. For example, he substituted frazes for phrases, gorjus for gorgeous, and xqqq for excuse. The decryption “Kissed Jesus” points to Christ as the secret friend and dedicatee of Variation XIII. On that dark night in the Garden of Gethsemane, the fate of Jesus was sealed by a kiss from the traitorous disciple Judas Iscariot.

Another prospective telestich anagram of these same letters is “ee gts kss.” The first two letters are Elgar’s initials. The next two words are a phonetic adaptation of the phrase “gets kiss.” The full decryption of this alternate anagram is “EE gets kiss.” Elgar’s  spiritual friendship with Christ is symbolized by the two es in his phonetic spelling of Jesus as “Geses” in the first telestich anagram. This intimacy is further supported by the positioning of  Rehearsal number (55) at the beginning of Variation XIII, the movement covertly dedicated to Christ. As previously observed, the application of a number-to-letter key converts 55 to EE. The similarities of the decryptions “Kissed Jesus” and “EE gets kiss” emphasize Elgar’s religious identification with Christ. It also likely conveys his sense of betrayal by the academic, social, and class hierarchies that openly discriminated against Roman Catholics like himself who had to work for a living.

It is also possible to construct an anagram from the first letters (pdsgLLsP) of the words in quotations. These letters are an acrostic anagram of “dp sps gLL.” The first three letters are dp, a phonetic version of dip. Jesus plainly told his disciples at the Last Supper that one of them would betray him. When the nearest disciple discretely asked him to point out the traitor, Jesus replied, “It is he to whom I will give this morsel of bread when I have dipped it.” Jesus dipped a piece of bread and handed it to Judas to signal the identity of his betrayer.

The second part of the acrostic anagram is “sps gLL.” This is a phonetic rendering of “Sips gall.” Jesus was brutally flogged before his crucifixion, so he experienced severe dehydration as he languished on the cross.  Nearing death, Jesus uttered, “I thirst.” In response, the Roman soldiers gave him a mixture of vinegar and gall to drink. Jesus sipped the concoction but refused to drink it. This was in fulfillment of the Messianic Psalm 69:21, “They gave me also gall for my meat; and in my thirst they gave me vinegar to drink.”

The words Elgar enclosed by quotation marks in his 1899 explanatory note for the Enigma Variations are a triple anagram constructed from the first and last letters of each quotation. The first is the telestich anagram “kst geses” that may be read phonetically as “Kissed Jesus.” The second alternate telestich anagram is “ee gts kiss,” a phonetic rendering of “EE gets kiss.” The third is the acrostic anagram “dp sps gall” that may be read as “dip” and “sips gall.” These terms are theologically tied to Judas and Jesus. Elgar learned about these theological allusions as he studied the scriptures and biblical commentaries to compose his sacred oratorios beginning with Lux Christi in 1896 and culminating with The Kingdom in 1906. It is conceivable that other ciphers are lurking within these five remarkable quotations in Elgar’s 1899 program note for the Enigma Variations. To learn more regarding the secrets of that symphonic masterpiece, read my free eBook Elgar’s Enigmas Exposed.

Soli Yah Gloria

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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.