“AQUI ESTÁ ENCERRADA EL ALMA DE …..”
(Herein is enshrined the soul of …..)
Elgar’s cryptic dedication to his Violin Concerto
The French virtuoso Renaud Capuçon recently released a masterful recording of Edward Elgar’s Violin Concerto in B with the London Symphony Orchestra (LSO) under the direction of Sir Simon Rattle. Capuçon’s fulsome tone and rapturous phrasing are extraordinary and mesmerizing. His expressive playing and pristine interpretation are reminiscent of the legendary Nathan Milstein. Capuçon performed the concerto on a 1737 Guarneri “del Gesù” formerly owned by Isaac Stern known as the “Panette” Guarneri. The album presents remarkable parallels with the 1910 premiere given by the legendary Fritz Kreisler on a 1741 Guarneri “del Gesù” with Elgar conducting the LSO. Capuçon and Maestro Rattle deliver a noble tribute to Elgar, one of the great champions of the violin.
Elgar openly dedicated his violin concerto to the virtuoso Fritz Kreisler who publicly lobbied him to compose it and proudly debuted the work over a century ago. There is an air of mystery surrounding the work as it is secretly dedicated to another friend whose name is signified by five dots. Elgar’s cryptic dedication reads, “Aqui está encerrada el alma de …..” It is a fragment from a Spanish epitaph cited from Alain-René Lesage's picaresque novel Gil Blas published between 1715 and 1735. The literal translation reads, “Here is locked up the soul of…..”
The Spanish verb “encerrada” (locked or shut up) is a parody of the traditional terminology “enterrada” (interred). Elgar translates the epitaph as, “Herein is enshrined the soul of …..” Subtle discrepancies between the literal rendering and Elgar's translation invite a search for ciphers. This hunch is bolstered by at least two considerations. The first is Elgar’s widely acknowledged obsession with cryptography that merits an entire chapter in Craig Bauer’s fascinating book titled Unsolved! The second is a set of cryptograms embedded within the dedication to his Enigma Variations, a work that also harbors a mystifying dedication to a secret friend in Variation XIII.
The identity of Elgar’s covert friend memorialized in his violin concerto has been debated interminably without a satisfactory solution. The list of competing contenders ranges from Alice Stuart-Wortley, Helen Weaver, Julia H. Worthington, William Henry Reed, Caroline Alice Elgar, August Jaeger, to Elgar himself. He cuts short the Spanish epitaph to enhance the mystery as it renders ambiguous the gender of his secret friend. The literary context of the dedication implies this unknown friend had died and was entombed. The truncated epitaph also strongly intimates his friend’s life was similarly cut short. Such implicit parameters preclude from serious consideration the known field of prospective candidates with five-letter names because they were still very much alive in 1910.
Sifting the literary context of Elgar's enigmatic dedication is a reasonable place to begin the search for clues regarding his secret friend's identity. The Spanish epitaph appears in an introductory parable relayed by the protagonist Gil Blas. This prefatory note is shown in its entirety below from an 1886 edition of that popular novel:
Lesage’s short tale depicts two students traveling from the Spanish city of Peñafiel to Salamanca. Along the way, they stop by a roadside spring to rest and refresh themselves. After slaking their thirst, they notice a nearby tombstone level with the ground, its text partially effaced by time and foot traffic. Dousing it with water to reveal the obscured letters, they make out the following Castilian epitaph: “Aqui está encerrada el alma del licenciado Pedro Gracias.” The literal translation is given as, “Here lies shut up the soul of licentiate Pedro Garcias.” The younger of the students burst out in laughter at the erroneous epitaph that should read “enterrada” (interred) rather than “encerrada” (shut or locked up). After this brief interlude of idle amusement, the simpleton thinks nothing more and walks off to resume his journey.
The older, wiser student reasons that the anomalous epitaph hints at a hidden mystery and remains behind to unearth it. Using a knife, he carefully excavates around the unassuming tombstone to discover concealed beneath a leather purse holding 100 gold ducats and a card with a message in Latin. The bequest reads, “Whosoever thou art who hast sense enough to discover the meaning of the inscription, inherit my money, and make better use of it than I have done.” The student quickly returns the stone marker to its place and happily departs with the “soul” of the licentiate in his pocket. Lesage counsels that those who thoughtfully read his prose will “find profit mingled with pleasure.”
Lesage’s deceptively simple parable is layered with graphic and contrasting symbolism. The two students represent the polar extremes of a fool and a sage. Their journey suggests a metaphor for the linear progression of life from a starting point (birth) to a final resting place (death). Their corporeal and collective fate is alluded to by the mysterious tombstone. Death patiently waits for us all. Water is used to revive the living as well as unmask the dead. The “soul” of the departed is symbolically “resurrected” by the wise student to rejoin the land of the living. What could be the moral of this fable? Opportunity presents itself to all who pass by the fountain of life, but only the discerning who are willing to work to unearth it will enjoy its treasures.
There are many aspects of Lesage’s tale that point to a decisive resolution to Elgar’s dedicatory conundrum. The most paramount is that it is a parable with a moral lesson. There is an exceedingly famous person at the crux of Elgar’s Roman Catholic faith renowned for his parables that instruct the righteous and confound the wicked. Conveniently, that historic figure possesses a name with exactly five letters: Jesus. The first name of the deceased (Pedro) is Spanish for Peter, the same for the chief Apostle of Christ and the first Pope of the Roman Catholic Church who is considered the Vicar of Christ. Like Jesus, the name Pedro is masculine and has five letters. The spring that revives the living and reveals the dead may be easily associated with Jesus who called himself the “living water” (see John 4:7-15). The resurrection of the licentiate’s “soul” is an apt metaphor for Elgar’s secret friend who died and miraculously rose from the grave. This brief textual analysis affirms that Elgar's brilliant use of literature cleverly telegraphs his secret friend’s identity.
In his translation of the Spanish epitaph, Elgar substitutes the word “enshrined” for the standard term “interred.” That departure from the original meaning is conspicuously revealing. Enshrine means “to enclose in or as if in a shrine,” and “to preserve or cherish as sacred.” A shrine is defined as “a case, box, or receptacle” that contains “sacred relics (such as the bones of a saint).” It can also mean a sanctuary or tomb where “devotion is paid to a saint or deity.” The only credible candidate whose death and tomb would satisfy the definitions of “enshrined” is Jesus. The Garden Tomb popularized by General Gordon is a sanctuary for Christians who believe it to be the sacred resting place of Christ. Elgar was planning to compose a symphony in honor of General Gordon in 1898 when his artistic energies were suddenly diverted to the Enigma Variations. The Sudarium of Oviedo and the Shroud of Turin are two famous sacred relics linked to the death and burial of Jesus.
There are key elements about the 1910 premiere of Elgar’s violin concerto that further implicate Jesus as the secret dedicatee. Elgar selected Fritz Kreisler as the soloist, a respected musician who shared his Roman Catholic faith. The first syllable of “Kreisler'” sounds nearly identical to “Christ.” Like Jesus, Kreisler was born Jewish. The concerto was performed on a violin made by Guarneri “del Gesù”, a famous Roman Catholic luthier. The Italian phrase “del Gesù” means “of Jesus.” The labels on the inside of his renowned instruments exhibit two Christograms, the nomen sacrum (IHS) and a cross fleury. The name of Elgar’s secret dedicatee can be virtually reconstituted by paring the last names of the soloist and his violin as “Gesù Kreisler.”
The violin concerto is not Elgar’s only musical homage to Christ. His first sacred cantata, Lux Christi (The Light of Life), was premiered in 1896 at the Three Choirs Festival in Worcester. In his first attempt at that genre, Elgar portrays the miracle of Jesus healing a man blind from birth as described in John 9. Jesus creates mud with his spittle, applies it to the blind man’s eyes, and instructs him to wash in the pool of Siloam. After the man washes away the mud, his eyesight is miraculously restored. Variation XIII from the Enigma Variations is also dedicated in secret to Jesus Christ whose initials are transparently encoded by its Roman numerals via a number-to-letter key. X represents the number ten, and the tenth letter of the alphabet is J. III stands for three, and the third letter is C.
Elgar was an aficionado of wordplay, and this impulse manifests in his unorthodox Spanish dedication. The word “soul” (alma) is linked to a hidden part of the violin. Inside the violin’s sound box is concealed a small wooden dowel called the sound post. Another name for that component is âme, the French word for “soul.” It is for this reason the sound post is often referred to as the soul post. This small dowel is critical to amplifying the sound of the violin by efficiently conducting the vibration of the strings transferred by the bridge through the top of the instrument down to the back plate. Absent a sound post, the violin produces virtually no sound.
The word “alma” from the Spanish dedication may consequently be interpreted as a coded reference to the innermost part of a violin, its soul post. This connection would account in part for Elgar’s selection of that particular literary fragment for his dedication. As previously observed, the label of Kreisler’s violin located next to the sound post unveils the secret friend’s name in Italian: Gesù (Jesus). Remarkably, that name is preceded by “del,” the same word in the original Spanish epitaph cited by Elgar to denote the masculine gender of his once deceased friend. Just as the grave could not hold the soul of the licentiate in Lesage’s parable, neither could the tomb imprison Jesus for more than three days and three nights before his miraculous resurrection.
Elgar’s Dedication Cipher
The literary context of Elgar’s Spanish epitaph powerfully hints at a concealed message akin to the Latin note as well as some hidden treasure. It was formerly mentioned that Elgar’s translation of the Spanish dedication conceals a coded missive. This conclusion is reinforced by Elgar’s lifelong passion for cryptography and various ciphers embedded within the dedication to his Enigma Variations. What could possibly be the clandestine riches lurking behind the mysterious dedication to Elgar’s violin concerto? The most obvious answer would be the identity of his secret friend, for true friendship is one of life’s great treasures.
What sort of cipher could Elgar expertly weave into the covert dedication to his violin concerto? His English translation of the Spanish epitaph is not a precise match with the literal meaning, suggesting that Elgar’s rendering hides an enciphered message. My original research of the Enigma Variations unveiled the presence of multiple acrostic anagrams, most notably the EE's Psalm Cipher nestled within the seven performance directions of the Enigma Theme's inaugural bar. There are precisely 46 characters in that cryptogram that allude to the 46th chapter of the Book of Psalms. This discovery is significant because the title of the covert Theme (Ein feste Burg ist unser Gott) is furnished by the first line of Psalm 46, a chapter known as Luther’s Psalm.
Could Elgar's translation of the Spanish dedication contain yet another acrostic anagram? The wording suggests that the dedication conceals the identity of the covert dedicatee and that it may be sought by exhuming the treasured answer. Let us begin digging. The first letters of Elgar's translation are “HIETSO” as shown in bold below:
When treated as an acrostic anagram, these six initials may be rearranged as IHSOTE. Its first three letters (IHS) are a prominent Christogram that originates from the first three letters of the Greek spelling of Jesus (ΙΗΣΟΥΣ). The two sigmas (Σ) in that name resemble a capital E and are suggestive of Elgar's initials (EE). The IHS Christogram appears on the labels of Guarneri’s legendary violins. Those same three letters also represent the Latin phrase “Jesus Hominum Salvator” meaning “Jesus, Savior of Men.” This is the same language found on the licentiate's hidden note in Lesage's parable. The IHS Christogram is featured on the Jesuit emblem. Elgar wrote the initials of the Jesuits' Latin motto (A.M.D.G.) as a dedication for his major sacred works.
The S from IHS overlaps with the remaining three letters of this acrostic anagram (SOTE) to form a virtually complete spelling of Soter, the Greek word for Savior. The Spanish epitaph is cut off, and so too is this decryption with the r absent. Just as the life of Christ was cut short, so rather symbolically is this decryption of Soter. Conveniently, the absent r is suggested by the resurrection of Christ, and his Latin title Rex (King). The acrostic anagram IHS and SOTE(R) are both Greek in origin. Remarkably, the spelling of that ancient language includes “ee” — the initials for Edward Elgar.
Three languages are used in the construction of Elgar's Acrostic Anagram Dedication Cipher. His modified translation of the Spanish epitaph is in English. The decryptions of its acrostic anagrams are in Greek and Latin. The first letters of those three languages (E, L, and G) are an abbreviation of his name (ELGar). This mirrors the IHS Christogram that is a three-letter abbreviation of the Greek spelling for Jesus. Like the decryption of Soter with the r absent, only the “r” is missing from "ELG" to complete a phonetic rendering of Elgar as “ELG-R.” The languages in Elgar’s dedication cipher implicates a second layer of encryption that encodes an abbreviation of his name akin to IHS. Elgar's initials and name permeate this cryptogram in a manner that provides an elegant form of authentification.
The concealed Latin note in Lesage’s parable is accompanied by a bag of gold coins. Is there some golden treasure secreted away with Elgar’s covert dedication to Jesus in Greek and Latin? The literary context of the dedication deftly alludes to an elegant Grecian wordplay. This is the case as the ancient Greek term for “gold coin” (Chrysós) is almost identical to the Greek word for “Christ” (Chrystós). The pronunciation of those two words is virtually indistinguishable with their spellings separated by a solitary t, a symbol for the cross. Some gold ducats bear the image of Christ. Elgar’s multilingual leveraging of literature and gold coinage is nothing short of magnificent.
This analysis determined that Elgar's English translation of a fragmentary Spanish epitaph from the novel Gil Blas produces the overlapping acrostic anagrams IHS and SOTE(R). The first is a popular Christogram that is an abbreviation of Jesus’ name. The letters SOTE are a nearly complete spelling of Soter, the Greek word for Savior. Like the five dots in the Spanish dedication, there are precisely five letters in the name Jesus. This is consistent with the discovery that the secret friend portrayed in Variation XIII (***) and the Violin Concerto are one and the same — Jesus Christ, the Savior of Elgar's Roman Catholic faith. Elgar’s attraction to an acrostic cipher was likely motivated by the Ichthys, a famous Christogram that is an acrostic of the Greek phrase, “Iησοῦς Χριστὸς Θεοῦ Υἱὸς Σωτήρ” (Jesus Christ, Son of God, Savior). It is not a coincidence that this article was published on Good Friday, a day commemorated by followers of Jesus as the anniversary of his brutal execution on the outskirts of Jerusalem. To learn more concerning the secrets of the Enigma Variations, read my free eBook Elgar’s Enigmas Exposed.