Sunday, December 6, 2020

Elgar's Variation XIII Cancer Ciphers

Your course as a candidate was perfectly clear. You took your canto fermo and on it built several species, and several cunning mixtures of species, of strict counterpoint. You took your fugal theme, and having to treat it tonally or otherwise, a vital point, you wrote your exposition, your episodes, your stretto and your pedal, by no means forgetting your augmentation and your diminution, and particularly remembering that while consecutive fifths meant relegation to the darkest depths of Tartarus, no university professor could resist the magic of a canon cancrizans, say in the Hypomixolydian mode.
Robert J. Buckley in Sir Edward Elgar (1905)

Edward Elgar was obsessed with cryptography, the art of coding and decoding secret messages. His fascination with that esoteric science merits an entire chapter in Craig P. Bauer’s treatise Unsolved! The bulk of its third chapter is devoted to Elgar’s meticulous decryption of an allegedly insoluble Nihilist cipher presented by John Holt Schooling in the April 1896 issue of The Pall Mall Magazine. A Nihilist cipher is a derivative of the Polybius square. Elgar was so delighted with his solution to Schooling’s reputedly impenetrable code that he brags about it in his first biography published by Robert J. Buckley in 1905. Elgar painted his decryption in black paint on a wooden box, an appropriate symbol as another name for the Polybius square is a box cipher. His meticulous decryption of the six-word solution — “He who fears is half dead” — is summarized on a set of nine index cards.
A decade of concerted analysis of Elgar’s Enigma Variations has netted over ninety cryptograms in diverse formats. These ciphers encode a narrow band of mutually consistent and complementary solutions that provide definitive answers to its core riddles. 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 and subject of his first sacred oratorio, The Light of Life (Lux Christi).
Variation XIII is the most unconventional movement from the Enigma Variations. Elgar appended the Italian subtitle Romanza to its enigmatic title of three asterisks (***). This movement harbors no discernable melodic connection to the Enigma Theme, prompting Francis Donald Tovey to classify it as a “free episode . . . the most romantic thing in the world.” It features four melodic incipits of a subordinate theme from the concert overture Calm Sea and Prosperous Voyage (Meeresstille und glückliche Fahrt) by Felix Mendelssohn. This sea change represents a significant departure from all of the other movements. The Mendelssohn quotations are accompanied by an ostinato figure that reprises the Enigma Theme’s palindromic rhythm with the intervening rests stripped out. The pairing of the Mendelssohn fragments with the Enigma Theme’s rhythmic foundation implies a more profound connection between these two seemingly unrelated melodies.
An influential early Romantic founder of the German School, Mendelssohn generated renewed interest in Bach’s music with a historic performance of the St. Matthew Passion in 1829. He would later establish the Leipzig Conservatory in 1843, four years before his death at age 38. Elgar desperately desired to attend that prestigious institution but lacked the funds to pursue his ambition. The four Mendelssohn fragments in Variation XIII are set in the contrasting keys of A-flat major, F minor, and E-flat major. Those key letters are an anagram of F-A-E, a well-known musical cryptogram drawn from the initials of the German romantic motto “Frei aber einsam” (Free but lonely). The famed violinist Joseph Joachim coined this maxim around 1851. Joachim was a protégé of Mendelssohn who launched his solo career at age 12 in an epic performance of the Beethoven Violin Concerto in D for the Royal Philharmonic Society of London. Elgar echoes the gist of Joachim’s motto in his description of the Enigma Theme as capturing his “sense of the loneliness of the artist.”
The notes F-A-E are the motivic lynchpin of the F-A-E Sonata, a work for violin and piano composed in 1851 by Robert Schuman, his pupil Albert Dietrich, and Johannes Brahms. They wrote this piece as a gift dedicated to their mutual friend, Joachim. The three cryptic asterisks in the title of Variation XIII cleverly allude to the F-A-E motif encoded by the key letters of the Mendelssohn fragments. As a young man, Elgar lionized Schumann as “my ideal!” Schumann contributed a Romanze and Finale to the F-A-E Sonata. In an imitative gesture, the last two movements of the Enigma Variations are subtitled Romanze and Finale. Joachim was not a personal friend or even an acquaintance when Elgar composed the Enigma Variations, ruling out that eminent violinist as the covert dedicatee. It is astonishing that highly credentialed academics failed to detect such an elementary music cryptogram hidden in plain sight by the key letters of the Mendelssohn fragments. Where one cryptogram is found, others are likely to follow. This is especially the case for an aficionado of ciphers such as Elgar.

Why would Elgar cite a four-note incipit by Mendelssohn on four occasions in Variation XIII? Those melodic fragments are accompanied by an ostinato figure that reprises the Enigma Theme’s palindromic rhythm, establishing an unmistakable connection between those two ostensibly disparate melodies. Elgar quotes Mendelssohn to hint by imitation (a standard contrapuntal device) that Mendelssohn cites the famous covert Theme in one of his other symphonic works. The subtle emphasis placed on the number four by those four fragments, each consisting of four sounding notes, also suggests that this famous Theme appears in the fourth movement of a Mendelssohn symphony. This conclusion is bolstered by the recognition that symphonies are commonly structured in four contrasting movements. A third implication is that the famous tune could not be conceived by Mendelssohn, but quoted just as Elgar cites a melody by another renowned composer.
The fragments in Variation XIII ingeniously hint that Mendelssohn cites a famous theme that he did not originate in the fourth movement of one of his symphonies. These three exceedingly precise conditions leave only one possibility. In the fourth movement of his Reformation Symphony, Mendelssohn cites his own rendition of Ein feste Burg by Martin Luther followed by a set of variations. A preliminary mapping of Bach’s version of Ein feste Burg fit the opening seventeen bars in a manner that persuaded me that I had finally unmasked Elgar’s secretive melody. No other famous tune had ever been shown to sync so closely with such an extensive portion of the Enigma Theme. This was an unanticipated outcome as Elgar was a Roman Catholic, and Ein feste Burg is a Protestant anthem. Although the counterpoint was not flawless, it displayed so many points of congruence that I promptly prepared a brief paper announcing my unexpected discovery on February 3, 2009. That day was the 200th anniversary of Mendelssohn’s birth.
A few clashing dissonances in my counterpoint of Bach’s Ein feste Burg above the Enigma Theme convinced me that further research and experimentation were necessary to arrive at the correct mapping. Merriam-Webster defines enigma as “something hard to understand or explain.” A straightforward mapping of Luther’s hymn over the Enigma Theme would be elementary and easily detected. Elgar’s unusual title for his Theme strongly suggests he deployed a far more sophisticated contrapuntal technique to camouflage his source melody. Counterpoint offers some advanced devices to obscure a theme. According to Kent Kennan, the author of the textbook Counterpoint, the rarest type is retrograde motion when a melody is played in reverse from back to front. He explains:
Retrograde motion (cancrizans) is rare in tonal music. Not only is it difficult to write, but the average ear has trouble recognizing a melodic line when it is played backwards; consequently the point of the device tends to be lost.
The word cancrizans is medieval Latin for crab, a crustacean noted for its ability to walk backward. The Mendelssohn fragments in Variation XIII sonically portray a calm sea, presenting a subtle but unmistakable link to that marine creature. A crab canon is a passage that may be played over itself in reverse to produce the equivalent of a musical palindrome. Similarly, the G minor sections of the Enigma Theme consist of rhythmic palindromes. There are other more abstruse connections between the term cancrizans and the Mendelssohn quotations. The letter c appears twice in cancrizans. That same letter is found precisely two times in the Mendelssohn quotations. The first note of the two A-flat major Mendelssohn quotations is C, a homonym of the word sea. Just as there are two Mendelssohn fragments in A-flat major, the letter a also turns up exactly twice in cancrizans. These parallels are fascinating but hardly definitive. Are there other more compelling associations between the Mendelssohn fragments and the word crab, a synonym in counterpoint for the terms cancrizans and retrograde?

Mendelssohn Quotation CRAB Cipher

The principal clarinet performs the first Mendelsson quotation in A-flat major. This melodic incipit consists of the sounding pitches C, B-flat, and two A-flats. Its discrete note letters — A, B, and C — furnish three out of the four required to spell crab. Only the R is absent as the musical alphabet is restricted to the seven letters of the alphabet. Conveniently, the art of cryptography offers many ingenious devices for encoding letters. Just as there are four Mendelssohn fragments with four sounding notes per incipit, there are also four performance directions assigned to the first Mendelssohn quotation. These terms appear in the fourth and fifth bars after Rehearsal 56:
  1. Solo
  2. pp
  3. molto
  4. espress.
The sum of the characters in those four performance directions is precisely eighteen. The application of a number-to-letter key (1 = A, 2 = B, 3 = C, etc.) to that sum yields the eighteenth letter of the alphabet, R. The combination of this enciphered R with the discrete note letters in the A-flat Mendelssohn quotation (A, B, and C) yields an anagram of crab. In counterpoint, the term crab is used interchangeably with its Latin counterpart, cancrizans. This is a remarkable find as exhaustive research confirmed the covert melody plays in retrograde above the Enigma Theme. The curved double quotation marks (“ & ”) that enclose each Mendelssohn quotation may even be reoriented to face one another to resemble two crab-like pincers. The quotation marks crab pincer is a visual palindrome. Similarly, the ostinato that accompanies the Mendelssohn quotations is a rhythmic palindrome sourced from the Enigma Theme’s rhythmic structure.

Performance Directions Anagrams Cipher

The four performance directions affiliated with the first Mendelssohn quotation are exact anagrams of the phrase “extolls poems” and the verb “spoor.” The title of Mendelssohn’s concert overture comes from two short poems by Johnn Wolfgang von Goethe, Meerestille (Calm Sea) and Glückliche Fahrt (Prosperous Voyage). Extol means “to praise highly or glorify.” In naming a symphonic overture after Goethe’s poems, Mendelssohn essentially praises their artistry. Elgar’s conspicuous quotations also elevate Mendelssohn’s music and Goethe’s poetry. The verb spoor means “to follow the track or scent of an animal or person.” Variation XIII is dedicated to a special friend. Consequently, the anagrams “extols poems” and “spoor” instruct us to track the identity of that unknown personage through Mendelssohn’s concert overture that sonically portrays Goethe’s poems. My research traced clues given by those melodic incipits to Ein feste Burg, a hymn that names Jesus Christ in its second stanza. Multiple lines of inquiry verify the efficacy of this Mendelssohn Quotation Performance Directions Anagrams Cipher.
The length of the first clarinet solo passage that introduces the first Mendelssohn quotation provides another coded reference to the number 18, and by extension, the letter R. The A-flat major Mendelssohn quotation covers 5.5 quarter beats. The two fives are a coded allusion to Elgar’s initials as the fifth letter of the alphabet is E. This fragment is elaborated into a complete solo passage by transposing its opening three notes up a minor third (E-flat, D, C) while retaining the original rhythmic pattern for an additional 4 quarter beats. The clarinet solo concludes with a retrograde augmented statement of the first three notes (E-flat, F, G) for an additional 8.5 quarter notes. The sum of all of the quarter notes from this first clarinet solo passage (5.5 + 4 + 8.5) adds up to precisely 18.
There is a remarkable feature of the first clarinet solo passage that begins with the A-flat major Mendelssohn quotation. It ends with a retrograde augmented rendition of the final Mendelssohn quotation in E-flat major. Four bars before Rehearsal 57, the principal clarinet performs E-flat, F, and G. The first three notes of the final Mendelsohn quotation in E-flat major are G, F, and E-flat. This is the equivalent of a contrapuntal smoking gun. The end of the first solo clarinet passage telegraphs Elgar’s augmented retrograde treatment of the covert Theme above the Enigma Theme. This conclusion is supported by the pairing of the Enigma Theme’s palindromic rhythm in the ostinato figure accompanying the Mendelssohn quotations. Elgar did not conceive of Mendelssohn’s melody, nor did he devise the famous hidden melody. His flexible treatment of the former projects his pliable contrapuntal handling of the latter.

Variation XIII Cancer Ciphers

The cryptic title of Variation consists of three asterisks, a word derived from the Greek asteriskos meaning “little star.” The planets in the night sky resemble stars that periodically exhibit retrograde motion when they orbit backward. Another word for crab is Cancer, the name of one of the twelve constellations in the Zodiac. In Variation XIII, Elgar quotes a melodic incipit from Mendelssohn’s concert overture Calm Sea and Prosperous Voyage. Such quotations are foreign and extraneous in a set of variations based on an unrelated melody. These melodic outliers raise the obvious question, “Why?” In a classic Elgararian wordplay, the constellation of Cancer is shaped like a Y. In a very symbolic way, the question hints at the answer.
There are six stars in the constellation of Cancer. Likewise, there are two different sets of three asterisks on the published scores of Variation XIII that add up to precisely six “little stars.” Two sets of three asterisks intimate the number 33, the mirror image of Elgar’s initials of two capital cursive Es. The official piano reduction has three floral 8-pointed asterisks for its title of Variation XIII. These are the type used on piano scores to indicate when to release the sustain pedal.

Title for Variation XIII on the official piano reduction

Three asterisks with eight-points highlight the numbers three and eight. The product of 3 multiplied by 8 is 24. There are precisely 24 letters in the complete six-word German title of the covert Theme, Ein feste Burg ist unser Gott. This lengthy title is routinely truncated to the more familiar three-word Ein feste Burg. The three asterisks hint at the initials for this shortened version of the original title.
The published full score has three six-pointed asterisks for the title of Variation XIII. These hexagrammatic asterisks emphasize the numbers 3 and 6. The pairing of these two digits presents a coded form of 36, the opus number of the Enigma Variations. The numbers three and six are also highlighted by each Mendelssohn fragment that consists of three discrete pitches with six written notes. The product of 3 multiplied by 6 is 18. As previously observed, the eighteenth letter of the alphabet is R, the first in the word retrograde.

The appearance of asterisks in the title of a variation dedicated in secret to Jesus is a revealing gesture for multiple reasons. The Asterisk is a holy vessel used during the Divine Liturgy to represent the Star of Bethlehem that announced the birth of Christ. On the earliest sketch of this movement, Elgar wrote three large Xs in blue pencil and the capital letter L. The X is a saltire, a slanted Greek cross featured on the Union Jack. There were three crosses at the crucifixion of Jesus when he was executed between two criminals. The letter L is the initial for Lord. The color blue is not only that for the sea but also a particular thread in ritual fringes or tzizit that represent the royalty of the Messiah. The thirteenth letter (XIII) in the alphabet is M, the initial for that special title. In ancient times, the blue dye used for those threads most likely came from the glands of the Hexaplex trunculus, a sea snail found along the coast of the Mediterranean sea. Its shell resembles that of Oceanebra circumtexta, a predatory gastropod that I studied while an undergraduate student at Stanford University’s Hopkins Marine Station during the summer of 1988.
The term cancrizans also refers to the constellation of Cancer, the fourth astrological sign of the zodiac. Water is the element associated with Cancer because its symbol, the crab, inhabits the seas. Consequently, the portrayal of a calm sea in Variation XIII in conjunction with its starry asterisks implicates that astrological sign. Cancer’s two brightest stars were named Alpha (A) and Omega (Ω) by the German cartographer Johann Bayer (1572-1625). One of the titles for Elgar’s not-so-secret friend is “Alpha and Omega.” Bayer labeled Cancer’s remaining four stars A, b, c, and d. Cancer’s stars are very faint with only the brightest at the 4th magnitude. The number four is associated with the four Mendelssohn fragments that each have four sounding notes. As the dimmest constellation in the zodiac, Cancer is known as the “Dark Sign.” That label is a twin to the expression “dark saying” ascribed by Elgar to the Enigma Theme. The asterisks on the full score and piano reduction of Variation XIII are solid black stars. A famous fresco at Svetitskhoveli Cathedral places Jesus at the center of the Zodiac.

Svetitskhoveli Cathedral fresco with Jesus at the center of the Zodiac

With four faint stars out of six, the constellation of Cancer highlights the numbers 4 and 6. Likewise, the Mendelssohn fragments also emphasize those two numbers using four sounding pitches with six written notes. The title of the covert Theme originates from Psalm 46, a chapter that also combines the numbers 4 and 6.
The first and second Mendelssohn quotations consist of the notes C, B-flat, and two A-flats. Stripping out the accidentals yields the letter sequence C-B-A-A. Those four letters are used to identify four of Cancer’s six stars: Α, Ω, A, b, c, d. Only the omega and lowercase d are absent from the sounding pitches of the Mendelssohn quotations. The lower case glyph for omega (ω) resembles a capital cursive E displayed laterally. Elgar reorients the glyph of his capital cursive E in the Dorabella Cipher to simulate other letters such as a cursive m and w.

Applying that same manipulative technique, the lower case omega may be set upright to form an epsilon (ε) that replicates a capital cursive E. The combination of this repositioned lower case omega (ε) with the d spells “Ed.” That is the short form of Edward, the forename of the composer. Multiple cryptograms in the Enigma Variations are autographed or initialed by Elgar as a means of stealth confirmation. The Variation XIII Asterisksk Cancer Star Cipher is one among many illustrations of this phenomenon.
The astrological symbol for Cancer is formed by the numbers six and nine facing one another horizontally. Remarkably, the quotation marks in the score enclosing the Mendelssohn fragments are silhouettes of those two numbers. These conspicuous glyphs may be reoriented to replicate the astrological symbol for Cancer.

The numbers six and nine are also linked to the timpani rolls on C that accompany the two clarinet solo passages beginning with the A-flat major Mendelssohn quotations. The first timpani roll on C starts at Rehearsal 56 and continues for 9 bars. The second timpani roll on C begins at Rehearsal 57 and continues for 6 bars. A timpani roll on C is evocative of the expression “rolling sea” that appears in Longfellow’s Tales of a Wayside Inn. Elgar drew inspiration and text from Longfellow’s collection of poems for his cantata Scenes from the Saga of King Olaf, a work that commemorates the Christianization of Norway. One of the main characters in Tales of a Wayside Inn is a violin virtuoso modeled after Longfellow’s friend, Ole Bull.

Two stars in the constellation of Cancer are known as the asses. The numbers 6 and 9 facing each other horizontally in Cancer’s astrological sign to symbolize two reclining asses. As previously noted, the word asterisk has a Greek provenance. Eratosthenes gives a mystical account for the origin of those two stars:
Some of the stars in this constellation are called the Asses. These were placed among the stars by Dionysus. Their distinguishing sign is the Manger and their story is the following. When the gods were attacking the Giants, it is said that Dionysus, Hephaestus, and the Saytrs rode [in battle] on asses. As they approached the Giants, who were not yet visible, the asses brayed, and the Giants, hearing the noise, fled. For this reason, the asses were honoured, being placed on the western side of the crab.
In a letter to August Jaeger only three days after he openly began sketching the Enigma Variations, Elgar likens his assorted friends to asses attempting to compose:
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?
Not only is the ass integral to the astrological sign of Cancer, that animal is also linked to the final days of the earthly ministry of Christ. During his triumphal entry into Jerusalem on the eve of his crucifixion, Jesus rode on a young donkey (John 12:12-15). This animal is often described in the biblical text as an ass (e.g., Genesis 22:5 and 24:35).
There is a revealing literary connection between Jaeger’s nickname, Nimrod, and the number nine assigned to his Variation in the guise of the Roman numerals IX. Nimrod is the name of one of the giants incarcerated on the banks of the Ninth Circle of Hell in the Divine Comedy, an epic Christian poem by Dante Alighieri. In Canto XXXI of the Inferno, Nimrod is cursed with unintelligible speech as he was the architect of the infamous Tower of Babel. According to the Genesis account, construction on the Tower of Babel was abandoned after God struck the people with the Confusion of Tongues by causing various groups to speak different languages. Dante’s Nimrod babbles the nonsensical phrase, “Raphèl mai amècche zabi almi.” He wears a horn around his neck and blows it loudly to draw attention and vent his base passions. In a revealing parallel, Variation IX ends with a loud blast from the brass section at Rehearsal 37.
In Longfellow’s famous translation with illustrations by Gustave Doré, Nimrod is shown wearing a large horn around his neck with Dante and Virgil standing in the background:

This iconic illustration is identified as Plate 64. That number is remarkable as the covert Theme’s title originates from Psalm 46, the reverse of 64. Psalm 46 is known as “Luther’s Psalm.”
Variation IX is followed by a movement dedicated to Dora Penny whom Elgar nicknamed Dorabella. A repeating motivic figure in that movement parodies her stutter, a literal “confusion of tongues.” It is biblically symbolic that Elgar follows a movement named Nimrod with one that depicts a speech impediment. Elgar’s overt reference to Nimrod in Variation IX followed by a linguistic disorder in Variation X collectively point to the Tower of Babel. This furnishes a gargantuan clue as the title of one of the familiar English translations of Ein feste Burg is A Strong Tower.
There are multiple coded references to the Divine Comedy within the Enigma Variations. Indeed, Elgar advised he began that exceptional work “. . . in a spirit of humour . . .” Dante's "enigma forte" about a future savior is a famous riddle in the Divine Comedy associated with the mystical number 515. It is not a coincidence that the haunting theme is called Enigma or that measure 515 appears in Variation XIII. Through these Dantean allusions in the Enigma Variations, Elgar pays homage to one of the great Christian works of Western literature.
Dante refers to the constellation of Cancer in Canto XXV from Paradiso, the third cantica from the Divine Comedy. Longfellow’s translation of this passage reads:
Thereafterward a light among them brightened,
   So that, if Cancer one such crystal had,
   Winter would have a month of one sole day.
In this section, Dante gazes into Saint John’s soul and is temporarily blinded by his radiant Love. This canto is remarkable because it also mentions Christ, Jesus, carols, song, and music. The proximity of these terms to Dante’s sole reference to Cancer in his Divine Comedy suggests that Elgar intended that astrological sign to serve as a literary lodestar. Find Cancer, and you will find your answer. A search for Cancer in Dante’s magnum opus places it in a section that names Elgar’s secret friend in a musical context with carols and song. A carol is a synonym for a psalm or a hymn.
Elgar’s musical self-portrait is the final movement of the Enigma Variations. He identified himself with the initials E. D. U. On the surface, they form a phonetic spelling of his pet name “Edoo” coined by his wife, Alice. This term of endearment comes from the first three letters of the German version of his first name as Eduard. The initials E. D. U. are also a coded reference to Elgar, Dante, and Virgil. E stands for Elgar, D for Dante, and U for Virgil. In the old Latin alphabet, the letters V and U are interchangeable. Variation XIIII immediately proceeds Elgar’s movement, placing it directly under its asterisks or “little stars.” Each of the three cantiche from the Divine Comedy ends with the word “stars.” Longfellow’s translation of the Inferno closes with the line, “Thence we came forth to rebehold the stars.” The concluding phrase of Purgatorio is “Pure and disposed to mount unto the stars.” Paradiso ends with the clause, “The Love which moves the sun and the other stars.”
There are numerous coded references to the geometric circle in the Enigma Variations. The opus number of the Enigma Variations is 36, and a circle has 360 degrees. The melodic intervals of the Enigma Theme’s opening four-note figure encode a rounded form of Pi, a mathematical constant defined by the ratio of a circle’s circumference to its diameter. Each time this figure is played, Elgar hints at the circle, a symbol of the eternal nature of the divine. The halo shown around the head of Jesus in Christian iconography is a radiant circle. The Enigma Variations has multiple coded allusions to Dante’s Divine Comedy, an epic poem that begins with a guided tour of the nine circles of Hell. Variation XIII harbors various coded allusions to Cancer, the fourth astrological sign in the zodiac. The Greek word zodiac means “circle of animals.” The Enigma Variations is dedicated to Elgar’s circle of friends. The opus number 36, the number Pi, Dante’s Inferno, coded the constellation Cancer, the zodiac — all of these share the common underlying theme of a circle.

Elgar’s Biographic Clues

Robert J. Buckley published Elgar’s first official biography in 1905. Elgar was interviewed extensively in the preparation of this biography that provides critical insights and clues about the covert melody to the Enigma Theme. This primary source gives a crystal clear explanation in Elgar’s own words that the Enigma Theme is “a counterpoint on some well-known melody which is never heard . . .” This explicit and straightforward condition is preceded by the statement that Elgar’s “. . . star was in the ascendant.” A careful examination of the asterisks in the title of Variation XIII uncovered some remarkable ciphers about the covert Theme and Elgar’s secret friend. Another passage from this timely biography provides illuminating hints about Elgar’s unusual contrapuntal treatment of the famous absent Theme:
Your course as a candidate was perfectly clear. You took your canto fermo and on it built several species, and several cunning mixtures of species, of strict counterpoint. You took your fugal theme, and having to treat it tonally or otherwise, a vital point, you wrote your exposition, your episodes, your stretto and your pedal, by no means forgetting your augmentation and your diminution, and particularly remembering that while consecutive fifths meant relegation to the darkest depths of Tartarus, no university professor could resist the magic of a canon cancrizans, say in the Hypomixolydian mode.
The Italian phrase “canto fermo” stands out because Dante’s Divine Comedy is divided into cantos and its first book, Inferno, rhymes with fermo. The “darkest depths of Tartarus” is an apt description of Dante’s allegorical journey through the nine concentric circles of Hell. By 1905, Dr. Elgar was appointed to a professorship at the University of Birmingham to deliver a series of lectures on music. His characterization of a “university professor” is likely self-directed. Cancrizans is another term for a retrograde counterpoint. Merriam-Webster defines the Hypomixolydian mode as “a plagal church mode . . .” Hymns are written in that mode and often end with a plagal cadence. The Enigma Theme has two plagal cadences (iv-I) in bars 6-7 and 16-17. My research confirms that Elgar is indeed that “university professor” who could “not resist” writing a retrograde counterpoint of a famous church hymn above his Enigma Theme. Elgar sprinkled these clues within his first biography to help unmask the correct melodic solution to his Enigma Theme. To learn more about the secrets of the Enigma Variations, 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.