During railway journeys amuses himself with cryptograms; solved one by John Holt Schooling who defied the world to unravel his mystery.
Robert Buckley in Sir Edward Elgar
I suspect that the reason the automated programs fail to break the Dorabella cipher is because much of it consists of misspelled words and words invented by Elgar and his family.
The British romantic composer Edward Elgar composed his symphonic Enigma Variations between 1898 and 1899. Its genesis can be traced to the evening of October 21, 1899, when he first unveiled the Enigma Theme at the piano for his wife, Alice. Her favorable response was the catalyst for him to develop the original Theme into a set of variations about his predominantly Anglican friends. This October marks the 122nd anniversary of that historic occasion that Elgarians commemorate as Enigma Day. The premiere of the Variations in June 1899 under the Wagnerian Hans Richter propelled Elgar to international acclaim. There was no lucrative commission to boost Elgar’s confidence and finances. He labored for nothing more than the sheer pleasure of creating something new and profound. By working for free, Elgar ultimately freed himself from the obscurity and drudgery of his former career as an itinerant music teacher. No longer would he wallow in the shoals and shallows of life.
Elgar’s fervor for music was closely followed by his obsession for cryptography, the art of encoding and decoding secret messages. His expertise with clandestine codes merits an entire chapter in Craig P. Bauer’s treatise Unsolved! As an accomplished cryptographer, Elgar devised impenetrable messages such as the Dorabella Cipher. In the Enigma Variations, Elgar merged his twin passions for music and cryptography by fashioning a cornucopia of cryptograms that decisively resolve its three core riddles. What is the absent Principal Theme? Ein feste Burg (A Mighty Fortress) by Martin Luther. What is the Enigma Theme’s “dark saying”? A musical Polybius box cipher. Who is the secret friend memorialized in Variation XIII? Jesus Christ, the Savior of Elgar’s Roman Catholic faith.
An example of Elgar’s ingenuity at encipherment is how he arranged proximate letters in the titles to encode the answers to the Enigma Variations. He reshuffled these titles at least five different times before arriving at the final order. This process of reordering the titles was ostensibly performed to construct these ciphers. The first intriguing cluster of letters to emerge from the opening movements of the Enigma Variations is CHRST, a phonetic version of Christ. This title is drawn from the first initials of Variations I through III (CHR), and the third initials from Variations II and III (ST). These initials are sequential and align in the first and third columns, a feature that hints at the number thirteen. It is equally feasible to realize this title exactly as CHRIST by adding a Roman numeral I from the first variation.
Another related word that may be formed by other initials from Variations I through III is ABIDE. This term is theologically significant because Jesus taught his disciples in John 15:4:
Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me.
Elgar’s personal library housed several hymnals including the encyclopedic Hymns: Ancient and Modern. Many hymns in that reference manual use the term “abide” in their titles and lyrics. For example, Hymn 11 is entitled “Abide with Us.” Each stanza of Hymn 14 concludes with the refrain “abide with me.” Other hymns from that popular work make extensive use of the word abide. In July 1923, Elgar orchestrated Sir Ivor Atkins’ anthem “Abide with me” originally released in 1908. Atkins served as the choirmaster and organist at Worcester Cathedral between 1897 and 1950. The proximity of the terms Christ and abide encoded by proximate letters in the opening titles of the Enigma Variations has a broad foundation in hymnody.
Elgar used discrete subsets of titles to construct other intriguing ciphers. For example, there are six titles in the Enigma Variations that each consist of six letters: Enigma, Ysobel, Troyte, Nimrod, Edu(ard), and Finale. The three letters in parentheses complete the spelling of Eduard, the German translation of Edward from which Elgar sourced the first three letters for the title of his movement (E.D.U.). Discounting the three absent letters in Eduard leaves 33 letters in those six titles, a figure that is the mirror image of Elgar’s initials. Adding the absent three letters raises that sum to 36, a total that matches the opus number of the Variations. In a remarkable parallel, the Roman numerals for these movements with six-letter titles (VI, VII, IX, and XIV) also add up to 36 (6+7+9+14). This corresponding sum implies that all 36 letters from the complete six-letter titles should be examined.
Three of the six-letter titles reflect Elgar’s scriptural fluency due to their discernible biblical provenance: Enigma, Ysobel, and Nimrod. This comports with W. H. Reed’s statement that Elgar’s “knowledge of the Bible and the Apocrypha was profound.” Elgar gave his original Theme the title Enigma because it is a counterpoint to the absent Principle Theme, a famous tune that is not heard but may be played “through and over” the Variations. Ian Parrot observed that the Latin and Greek texts of 1 Corinthians 13:12 employ the word enigma in place of the phrase, “...through a glass, darkly.” In this famous chapter, the Apostle Paul extols the supremacy of Love above all other spiritual gifts. This passage was read aloud in Latin (“Videmus nunc per speculum in ænigmate”) during a mass attended by Elgar on February 12, 1899. He dutifully recorded on the autograph score that the orchestration was completed between February 5 and 19, 1899. This means that Elgar heard the word “Enigma” in a church setting when he was orchestrating the Variations. At Elgar’s direction, August Jaeger appended the title “Enigma” to the original manuscript on or shortly after April 8, 1899. That small change was the finishing touch to Elgar’s symphonic riddle.
Elgar selected the nickname Nimrod for the title of Variation IX, an elegiac movement dedicated to his German friend Jaeger. That unusual title overtly links the English translation of the German word Jaeger (“hunter”) to the biblical description of Nimrod in Genesis 10:9 as “a mighty hunter.” Remarkably, the first two words of the phrase “a mighty hunter” reproduce the first two from the title of the covert Theme, “A Mighty Fortress.” A rigorous analysis of the title Nimrod reveals that it is a multipronged wordplay cipher that divulges the title of the hidden melody. Elgar’s eccentric nickname was meticulously premeditated.
Ysobel is the sobriquet Elgar gave to Variation VI, a delicate and graceful movement dedicated to his viola pupil Isabel Fitton. The names Ysobel and Isabel are derivatives of Elisheba, a Hebrew name recorded in Exodus 6:23 for the wife of Aaron. He was appointed the first Levitical High Priest of Israel. Elisheba means “God is abundance” from the root words “El” (God) and “Sheba” (abundance). It is also translated as “God is my oath” and “Oath to God.” These interpretations acknowledge that abundance and blessings come from God.
Aaron was the brother of Moses, a mighty prophet called by God from a burning bush to lead the people of Israel out of slavery in Egypt towards the Promised Land. One of the most dramatic moments in that epic saga occurred when God miraculously parted the sea for the Israelites to escape Pharaoh’s marauding chariots and soldiers. The Pharaoh was so blinded by rage that he ordered his troops to pursue them through the opened sea. After the Israelites safely reached the opposite shore, the sea suddenly slammed shut and swept the Egyptian army into the murky depths. Elisheba was one of many who participated in that extraordinary sea crossing.
Elements of Variation VI allude to this famous sea crossing. That movement is set in the key of C major, a letter that is a homonym of sea. Its primary motif is a string crossing exercise for the viola, an instrument written predominantly in the alto or C clef. Through the deft combination of the biblical title, crossing motif, key, and instrumentation, Elgar cleverly hints at that epic sea crossing. Similarly, the Mendelssohn quotations in Variation XIII also portray a sea crossing. Like Moses, Mendelssohn is a famous Jew whose name begins with the thirteenth letter of the alphabet, the letter M. That is also the initial for Messiah, another famous personage of Jewish extraction portrayed in Variation XIII.
Troyte, Eduard, and Finale are three six-letter titles that are secular in character. Elgar dedicated Variation VII to Arthur Troyte Griffith, a close friend and Malvern architect who painted pastoral watercolors. Elgar gave this brisk and volatile movement Arthur’s middle name (Troyte) as its title. In place of initials for his musical self-portrait in Variation XIV, Elgar substituted the first three letters (E.D.U.) from Eduard, the German translation of his first name Edward. The initials are a phonetic realization of the pet name “Edoo” that his wife coined based on that German rendition. The subtitle Finale is spelled the same way in German. The German origination of Elgar’s title implies that this secondary subtitle may also be appreciated from a Teutonic perspective. The same holds true for the title of the original Theme, Enigma, which is spelled the same in German. These Germanic equivalents hint at the language of the covert Theme’s title.
Elgar’s phonetic spelling (E.D.U.) of his pet name “Edoo” is part of a larger pattern of inserting unusual spellings into his correspondence. Some examples are listed below:
- Bizziness (business)
- çkor (score)
- cszquōrrr (score)
- fagotten (forgotten)
- FAX (facts)
- frazes (phrases)
- gorjus (gorgeous)
- phatten (fatten)
- skorh (score)
- SSCZOWOUGHOHR (score)
- Xmas (Christmas)
- Xqqqq (Excuse)
- Xti (Christi)
Based on Elgar’s proclivity for uncommon spellings, Craig P. Bauer speculates that he must have subsumed them in his cryptograms. Such an ingenious technique would make a cipher impervious to the most advanced forms of modern machine decryption. Restricting acceptable decryptions to only correctly spelled words in one language is easily foiled by adopting phonetic spellings in more than one language. My decryption of a musical Polybius Box cipher embedded within the Enigma Theme confirms Bauer’s suspicion. Elgar used four different languages and incorporated some phonetic spellings. For instance, he respelled Jesus as “GSUS,” and the phrase “I know you” as “INOU.” Bauer was apprised of these discoveries in 2012 when I submitted an early draft of my paper about the Enigma Theme Polybius box cipher to the journal Cryptologia where he still serves as its editor.
The Mendelssohn Fragments FAE Key Cipher
In Variation XIII — the only movement whose dedicatee is shrouded in mystery — Elgar cites a four-note melodic incipit from the concert overture Meerestille und Glückliche Fahrt (Calm Sea and Prosperous Voyage) by Felix Mendelssohn. Something besides the identity of the dedicatee is hidden in that movement. The Mendelssohn fragments appear in the keys of A-flat major, F minor, and E-flat minor. Those three key letters are an anagram of FAE, the initials of the German romantic motto “Frei aber einsam” (Free but lonely) coined by the violinist Joseph Joachim around 1851. The notes F-A-E serve as a motivic figure in the F-A-E Violin Sonata composed collaboratively by Robert Schumann (Elgar’s “ideal” composer), Albert Dietrich, and Johannes Brahms.
Schumann penned the following dedication on the original manuscript: "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 reads, “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 Mendelssohn fragments encode a well known musical cryptogram that intersects elegantly with Elgar’s claim that the Enigma Theme “expressed when written...my sense of the loneliness of the artist.” It is astonishing that so many respected musicians and musicologists failed to spot such a flagrantly obvious music cryptogram lurking within the Mendelssohn fragments of Variation XIII. The “experts” could not see the forest for the trees, or musically speaking, the notes for the keys.
The enciphering of Joachim’s romantic motto by the key letters of the Mendelssohn fragments is not a fortuitous fluke. As a young protégé of Mendelssohn, Joachim performed Beethoven’s Violin Concerto in D major at a Royal Philharmonic Society concert in London on May 27, 1844. Just shy of his thirteenth birthday, Joachim was granted a special dispensation from a rule barring child prodigies from that prestigious stage. That performance launched his storied career, and he quickly became a perennial favorite of Queen Victoria and the British public. It is exquisitely appropriate that Elgar encoded Joachim’s romantic motto using melodic fragments composed by Mendelssohn, his momentous mentor and advocate. The link between Mendelssohn and Joachim is virtually impossible to miss. Mendelssohn oversaw the debut of Joachim, and Elgar pays homage to that special relationship in Variation XIII. With those same quotations, Elgar invites Mendelssohn’s symbolic patronage for his first major orchestral debut.
Arthur Reynolds posits in the July 2007 issue of The Elgar Society Journal that Joachim was “arguably the most highly esteemed performing musician of his time.” Elgar’s admiration bordered on “hero-worship” as illustrated by his reference to one of Joachim’s discarded E-strings as a “precious relic.” This unbridled respect for Joachim undoubtedly emanated from Elgar’s youthful aspiration to become a famous violinist, a plan thwarted by insufficient funds and instruction. One of Joachim’s most eminent pupils, Leopold Auer, lauded his instructor’s divine sound. “Whenever I had an opportunity of hearing Joachim play,” Auer recounted, “I always felt as though he were a priest, thrilling his congregation with a sermon revealing the noblest moral beauties of a theme which could not help but interest all humanity.” Joachim’s interpretive mastery mesmerized Elgar and audiences throughout England and continental Europe.
The Italian Titles FAE Cipher
There is another more sophisticated method in which Elgar enciphers Joachim’s motto in the Enigma Variations. He achieved this cryptographic coup by using four titles that comprise a discrete subset due to their conspicuous Italian spellings: Enigma, Intermezzo Romanza, and Finale. These four titles may be reshuffled to create an acrostic anagram of “Frei,” the first word in Joachim’s German maxim. The Italian translation of “aber” as “ma” is spelled appropriately in the middle of Romanza. A phonetic spelling of “einsam” as “eanzam” is generated at the end by a quasi-mesostich anagram in a cross formation. As previously observed regarding Variation VI (Ysobel), there are multiple coded allusions to crossing within the Variations. The Enigma Variations harbors overt and covert references to the concept of crossing.
The Six-Letter Titles Ciphers
The Enigma Variations has six titles that each consist of six letters: Enigma, Ysobel, Troyte, Nimrod, Eduard, and Finale. The initials of those titles in alphabetical order are “EEFNTY.” A variety of cryptograms in the Variations are initialed by the composer, and the two Es in this initials sequence is yet another example of that tactic. The first letters from these six titles may be rearranged to form the acrostic anagram “EYN FET.” The word “EYN” is a phonetic version of “Ein,” the first word in the title Ein feste Burg. This reading is possible when the Y is pronounced like an I as exhibited by words like my and cry.
The word “FET” is a phonetic spelling of “Fete.” That same word is encoded in bar 5 of the Enigma Theme by a musical Polybius Box Cipher. A “fete” is a festival or religious feast. The Roman Catholic Calendar celebrates numerous Feast Days such as Easter (Resurrection Day) and Christmas. The word “fete” comes from the Old French term “feste.” That is the same spelling of the second word in the title of the covert Theme (Ein feste Burg). Consequently, a coded reference to “fete” hints at the second word in the covert Theme’s title. The word “fete” was in common usage when Elgar composed the Variations in 1898-99. For instance, Elgar’s friend Lady Mary Trefsis (née Lygon) used that term to describe a village festival in Cornwall.
The combined description of “EYN FET” is “Ein Fete” which translates from German into English as “A party.” An alternative phonetic realization of that same phrase using the same initials would be, "YN FETE." This would permit an accurate spelling of fete. Elgar began composing the Enigma Variations on October 21, 1898. Three days later in a letter to Jaeger, he jauntily announced his novel symphonic project:
Since I’ve been back I have sketched a set of Variations (orkestry) on an original theme: the Variations have amused me because I’ve labelled ’em with the nicknames of my particular friends – you are Nimrod. That is to say I’ve written the variations each one to represent the mood of the ‘party’ – I’ve liked to imagine the ‘party’ writing the var: him (or her) self & have written what I think they wd. have written – if they were asses enough to compose – it’s a quaint idee & the result is amusing to those behind the scenes & won’t affect the hearer who ‘nose nuffin’. What think you?
A decryption of the Six-Letter Titles Initials Cipher as “A party” is remarkably consistent with Elgar’s early characterization of each friend portrayed in the Variations as a “party.” The alternative spelling of orchestra as “orkestry” is yet another example of Elgar’s proclivity for atypical spellings.
This is not the only time that Elgar utilized an acrostic anagram to encode a secret message. The same technique was observed with the Four Italian Titles Frei Cipher. Yet another excellent example of an acrostic anagram cipher is the performance directions in the first bar of the Enigma Theme. A performance direction is a standardized word or acronym in music that instructs the performer how to execute a particular passage. The first letters of the performance directions in the first measure of the Enigma Theme are an acrostic anagram of “EE’s Psalm.” A quarter note appears in place of the period and closely resembles an exclamation mark (!). There are precisely 46 characters in these performance directions, a figure that implicates the 46th chapter. The title of Luther‘s most famous hymn heralds from the first line of Psalm 46: “Ein feste Burg ist unser Gott” (A Mighty Fortress is our God). So close is the association between this chapter and the Reformation leader that it is commonly known as “Luther’s Psalm.”
Another anagram that may be constructed from the initials “EEFNTY” is “EFNETY,” a phonetic variant of “Infinity.” Robert Buckley, Elgar’s first biographer, reported, “Like many busy men of active brain, Dr. Elgar relegates an infinity of things to the shadowy morrow.” A central tenet of the Roman Catholic Church is the belief that God is infinite. Roman Catholics embrace the doctrine of the Trinity that teaches Jesus is God’s incarnation on earth as God the Son. A coded reference to infinity hints at the divinity of Elgar’s secret friend.
Variation XIII is dedicated in secret to Jesus Christ. There are multiple ciphers in that movement that betray his identity. For example, the Roman numerals (XIII) are a transparent number-to-letter cipher that encodes his initials. X represents the number ten, and the tenth letter of the alphabet is J. III stands for three, and the third letter is C. The Roman numerals XIII are a coded version of the initials JC. The first two melodic notes of that movement are G-D, a phonetic spelling of God. The FAE Cipher in this movement refers to the violinist Joseph Joachim whose initials are JJ. Bach wrote those same initials at the start and finish of church compositions to represent the Latin phrase, “Jesu juva” (Jesus help). Consequently, Joachim’s initials encode the identity of Elgar’s secret friend.
The name of “Jesus Christ” appears in the second stanza of Ein feste Burg, the hidden melody to the Enigma Variations. In his “Second Interlude” extolling Martin Luther, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow reverentially recites each stanza of Ein feste Burg interlaced by his own poetry. In this poem, Longfellow translates the name of Jesus as Christus. Elgar cites a passage from Longfellow’s Elegiac Verse at the conclusion of the extended Finale completed in July 1899. This literary quotation hints by imitation that Longfellow cites the covert Theme in one of his own works. This is the same rationale for the Mendelssohn quotations in Variation XIII as Mendelssohn quotes Ein feste Burg in his Reformation Symphony.
Roman Catholicism teaches that Jesus is the incarnation of God, died after suffering on the cross for six hours, and was miraculously resurrected after resting in a newly hewn tomb for three days. The revelatory phrase “Dead God” is enciphered by the bass and melody notes in three-bar sections of Variation XIII beginning four bars after Rehearsal 55, and a second time four bars after Rehearsal 59.
In Variation XIII there is a coded reference to the Turin Shroud, the burial cloth of Christ. This cipher was suggested by the prevalence of the number three shared between the common three-word title of the covert Theme (Ein feste Burg), the three Mendelssohn quotations in that movement, and the three asterisks in the mysterious title (***). The way this cipher functions is by removing any letters from the titles of Ein feste Burg that match the note letters from the Mendelssohn quotations (A, B, C, E, F, G). The remaining letters from the covert Theme’s denuded title (Ein feste Burg) are an anagram of TURIN S. The initial for “Shroud” is shrouded by the absence of its remaining five letters, a feature that unveils its hidden meaning.
The specter of death casts a long dark 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. There was an indelible link in Elgar’s psyche between music and death because when he was a youth, he studied musical scores at a local churchyard while resting on a tombstone. In Variation XIII, Elgar quotes on four occasions a four-note fragment from Mendelssohn’s concert overture Calm Sea and Prosperous Voyage (Meeresstille und glückliche Fahrt) to portray a ship crossing the open sea. 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). Psalm 46:10 refers to stillness by declaring, “Be still and know that I am God.” 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 onstage in various French dramas by the Belgian playwright, Maurice Maeterlinck. That absent character is death, the principal antagonist in Maeterlinck's works that are classified as “marionette” plays because the characters rarely move. For Elgar and his friends, the final port of call at the end of life is ultimately death.
The letters from the second column of these six-letter titles may be arranged alphabetically as D, I, I, N, R, and S. These second letters are a mesostich anagram of “DI SINR”, a phonetic rendering of “Die Sinner.” The Old and New Testament scriptures consistently teach that sin culminates in death. In Genesis 2:17, God warned Adam and Eve that if they ever ate from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, they would “surely die.” In the New Testament, Romans 6:23 also admonishes, “For the wages of sin is death.” These second letters may also be reshuffled as “SD INRI.” The letters “SD” are a phonetic spelling of “Said.” The letters “INRI” are a Christogram drawn from the initials of the Latin inscription “IESVS NAZARENVS REX IVDÆORVM” (Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews). This phrase was written in three languages (Aramaic, Latin, and Greek) on a large placard posted at the crucifixion of Jesus that specified his capital offense. The phrase “Said INRI” refers to the contents of this sign affixed to the cross.
Like the sign displayed at the crucifixion of Christ, Elgar uses three languages in his grand anagram of the covert Theme’s 24-letter German title. The initials of those three languages in order of appearance from the decryption (Latin, English, and Aramaic) spell LEA. This is an extraordinary anagram because Elgar moved his family in March 1899 into a new home that he christened Craeg Lea. That move occurred shortly after he finished orchestrating the Enigma Variations the prior month on February 19. Elgar constructed this unusual residential moniker by reversing the letters of his last name (Craeg Lea) and inserting the initials from the first names of his wife Alice (Craeg Lea), daughter Carice (Craeg Lea), and himself (Craeg Lea).
The initials of all four cipher languages (Latin, English, Aramaic, German) are an acrostic anagram of ELAG, a phonetic realization of elegy. This construction mirrors the four-letter groupings unveiled by the decryption of the Enigma Theme Polybius Box Cipher. Merriam-Webster defines an elegy as “a song or poem expressing sorrow or lamentation especially for one who is dead,” and “a short pensive musical composition.” The first definition is apropos because the death of Elgar’s famous secret friend is covertly commemorated in Variation XIII. The other definition is a suitable description of the brief Enigma Theme that has only nineteen measures.
At the conclusion of the extended Finale, Elgar quotes a passage from stanza XIV of Longfellow's Elegiac Verse. The root word of elegiac is elegy. There is no greater or more permanent ending in life than death. This insight is intimated by Elgar’s Tasso paraphrase from the epic Christian poem Jerusalem Delivered that is dated incorrectly to the year of Tasso’s passing (1595). Similarly, Elgar also incorrectly dated the completion of the original manuscript as “FEb 18, 1898.” Like the erroneous dating of the Tasso quotation, this intentional error draws attention to the anniversary of Martin Luther’s death on February 18. His abbreviation of February as “FEb '' has the E capitalized because it is the first letter in a title. Those three letters are an anagram of the initials of Ein feste Burg, the absent letters represented by the three asterisks (***) in the nebulous title of Variation XIII. The absent letters stand for the absent Theme, not Elgar’s secret friend. The wrong completion date effectively combines Luther’s death anniversary with the initials of his greatest composition.
The letters from the third column of these six-letter titles may be arranged alphabetically as I, M, N, O, O, and U. These third letters are a mesostich anagram of “U NOO I M”, a phonetic version of the phrase “You knew I AM.” An alternative ordering as “I M NOO U” produces the companion phrase “I AM knew you.” The title “I AM” is a special name for God given to Moses at the burning bush. During that encounter God told Moses, “Say to the people of Israel, ‘I AM’ has sent me to you.” The name “I AM” is an enigmatic name for God that encapsulates his eternal and infinite nature. In its long form — “I AM that I AM” — it is known as the Great I AM. The Enigma Theme’s palindromic rhythm of alternating pairs of eighth notes (two dots) and quarter notes (two dashes) translates from Morse code to “IM MI.” These four letters may be rearranged as “I M I M,” a phonetic equivalent of the Great I AM from the Exodus account. In John 8:58, Jesus applied the enigmatic title “I AM” to himself.
The coded phrase “You knew I AM” reiterates public statements issued by Jesus during his earthly ministry. Concerning God the Father, Jesus proclaimed, “I know Him.” The alternative reading — “I AM knew you” — reflects that God also knew Jesus. For example, Jesus taught in John 10:14-15, “I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, just as the Father knows me and I know the Father; and I lay down my life for the sheep.” Just as Jesus knew God the Father, God also knew Jesus.
The letters from the fourth column of these six-letter titles may be arranged alphabetically as A, A, B, G, R, and Y. These fourth letters are a mesostich anagram of “GRY ABA.” The letters “GRY” are a phonetic spelling of “Gray.” The letters “ABA” are a phonetic spelling of “Abba,” a term of endearment in Aramaic used by Jesus to refer to God. In Mark 14:36 Jesus prayed to God, “Abba, Father, all things are possible for you.” The combined decryption “Gray Abba” may be interpreted as a poetic allusion to the abounding wisdom and power of a gray-haired Heavenly Father.
There is ample artistic precedent for Elgar’s coded reference to a silver-haired Heavenly Father. In his renowned fresco “The Creation of Adam'' on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, Michaelangelo depicts God the Father with argentine locks and beard. Indeed, a substantial number of paintings in Western art portray God the Father with graying hair.
The letters from the fifth column of these six-letter titles may be arranged alphabetically as E, L, M, O, R, and T. These fifth letters are a mesostich anagram of “MORT EL.” The first word “MORT” is a faithful spelling of the French word for “dead.” The second word “EL” is the correct spelling of the Hebrew word for “God.” There is no need to speculate why such a word would appeal to a composer named Elgar. The decryption of the phrase “MORT EL” is “Dead God.” That exact phrase — “Dead God” — is enciphered twice in Variation XIII by the bass and melody note sequences four bars after Rehearsal 55, and again four bars after Rehearsal 59.
The letters from the sixth column of these six-letter titles may be arranged alphabetically as A, E, E, D, D, and L. As previously observed with the letters from column 1, the initials of the composer are apparent in this sequence. Elgar initialed the first and last columns of these six-letter titles. These final letters may be rearranged as a telestich anagram to form “DEAD EL.” The Hebrew word “El” translates as God, so the decryption may be read as “Dead God.” A variant of this same phrase is enciphered by the letters in column 5 as “Mort El.” The phrase "Dead God" is encoded twice in Variation XIII. Likewise, two variants of that phrase are encoded in the Six-Letter Titles Ciphers.
Elgar identified the earliest sketch of Variation XIII with a capital L and XXX written in blue pencil. The letter L is a homonym of the Hebrew word “El,” and the initial for “Lord.” Three Xs symbolize the three crosses at Golgotha where Jesus was crucified between two criminals. The actual place of the crucifixion is called Gordon’s Calvary in honor of General Gordon who popularized the site. Elgar was planning a symphony in honor of General Gordon when he abruptly diverted his energies towards the Enigma Variations. Elgar advised in a letter to F. G. Edwards, “Anyhow ‘Gordon’ simmereth mighty pleasantly in my (brain) pan & will no doubt boil over one day.” The date of that correspondence is October 21, 1899 — Enigma Day. The appearance of the adjective “mighty” in Elgar’s correspondence on that crucial day is a proverbial slip of the pen. Indeed, the pen is mightier than the sword of Damocles.
Elgar was born and raised a Roman Catholic by a zealous mother who converted from Anglicanism to that minority faith in England. He was educated at three parochial schools during his youth and regularly attended Latin Mass into adulthood. In May 1889, he married Alice in a Roman Catholic ceremony at Brompton Oratory in London. The ritual of crossing oneself is ubiquitous and routine in all of these environments. This practice suggests analyzing the diagonal letters in the six-letter titles. The first diagonal series of letters from the upper left to the lower right are E, S, O, R, R, and E. Those letters in alphabetical order are E, E, O, R, R, and S. As seen with other cryptograms within the Enigma Variations, the two Es is a coded form of the composer’s initials. This diagonal series of letters is an anagram of “ROSREE,” a phonetic iteration of “Rosary.” The Rosary is a set of devotional prayers recited by Roman Catholics who typically track their progress referring to a string of beads in the form of a necklace. The rosary begins and ends by making the sign of the cross.
The second diagonal series of letters from the lower left to the upper right are F, D, M, Y, E, and A. These may be reordered alphabetically as A, D, E, F, M, and Y. Those six letters are an anagram of “FED MY A.” Elgar often referred to his wife, Alice, as “dear A.” Armed with this knowledge, the full decryption reads as “Fed my Alice.” Elgar labored diligently as a music teacher and composer to provide for his wife and daughter, Carice. Alice played a vital role in steering Elgar’s artistic impulses to more promising ports of opportunity. One notable example is her favorable response when he first performed the Enigma Theme for her on the evening of October 21, 1899. Alice said, “The care of a genius is enough of a life work for any woman.” Elgar warmly acknowledges his wife’s contributions in Variation I and revisits material from her movement in Variation XIV.
It is equally feasible to rearrange these same letters into “ED FAYM.” The name “ED” is a nickname for Edward. The word “FAYM” is a phonetic spelling of “Fame.” Elgar was certainly seeking fame and fortune when he composed the Enigma Variations. This decryption suggests that he had a premonition that this work would be his entrée to high society and a steady flow of gainful commissions. As W. H. Reed recalled, “In the year 1900, Elgar’s fame increased and his days became fuller and fuller; he was now a popular figure and sought after for society functions and by hostesses who liked to have famous artists, poets and musicians to add distinction to their parties.” It must be conceded that those same letters may be rearranged as “DEFAYM,” a phonetic approximation of “Defame.” The line between notoriety and infamy is occasionally indistinct.
A third possible anagram from these diagonal letters is “Y MD FAE.” The first letter is a homonym of “Why.” The second term “MD” is a phonetic spelling of “Made.” The initials FAE represent Joachim’s romantic motto. The full decryption reads, “Why made FAE?” The English translation of Joachim’s German motto permits an expanded reading of the phrase as the query “Why made free but lonely?”
It was mentioned earlier how Elgar used the Enigma Theme to portray the “loneliness of the artist.” The quest to produce genuine art of the highest caliber demands ascending to the highest peaks of creativity and invention. So many lesser artists settle for much less and never attain this elevated plane of existence. Great art requires great personal sacrifice, and it is incredibly lonely being at the top. When someone casually implied that all the arts are the same, Elgar roared back, “Music is written on the skies for you to note down. And you compare that to a DAMNED imitation!” The starry asterisks in the title of Variation XIII hint at this heavenly expanse from which Elgar drew inspiration. Those asterisks on the sketch and published score are hexagrams — the Star of David. One of the titles for Jesus is “the Son of David.” The type of asterisks written on the final short score and retained on the published score brazenly hint at the identity of Elgar’s hidden friend.
The confidential dedication of Variation XIII to Jesus is not bewildering to those who candidly recognize Elgar was a committed Catholic when he composed the Enigma Variations during 1898-99. In his essay Measure of a Man: Catechizing Elgar’s Catholic Avatars, Charles Edward McGuire obliterates the myth that Elgar was a pro forma Catholic who dutifully went through the motions but did not take his faith seriously. McGuire cogently conveys the profound impact of Roman Catholicism on Elgar’s weltanschauung encompassing his family, parochial education, personal and professional relationships, and his music, particularly his sacred oratorios The Dream of Gerontius and The Apostles. He dedicated the bulk of his major works to God by inscribing the initials of the Jesuit motto Ad majórem Dei glóriam. The Society of Jesus is a Roman Catholic order of scholarly priests founded by Saint Ignatius of Loyola, and its members are known as the Jesuits.
Elgar was raised a Roman Catholic by a zealous mother who converted to that faith shortly before his birth. One of his sisters actually became a sister when Ellan Agnes joined the Dominican Order in 1902 as a nun, adopting the name Sister Mary Reginald. She would eventually be promoted to prioress. Following in his father’s footsteps, Elgar served as an organist at Worcester parish of St. George’s from 1872 to 1889. The antithesis of a casual Catholic, Elgar was listed publicly as a “Catholic Knight” in the 1905 Catholic Directory. Modern scholars crudely recast Elgar in their own secular image as an agnostic or worse when the historic record proves he was born, educated, wed, and died a Roman Catholic.
Some religious relics are identified as Acheiropoieta, a Greek term meaning “made without hand.” These sacred artifacts are believed to possess miraculous depictions of the face of Jesus. The most sensational relic is the Holy Shroud of Turin, an ancient Jewish burial cloth possessing the faint ventral and dorsal images of a crucified man whose wounds correspond precisely with those attributed to Jesus in the Gospel accounts. When the Italian amateur photographer, Secondo Pia, took the first official photographs of the Turin Shroud in May 1898, he made the startling discovery that the dull likeness on the Shroud was a negative that appears as a lifelike positive on the developed photographic plates.
After observing Pia's photographic negative, Pope Leo XIII declared that the image on the Shroud was “a means well-adapted in our time to stimulate everywhere a revival of the religious spirit.” Pia’s photographic negative of the Turin Shroud received approval from the Catholic Church to serve as part of the devotion to the Holy Face of Jesus. This extraordinary discovery received widespread coverage in the secular and Catholic press, and it occurred just five months before Elgar began feverishly composing the Enigma Variations. The miraculous photographic negative revealed for the first time what many devout Catholics regarded as the actual image of the crucified Christ. Seeing was truly believing. Elgar’s unwavering faith is demonstrated by coded references to the Turin Shroud, Secondo Pia, and Pope Leo XIII in the Enigma Variations.
This investigation began by acknowledging Elgar’s flair for cryptography and its full expression in the Enigma Variations through a sweeping array of cryptograms. An example of Elgar’s stunning efficiency at encipherment is the Proximate Title Letters Enigma Ciphers. The ability to decrypt these cunning codes hinges on the candid recognition of his affinity for inventive phonetic spellings. Among the simplest cryptograms in the Variations is the FAE Cipher nestled in the Mendelssohn fragments that encipher the initials of Joachim’s German motto, “Frei aber einsam.” There is an organic connection between these two great musicians as Mendelssohn mentored Joachim and shepherded the launch of his professional career. Although they were born Jewish, Mendelssohn and Joachim were baptized into the Lutheran faith. This shared religious conversion is an enormous clue concerning the author of the covert Theme as well as the identity of the secret friend portrayed in Variation XIII.
A more complex and multilingual form of the FAE cipher is concealed by four titles from the Variations that constitute a distinct subset due to their characteristic Italian spellings. This more sophisticated cryptogram uses an acrostic anagram to spell “Frei” to encode the first word of Joachim’s motto. The second word is provided in Italian as “ma.” The third word is a phonetic realization of “einsam” as “eanzam.” The use of multiple languages with some phonetic equivalents is also observed in a Polybius box cipher embedded within the opening six bars of the Enigma Theme. There is another acrostic anagram encoded by the performance directions in the first measure of the Enigma Theme’s that encodes “EE’s Psalm.” Remarkably, there are precisely 46 characters in these performance directions, a sum that implicates the 46th Psalm. The title of Ein feste Burg is extracted from the first line of Psalm 46, a chapter known as “Luther’s Psalm.”
Another subgroup of titles from the Variations was segregated based on each having exactly six-letters. When these six-letter titles are arranged into a six by six checkerboard grid, it is feasible to construct a mutually consistent set of six-letter anagrams sourced from the letters of each column and criss-cross diagonal. Like so many other ciphers in the Enigma Variations, these decryptions unmask the covert Theme and the secret friend. Those who strenuously object that these cryptograms must be the contrivance of confirmation bias are nakedly committing their own allegation. One or conceivably two ciphers may be casually chalked up to coincidence, but not scores and scores within the score. The discovery of so many cryptograms that encode a discrete set of mutually consistent answers can only be the result of intelligent design. There simply is no other credible explanation.
Elgar wrote on the title page of Variations, “Dedicated to my Friends pictured within.” It is significant that the majority of his friends were Anglican, a branch of the Protestant break with Catholicism. Even Alice was an observant Protestant when she married Elgar in 1889, only later converting to Roman Catholicism. What transcends this religious divide is love, the ultimate enigma that forges the enduring bonds of friendship. In 1 John 4:8 it proclaims, “God is love.” This unifying message is freely celebrated in Catholic and Protestant hymnals. Dora Penny who is depicted in Variation X was the daughter of an Anglican missionary and Rector. She was an accomplished vocalist who helped lead hymn singing for her father. No wonder Elgar teased that she would be the one to guess the hidden melody. Dora sang “A Mighty Fortress” many times at church, and augmented four-note fragments from that Anglican hymn are quoted verbatim by the inner voice of her movement. If only she had listened more intently to her “inner voice,” there would have been no further need to guess at the answer.
The Catholic Herald reported 50 years after Elgar’s death, “Anglican church music was...a greater influence on him than that of the Catholic church.” Elgar used to slip out of St. George’s at the end of mass to listen to music at the nearby Anglican church. After his ascension to the musical Pantheon of England, Elgar composed no less than three settings from the Psalms for the Anglican Church: O Harken Thou (Psalm 5) in 1911, Great is the Lord (Psalm 48) in 1912, and Give Unto the Lord (Psalm 29) in 1914. John Butt concludes in The Cambridge Companion to Elgar, “Elgar produced some of his finest music for the Anglican Church.” Despite these and other public contributions to the Anglican musical canon, Julian Rushton casually dismisses the prospect that Elgar would entertain a “stridently Protestant” hymn as the secret melody to the Variations. Is there a more delicate word to describe Russhton’s imperceptiveness than obtuse? Rushton and his confederates in academia missed the proverbial boat regarding the significance of the Mendelssohn fragments. The ability to resolve so many confusing anomalies in the Variations makes the explanatory power of Ein feste Burg immense and unsurpassed. So many anomalies in the Variations are resolved by that famous hymn. To learn more about the secrets of the Enigma Variations, read my free eBook Elgar’s Enigmas Exposed.