The ability to ask the right question is more than half the battle of finding the answer.
Dr. Julian Rushton will deliver an online presentation on May 22 to The Elgar Society about the Enigma Variations by the British romantic composer Edward Elgar. The tantalizing topic of his talk is “ELGAR’S ENIGMA: Thoughts in season.” Rushton will refrain from surveying new solutions that emerged after the publication of his book in 1999, Elgar: Enigma Variations. He will instead devote his attention to “the question whether there really is a question to be answered.” In anticipation that he will graciously respond to questions after his speech, the following are respectfully submitted for his consideration. Dr. Rushton is welcome to reply to any and all of these queries in the comments section of this article.
Must the solution be obvious?
On page 77 of his book about the Enigma Variations, Rushton asserts the correct solution – if one exists at all – “should seem obvious (and not just to its begetter).” He reiterates that opinion when reminiscing on his tenure as editor of The Elgar Society Journal: “I am delighted to have got through five years without printing any more purported enigma ‘solutions’, especially as some that have recently come to my attention tend to the increasingly tortuous, despite Elgar’s claim that the solution, once spotted, would seem obvious.”
What sources can Rushton cite to back his assertion that the solution to the Enigma Variations should appear obvious? And how does he reconcile this counterintuitive proviso with the enigmatic title? Merriam-Webster defines enigma as “something hard to understand or explain.” In contrast, obvious is defined as “easily discovered, seen or understood.” With such diametric meanings, enigma and obvious are classified as antonyms. An exhaustive review of Elgar’s published commentary has failed to turn up a single forthright statement that the solution should be obvious. On the contrary, his remarks make it abundantly clear that the answers are elusively complex.
What did Elgar divulge about his Enigma?
Postulating that the Enigma Theme is not a counterpoint to a famous tune contradicts numerous public and private statements issued by Elgar. How does Rushton reconcile his antithetical thesis with these declarations from the composer? The dedicatee of Variation X, Dora Powell (née Penny), categorically stated, “Elgar told me personally more than once that the enigma concerned another tune.” His first published remarks from the 1899 program note for the premiere makes this fact unequivocal:
It is true that I have sketched for their amusement and mine, the idiosyncrasies of fourteen of my friends, not necessarily musicians; but this is a personal matter, and need not have been mentioned publicly. The Variations should stand simply as a ‘piece’ of music. The Enigma I will not explain – it’s ‘dark saying’ must be left unguessed, and I warn you that the connexion between the Variations and the Theme is often of the slightest texture; further, through and over the whole set another and larger theme ‘goes’, but is not played…So the principal Theme never appears, even as in some later dramas – e.g., Maeterlinck’s ‘L’Intruse’ and ‘Les sept Princesses’ – the chief character is never on the stage.
Elgar plainly states, “through and over the whole set [of Variations] another and larger theme ‘goes’, but is not played.” Only a musical theme may be played, unlike those of a literary, symbolic, or mathematical nature. The playability of this absent Theme is ratified by the following incident recounted by Troyte:
One Sunday when I went into the study at Craeglea, the piano was open and stuck on the notes bits of stamp edge with numbers written on them. ‘What’s this for?’, I asked. ‘That’s for you’, said Elgar. ‘Learn the numbers by heart and observe carefully that some of the notes have more than one number. When you can remember them, hit the notes in order with one finger hard and fast.’ After a few shots I got it right. ‘That’s it’, said Elgar ‘Hit ‘em harder and keep your finger stiff.’ I said, ‘I believe it’s a tune. What is it?’ Elgar laughed and said, “Oh nothing, we only wanted to hear what it sounded like when you played it.’ That tune must have been the theme.
In 1923 Troyte Griffith (the friend portrayed in Variation VII) inquired if the absent melody was God save the King. Elgar replied, “No, of course not; but it is so well-known that it is extraordinary no one has spotted it.” Besides establishing its fame, such a reply suggests that fragments of the absent Theme are present in the Variations, for otherwise there would be nothing to spot. This hunch is bolstered by the original program note that describes the link between the absent Theme and the Variations as being “…often of the slightest texture...” Merriam-Webster defines slight as “very small in degree or amount,” and one definition for texture is “the various parts of a song…and the way they fit together.” Elgar’s judiciously parsed words specify the discernible bond between the Variations and the absent Theme consists of short sequences of shared notes or fragments. This condition is alluded to by brief four-note incipits from Felix Mendelssohn’s overture Calm Sea and Prosperous Voyage quoted in Variation XIII. The original German title of that overture is Meeresstille und glückliche Fahrt.
Elgar clarified how the absent Theme fits into the overall design during an interview featured in the October 1900 issue of The Musical Times:
In connection with these much discussed Variations, Mr. Elgar tells us that the heading ‘Enigma’ is justified by the fact that it is possible to add another phrase, which is quite familiar, above the original theme that he has written. What that theme is no one knows except the composer. Thereby hangs the ‘Enigma.’
The terms phrase and theme are used interchangeably in the context of a melody that may be added above the original Enigma Theme. This narrative dovetails precisely with the original program note stating “…through and over the whole set another and larger theme ‘goes’, but is not played…” Only a musical theme can be played, a quality irreconcilable with something symbolic, figurative, mathematical, or literary. The insistence by some that the contrapuntal solution could be something other than a famous melody is utterly incompatible with this stipulation.
More evidence confirming the enigma must be a melody is conveyed in Elgar’s 1905 biography compiled by Robert J. Buckley. As the music critic for The Birmingham News, he first met Elgar in 1896 and knew him for almost a decade prior to publication. Buckley confidently declares in his introduction:
Whatever this book states as fact may be accepted as such. The sayings of Elgar are recorded in the actual words addressed directly to the writer, and upon these I rely to give to the book an interest it would not otherwise possess.
This biography was available during Elgar’s lifetime, and he never disputed or disavowed any part of Buckley’s account. Dora Powell confirmed that Elgar sanctioned this first biography. Buckley could not have offered up such intimate details as quotations, anecdotes, personal photographs, and copies of unpublished scores without Elgar’s extensive personal assistance. Following Buckley’s introduction, Elgar’s cooperation is established by a facsimile of a handwritten autographed note in German and English. On the subject of the Enigma Variations, Buckley records Elgar’s description as follows:
The ‘Enigma’ orchestral-piece is Op. 36. What the solution of the ‘Enigma’ may be, nobody but the composer knows. The theme is a counterpoint on some well-known melody which is never heard, the variations are the theme seen through the personalities of friends, with an intermezzo and a coda, the last added at the request of friends aided and abetted by Dr. Richter, who accepted the work on its merits, having received the score in Vienna from his agent in London, and who at the time had not met with the composer.
Egar’s explanation could not be more straightforward. He bluntly states that the “theme is a counterpoint on some well-known melody which is never heard…” This account is absolutely consistent with the original 1899 program note and the October 1900 interview in The Musical Times. A counterpoint is by definition a countermelody, so logic requires the unstated principal Theme must also be a melody. A credible counterpoint requires both a vertical and horizontal fit between the two themes. Elgar’s standard reply to enigma solutions invokes this fundamental idea of a fit between the two melodies:
No: nothing like it.
I do not see the tune you suggest fits in the least.
Merriam-Webster defines the verb fit as “to be suitable for or to harmonize with”, and “to conform correctly to the shape or size of.” Elgar’s language leaves no room for doubt. Both themes must be the same length with a suitable counterpoint. Nowhere does Elgar specify that the covert Theme must retain its original mode or rhythmic contours.
The final condition comes from explanatory notes supplied by Elgar for a set of pianola rolls published in 1929. Concerning the first variation he wrote, “There is no break between the theme and this movement.” That disclosure is crucial as it verifies the Enigma Theme does not end until Variation I begins. The first variant of the Enigma Theme is not introduced until measure 20, so this means he defined bars 1-19 as the Enigma Theme. The two-bar bridge in bars 18-19 does not belong to Variation I (something deceptively implied by the layout of the score) but rather represents an elaboration of the Enigma Theme’s concluding cadence.
A conspicuous tie connecting the notes in bars 17-18 supports this observation, linking the Enigma Theme to the bridge in a way not seen with Variation I. The bridge serves to unwind the Picardy cadence, returning it back to the minor mode in preparation for the first variation from which it is separated by a conspicuous double bar. At first glance, measure 17 only appears to mark the end of the Enigma Theme; but in light of Elgar’s published statement, it is actually a faux ending. The correct melodic mapping of the covert principal Theme must account not only for the Enigma Theme’s Ternary ABA’ structure in measures 1 through 17, but also the two-bar bridge (Section C) in measures 18 and 19 that precede the launch of Variation I.
A meticulous analysis of four primary sources – the original 1899 program note, the October 1900 interview in The Musical Times, the 1905 biography, and descriptive notes for the 1929 pianola notes – provide six explicit conditions regarding the relationship between the Enigma Variations and the covert principal Theme. Those six conditions are:
The Enigma Theme is a counterpoint to the principal Theme.
The principal Theme is not heard.
The principal Theme is famous.
Fragments of the principal Theme are present in the Variations.
The principal Theme is a melody that can be played through and over the whole set of Variations including the entire Enigma Theme.
The Enigma Theme comprises measures 1 through 19.
Any alleged solution that violates just one of those conditions may be safely discarded because it is in direct conflict with the recorded words of the composer by multiple, independent, unimpeachable sources. Does Rushton recognize the supremacy and specificity of Elgar’s conditions? If he refuses to concur with each and every one of those precise stipulations, on what grounds does Rushton take exception?
Did Elgar write counterpoints to famous themes?
Does Rushton acknowledge that Elgar composed counterpoints to famous melodies? Samples of Elgar’s contrapuntal treatments of popular themes shortly after completing the Enigma Variations establish two relevant patterns. First, he produced counterpoints to famous melodies. Second, he altered the modes and note values of those popular tunes to suit his artistic aims. The first example appears on page 647 from the October 1900 issue of The Musical Times. Elgar supplied an ingenious contrapuntal melding of two famous melodies, “God save the Queen” with the 5/4 waltz from Tchaikovsky’s “Pathétique.” To facilitate this unlikely pairing, he transposed his national anthem from G major down a major sixth to B-flat major and elongated the rhythmic values of some of its notes, a device known as augmentation.
For his overture Cockaigne (In London Town) written between 1900 and 1901, Elgar devised the Lover’s Theme as a counterpoint to the Wedding March from Mendelssohn’s overture A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Elgar took great liberties with his famous source melody. He transposed the C major mode of the Wedding March down a whole step to B-flat major, modified some rhythms, and even dispensed with some of its notes. The Lover’s Theme is a counterpoint to a famous melody that is not heard in the overture. This phenomenon parallels Elgar’s published statements that the Enigma Theme is also a counterpoint to a well-known melody that remains silent.
How does Rushton reconcile these examples of Elgar’s contrapuntal treatment of famous tunes with his theory that there is no absent theme? Elgar’s track record of composing counterpoints to popular melodies is consistent with his public claims that the Enigma Theme is also a counterpoint to a famous tune. In light of Elgar’s pliable treatment of these popular themes, will Rushton continue to demand that the covert Theme must retain its original mode and rhythmic structure when mapped contrapuntally above the Enigma Theme? Or is he amenable to Dr. Clive McClelland’s stance that the hidden melody does not need to fit with the Enigma Theme in real-time? Will Rushton also concede that a counterpoint to an absent principal Theme is essentially a contrapuntal cipher? Will he further admit that Elgar was skilled enough with counterpoint to employ such techniques as augmentation, diminution, and retrograde motion with his handling of the secret melody?
Did Elgar drop hints about ciphers?
Does Rushton recognize Elgar’s expertise in cryptography? Elgar excelled in coding and decoding secret messages. His obsession with that esoteric art merits an entire chapter in Craig P. Bauer’s recently published book Unsolved! Has Rushton read Bauer’s informative case studies about Elgar’s forays into cryptography? Much of the third chapter is devoted to Elgar’s brilliant decryption of an allegedly insoluble Nihilist cipher by John Holt Schooling released in an April 1896 issue of The Pall Mall Gazette. The Nihilist cipher is a derivative of the Polybius square cipher, a technique for encoding one plaintext letter using two or more characters.
Elgar was so gratified by his solution to Schooling’s reputedly impenetrable cipher that he specifically mentions it in his first biography released in 1905 by Robert J. Buckley. On page 41 of that biography, Buckley reports of Elgar, “During railway journeys amuses himself with cryptograms; solved one by John Holt School who defied the world to unravel his mystery.” Elgar spent eight hours a day riding trains to and from London to attend a single Crystal Palace concert. Elgar traveled to London many times over the years to attend these and other concerts, granting him considerable leisure to hone and perfect his cryptographic skills.
Elgar’s methodical solution to Schooling's conundrum is summarized on a set of nine index cards. On the sixth card, he relates the task of cracking the cipher to “...working (in the dark).” The parenthetical expression citing the word “dark” as a synonym for a cipher is significant because he employs that same terminology — “dark saying” — in the original 1899 program note to describe the Enigma Theme. Besides a missing principal melody, Elgar advises in the 1899 program that the Enigma Theme has a “dark saying” that “must be left unguessed.” Such cryptic language insinuates the existence of a coded message concealed within the Enigma Theme because a decryption cannot be guessed. This reading of the phrase “dark saying” is made possible by carefully weighing the definitions of its terms. One definition for dark is “secret” or “hidden.” A saying is a string of coherent words. Consequently, the phrase “dark saying” is code for secret or hidden words. Such a cryptic phrase reeks of a cipher.
Dr. McClelland finds circumstantial evidence for a coded message in the Enigma Theme’s opening six bars based on regularly spaced quarter note rests. This first section in G minor concludes with an oddly placed double barline at the end of bar 6. According to Dr. McClelland, these regularly spaced rests suggests spaces between words:
Elgar’s six-bar phrase is achieved by the characteristic four-note grouping, repeated six times with its reversible rhythm of two quavers and two crotchets. This strongly suggests the cryptological technique of disguising word-lengths in ciphers by arranging letters in regular patterns.
Following Dr. McClelland’s line of reasoning, quarter rests uniformly dispersed over six bars with four melodic notes following each rest implies that Elgar’s “dark saying” consists of six words with a total of 24 letters. Will Rushton acknowledge that it is reasonable to interpret Elgar’s reference to a “dark saying” in the Enigma Theme as a coded reference to a cipher? Does he suspect that cryptogram may encode the covert Theme’s title consisting of six words with a total of 24 letters? Does Rushton recognize Elgar’s ability and inclination to generate ciphers and insert them in the Enigma Variations? Does he suspect Elgar may have embedded cryptograms within the Enigma Variations?
Did Elgar have sufficient time to create ciphers?
Rushton minimizes the possibility of ciphers in the Enigma Variations by squeezing Elgar’s opportunity to devise any into a narrow three-day window between October 21 and October 24, 1898. The earlier date marks the evening when he first performed the Enigma Theme at the piano for his wife, Alice. The latter is when he wrote to his friend August Jaeger to apprise him of his new orchestral project. Rushton surmises on page 70 of his book, “A tempting avenue leads to ciphers, although the short interval (three days) between conception and the commitment implied by mentioning the existence of the Variations to Jaeger makes elaborate precompositional calculation unlikely.”
How can Rushton reconcile such an arbitrary three-day restriction with the known timetable? Elgar officially began sketching the Variations on October 21, 1898. He finalized the orchestration on February 19, 1899. The duration between these two dates covers 122 days. In addition, he added 96 bars to the Finale between June 30 and July 20, 1899. This afforded an extra 21 days, bringing the total time available to 143 days. How does Rushton square his three-day restriction with the 143-day timeline? And will Rushton admit that 143 days furnished ample time for Elgar to develop and incorporate cryptograms in the Enigma Variations?
Are the Mendelssohn fragments a cipher?
In The Code Book, science author Simon Singh explains how anomalies may be exploited to crack a cipher. Among the most anomalous aspects of the Enigma Variations are the Mendelssohn quotations in Variation XIII. Elgar cites a four-note melodic incipit from Felix Mendelssohn’s concert overture Calm Sea and Prosperous Voyage in Variation XIII. These four melodic fragments are accompanied by an ostinato figure that reprises the Enigma Theme’s palindromic rhythm, introducing a discernible link between the two melodies. Elgar revised the mode, slowed the tempo, and altered some note values of these Mendelssohn quotations. Such modifications endorse a fluid approach to his handling of the famous source melody. These melodic incipits are conspicuous as they originate from an extraneous work wholly unrelated to the Enigma Theme. Could the anomalous Mendelssohn fragments be a cipher?
The first two incipits are in A-flat major, the third is in F minor, and the fourth is in E-flat major. Remarkably, the Mendelssohn fragments’ key letters are an anagram of the well-known FAE musical cryptogram. These letters form the initials of violinist Joseph Joachim’s romantic motto coined around 1851, “Frei aber einsam” (Free but lonely). This discovery dovetails precisely with Elgar’s statement that the Enigma Theme “expressed when written ... my sense of the loneliness of the artist.” The encoding of Joachim’s motto further suggests that the title of the covert Theme consists of three German words.
Encoding Joachim’s romantic motto via the Mendelssohn fragments is contextually appropriate as Joachim was a protégé of Mendelssohn. Joachim enjoyed lasting fame with the British public following an extraordinary performance at age 12 of Beethoven’s Violin Concerto in D major for the Royal Philharmonic Society under Mendelssohn’s direction in May 1844. As a virtuoso manqué, Elgar deeply admired Joachim’s technical brilliance and artistry.
Will Rushton recognize that the key letters of the Mendelssohn fragments are an anagram of the musical FAE cryptogram? Can Rushton proffer some explanation for overlooking this elementary musical cipher ensconced within the anomalous Mendelssohn incipits? Could it be that he is unfamiliar with music cryptography? Did Rushton neglect to search for cryptograms because of an a priori assumption that Elgar lacked the necessary time to insert ciphers in the Enigma Variations? Will Rushton admit that the discovery of this cipher bolsters the case for other cryptograms within the Enigma Variations?
Although born Jewish, Mendelssohn and Joachim were baptized Lutherans. Would Rushton consider this commonality a potential clue regarding the composer of the secret melody? Mendelssohn and Joachim were Jews who converted to Christianity. Would Rushton view their shared faith as a prospective hint about the identity of Elgar’s secret friend? Does this feature not tie into the Star of David that Elgar wrote on the short score as asterisks for Variation XIII? Those same hexagrammic asterisks were faithfully retained on the published full score.
|Short score sketch of Variation XIII|
|Published orchestral score|
Why did Elgar make five lists of the Variations?
On page 58 of his book, Rushton mentions that Elgar sketched five different lists of the Variations. He comments, “Some reasons for the decision that Elgar finally took may be deduced from consideration of the musical evidence, but it is clear that the ‘grand design’ emerged late in the conception of the Variations.” In consideration of Elgar’s expertise in cryptography, is it possible he experimented with different orderings of the Enigma Variations to construct anagrams from proximate title letters? Could these anagrams encipher answers regarding the covert Theme and the secret friend portrayed in Variation XIII?
A few examples of anagrams formed by proximate title letters may persuade Dr. Rushton to reconsider his doubts about cryptograms in the Enigma Variations. One of the simplest examples is the Letters Cluster Cipher positioned in Variations XII and XIV. Sandwiched between those two movements is the enigmatic title of Variation XIII consisting of three asterisks (***). Rather conveniently, there are precisely three titles for Variations XII (B.G.N.) and XIV (E.D.U. & Finale). The first initials of those three neighboring titles (B.G.N., E.D.U., Finale) are an acrostic anagram of “EFB.” Those are the initials for Ein feste Burg (A Mighty Fortress) by Martin Luther. Through this cipher, Elgar deftly frames the riddle posed by the asterisks with the solution hidden in plain sight.
Like Joachim’s romantic motto encoded by the Mendelssohn fragments, that shortened title consists of three words in German. The full title of Luther’s hymn is six words with a total of 24 letters. This corresponds exactly with the Enigma Theme’s opening six bars that possess precisely 24 melody notes. As previously mentioned, Dr. McClelland was the first to observe that regularly spaced quarter rests in the opening six bars of the Enigma Theme suggested spaces between words.
Mendelssohn cites Ein feste Burg in the fourth movement of his Reformation Symphony followed by a set of variations. Elgar quotes Mendelssohn in an orchestral context to imply by imitation that Mendelssohn cites the covert Theme in one of his symphonies. The number of Mendelssohn fragments (4) even pinpoints the exact movement of Mendelssohn’s symphony that quotes the famous hymn. Remarkably, it is feasible to reconstruct the title of the covert Theme as an anagram from proximate title letters in the Enigma Theme, Variations I-III, and XII-XIV.
Early in his career, Elgar followed in the footsteps of his father by serving as the church organist at St. George’s. His personal library housed several hymnals including the encyclopedic Hymns: Ancient and Modern. That repository features numerous hymns with the terms “Christ” and “abide” in their titles and lyrics. Remarkably, proximate title letters in Variations I-III generate the adjacent anagrams “CHRIST” and “ABIDE.”
This discovery is wholly consistent with Elgar’s Roman Catholic faith and career stint as a church organist. The coding of “CHRIST” and “ABIDE” cleverly alludes to the hymnodic nature of the covert Theme as well as the identity of Elgar’s secret friend. There is a theological basis for linking the word “abide” with Jesus. In John 15:4, Jesus taught his disciples, “Abide in me, and I in you.” That passage inspired the title of Rev. Andrew Murray’s book Abide in Christ published in London in 1888. There is considerable cryptographic evidence that the secret friend depicted in Variation XIII is Jesus Christ, the Savior of Elgar’s Roman Catholicism. For instance, the application of a basic number-to-letter key (1 = A, 2 = B, 3 = C, etc…) to the Roman numerals XIII yields “JC”, the initials for Jesus Christ. Elgar deployed the same technique for Variation IX to encipher the initials for his friend August Jaeger.
These anagrams of proximate title letters provide the initials of the covert Theme, its common three-word title, and a title for the secret friend of Variation XIII. Will Rushton acknowledge the possibility that Elgar created five lists on the Enigma Variations as a means to construct these cryptograms? Does Rushton recognize the prospect that other messages may be encrypted by proximate title letters?
Why “a spirit of humour”?
Elgar visited the Italian city of Turin in October 1911 to conduct a performance of the Enigma Variations. He informed the audience that the Variations were “commenced in a spirit of humour…” The irony of this explanation is that the Enigma Theme does not sound remotely comedic or whimsical. Could Rushton offer some explanation for why Elgar would say that the Enigma Theme is connected with something humorous?
Elgar relished practical jokes that he dubbed japes, and he sometimes inserted them in his music. For instance, he mocked the prosaic compositions of Charles Villiers Stanford by enciphering the epithet “Satanford” in the Demon’s Chorus of his sacred oratorio The Dream of Gerontius. There is evidence for Elgar's melodic japery in the Enigma Theme. Although imbued with a sorrowful aura, the Enigma Theme has two melodic note sequences that spell gag. The first (G-A-G) appears in bar 6 on beats 3-4 at the end of Section A of the Enigma Theme’s ABA’C structure. The second is ten bars later in bar 16 on beats 3-4 of Section A’.
Merriam-Webster defines a gag as “a laugh-provoking remark or act,” a “prank” or “trick.” A gag is a synonym for jape. Unlike jape, gag is easily spelled by musical notes that are restricted to the first seven letters (A-G) of the alphabet. Elgar disclosed in the original 1899 program note that the principal Theme to the Variations is not heard or played. It may be argued that an absent principal Theme is a musical trick or prank.
Why would Elgar encode the word gag twice in his Enigma Theme? He advised the work was started in a humorous mood, but what could be the source of his amusement? Elgar’s expertise in cryptography bolsters the suspicion that the G-A-G note sequence marks the presence of a musical cipher. The notes preceding the second spelling of gag in bar 16 are F, E-flat, and B-flat. Remarkable, those three letters are an anagram of the initials for Ein feste Burg.
Does Rushton consider it possible that Elgar’s amusement was the paradoxical juxtaposition of his Roman Catholic faith with his selection of a renowned Protestant anthem as the hidden Theme? Would such a clandestine gesture not constitute a colossal prank?
Are the keys of the Enigma Theme a cipher?
A cipher is akin to a lock that may be opened by a key. The Enigma Theme is set in the parallel keys of G minor and G major. Remarkably, the accidentals of those two key signatures (B-flat, E-flat, and F-sharp) are an anagram of the initials for Ein feste Burg.
Will Rushton concede the possibility that the Enigma Theme’s key signatures could provide the keys to unlocking Elgar’s contrapuntal riddle? Is this not a subtly obvious solution?
Are the Enigma Theme’s performance directions a cipher?
There are seven performance directions in the Enigma Theme’s first bar. The first letters of those terms are an acrostic anagram of “EE’s PSALM.” This is the same technique used with the Letters Cluster Cipher. There are precisely 46 characters in those performance directions. That sum points to Psalm 46, a chapter known as Luther’s Psalm because it inspired the title and lyrics of his most famous hymn, Ein feste Burg.
Will Rushton acknowledge the possibility that Elgar enciphered his initials with the word “psalm” in the Enigma Theme’s performance directions in bar 1? Will Rushton further concede that the sum of the characters in that cryptogram implicates Psalm 46, a chapter closely associated with Luther’s most popular hymn? Does Rushton think that Elgar may have embedded such a cipher within the Enigma Theme’s first bar to furnish a gargantuan clue regarding the covert Theme?
Is Elgar’s 1899 program note a cipher?
Elgar provided written remarks for the historic June 1899 premiere of the Enigma Variations in a letter to Charles Ainslie Barry. Elgar’s commentary is cited in the original program note where he refers to the Belgian playwright Maurice Maeterlinck and two of his plays, L’Intruse (The Intruder) and Les sept Princesses (The Seven Princesses). For a symphonic work dedicated to his friends, it is decidedly odd that the only person named in Elgar’s comments is a foreign poet and dramatist.
Why would Elgar refer to a stranger to characterize a work about his friends? One explanation is based on his gift for cryptography. The conspicuous phrase “Maeterlinck’s ‘L’Intruse’ and ‘Les sept Princesses’” stands out because it is demarcated by long dashes. Those two lines are reminiscent of the double bar line at the end of the Enigma Theme’s sixth bar. When distilled down to its unique initials, it harbors a reverse spelling of PSALM (Maeterlinck’s ‘L’Intruse’ and ‘Les sept Princesses’).
This cryptogram is highly reminiscent of another acrostic anagram within the seven performance directions of the Enigma Theme's opening measure that encodes psalm. These coded references to psalm are significant because the title of the hidden melody originates from Psalm 46. In a stunning parallel, the seven-word phrase Maeterlinck’s ‘L’Intruse’ and ‘Les sept Princesses’ has exactly 46 characters excluding spaces. This presents another link with the seven performance directions in the first bar of the Enigma Theme that also have 46 characters. Does Rushton consider the construction of these two Psalm 46 ciphers as a grand coincidence? Or does he view them as part of a larger pattern of mutually consistent cryptograms that implicate a definitive answer to Elgar’s contrapuntal riddle?
Is Elgar’s “dark saying” a musical Polybius cipher?
It was observed previously that Elgar studied the Polybius cipher in 1896 and cracked a variant of it by John Holt Schooling. This experience preceded the genesis of the Enigma Variations by two years. Does Rushton think it is plausible that Elgar may have adapted this encipherment technique to a musical setting like the Enigma Theme? Could such a cipher be the Enigma Theme's “dark saying” described in the 1899 program note? Elgar’s use of the term “unguessed” in connection with his “dark saying” would make far more sense in the context of a decryption that cannot be guessed.
My cryptanalysis of the Enigma Theme uncovered a musical Polybius Cipher in bars 1-6. A detailed explanation of this decryption is presented in my article Elgar's Enigma: A Musical Polybius Box Cipher. This cryptogram rearranges the complete 24-letter German title of the covert Theme into a grand anagram that produces words and short phrases in English, Latin, and what Elgar would have reasonably believed was Aramaic based on contemporaneous biblical commentaries. The plaintext solutions confirm that Ein feste Burg is the covert Theme and that Jesus is the secret friend.
The languages unveiled by the complete decryption of Elgar's musical Polybius Cipher are English, Latin, German, and Aramaic. It is noteworthy that the first letters of those four languages are an acrostic anagram of ELGAR.
The composer covertly autographed the correct solution using a second tier of encryption only unveiled by solving the first layer. That is a stunning achievement in the field of cryptography. Like the Letters Cluster Cipher and the Psalm 46 Cipher, this ancillary cryptogram is constructed from an acrostic anagram. Does Rushton view this as merely another elaborate coincidence, or is it part of a broader pattern of interrelated ciphers? Did Elgar autograph the decryption because he recognized the melodic solution would be deemed controversial by professorial skeptics?
A Polybius cipher is also known as a box cipher because of the checkerboard configuration of its key. With a Polybius cipher framed in music, it may be aptly described as a music box cipher. Such an outcome is a hallmark of Elgar’s penchant for wordplay. The 6 by 6 cipher key for Elgar’s musical Polybius cipher is displayed below:
In the fifth column of this cipher key, the label “E F” and plaintext “B” combine to spell “EFB.” Those are the initials of Ein feste Burg. In the sixth column, the label “G” and plaintext “EOS” form an anagram of “GOES.” It is extraordinary that the labels and plaintext in the last two columns may be interpolated as “EFB GOES.” This presents an uncanny link to the 1899 program note where Elgar explained that “through and over the whole set [of Variations] another and larger theme ‘goes’, but is not played.” Does Rushton view this to be just another coincidence or evidence of an elaborately designed cipher?
Is the nickname Nimrod a cipher?
Elgar gave Jaeger’s movement the unusual title Nimrod. A cursory explanation for this sobriquet is that Jaeger means “hunter” in German, and Nimrod is called “a mighty hunter” in Genesis 10:9. Remarkably, the first two words of that biblical description furnish the first two words of the covert Theme’s title (A Mighty Fortress). According to extra-biblical tradition, Nimrod designed and built fortified cities, i.e., fortresses. The association between Nimrod and fortresses is bolstered by a famous castle on the southern slopes of Mount Herman called Nimrod Fortress. From the biblical description of Nimrod and his reputation as a fortress builder, it is possible to cull together the title of the covert Theme, A Mighty Fortress. Jaeger is the only German friend depicted in the Variations, implying that this title should be translated into that language as Ein feste Burg.
With the nickname Nimrod, Elgar exploits the overlapping meanings of Jaeger in German with the biblical description of Nimrod to elegantly encode the hidden melody’s title. And by using an atypical version of the hunter’s name, Elgar invites his audience to hunt for the solution. The counterpoint between Nimrod and Ein feste Burg is ample confirmation of this discovery. Does Rushton consider these remarkable links between the meanings of Nimrod and Ein feste Burg as purely coincidental? Or will he acknowledge that Elgar’s nickname for Jaeger is an exquisitely designed wordplay cipher?
Rehearsal 33 marks the beginning of Variation IX (Nimrod). The tuning of the timpani is specified as E-flat, B-flat, and F. Those three letters are an anagram of the initials for Ein feste Burg. The number 33 is the mirror image of Elgar’s initials consisting of two capital cursive Es. For this reason, Rehearsal 33 may be viewed as a coded version of Elgar’s initials. His initials also show up in the performance directions of the Enigma Theme’s inaugural bar as the acrostic anagram “EE’s Psalm.” Does Rushton believe the tuning of the timpani at Rehearsal 33 supplies the initials for Elgar and Ein feste Burg, or is this merely another series of eerie coincidences?
There are further questions that could be raised, but those fielded here should be sufficient to provoke a reassessment of Rushton’s perennial skepticism towards all attempted solutions to the Enigma Variations. As one astute philosopher declared, “Getting the question right is the answer.” Perhaps Rushton believes there are no ultimate answers to the Enigma Variations because he has been asking the wrong questions. To learn more concerning the secrets of the Enigma Variations, read my free eBook Elgar’s Enigmas Exposed.