The British romantic composer Edward Elgar composed his symphonic Enigma Variations in 1898-99. That extraordinary work elevated him from provincial notoriety to international acclaim, transforming his career from an itinerant music teacher to a celebrated composer. The original title appears on the autograph score as “Variations for orchestra composed by Edward Elgar Op. 36”. With the opening theme dubbed “Enigma,” the work is popularly referred to as the Enigma Variations. Elgar explained the Theme is called “Enigma” because it is a counterpoint to a famous melody that is not heard but can play “through and over” the Variations. This absent tune is the melodic cornerstone of the work, a covert principal Theme that has provoked a prolonged debate about what could be the correct solution.
Some argue there is no solution by insinuating Elgar concocted the notion of an absent principal Theme as an afterthought, practical joke, or marketing ploy. Others take Elgar at his word and accept the challenge that there is a famous melody lurking behind the Variations’ contrapuntal and modal facade. Regardless of what side is taken in the debate, conventional scholarship insists the solution cannot be known with certainty because Elgar took his secret to the grave in February 1934. They assert Elgar never wrote down the answer for posterity to discover. Such an opinion overlooks his expertise in cryptography, the discipline of coding and decoding secret messages. His obsession with that esoteric art merits an entire chapter in Craig P. Bauer’s treatise Unsolved! A compulsion for cryptography is a reigning pillar of Elgar’s psychological profile. This incontestable fact raises the possibility that the solution is encoded in the Enigma Variations.
A decade of trawling the Enigma Variations has netted over ninety cryptograms in varying formats that encode a set of mutually consistent and complementary solutions. Although that figure may appear too high to be believable, it is entirely consistent with Elgar’s obsession with ciphers. More significantly, their solutions provide definitive answers to the core questions posed by the Enigma Variations. What is the secret melody to which the Enigma Theme is a counterpoint and serves as the melodic foundation for 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 its inaugural six bars. Who is the secret friend and inspiration behind Variation XIII? Answer: Jesus Christ, the Savior of Elgar’s Roman Catholic faith. The cryptographic evidence supporting these discoveries is diverse, decisive, and overwhelming.
The Title Word Lengths Cipher
With so many ciphers ensconced within the Enigma Variations, it makes sense to sift its title for prospective ciphers. The title page from the autograph score is shown below:
The original title of the 'Enigma' Variations appears as follows:
In recognition of Elgar's expertise in cryptography, that title was subjected to some basic cryptanalysis. First, each word was reduced to its character count as summarized below:
Next, those nine sums were converted to their corresponding letters of the alphabet using an elementary number-to-letter key (1 = A, 2 = B, 3 = C, etc...):
The first two plaintext letters in order are JC. Those are the initials for Jesus Christ, the secret friend depicted in Variation XIII. In an interesting parallel, the sum of those two letter numbers (10 + 3) equals thirteen, the equivalent of XIII.
The second through fourth plaintext letters (CIH) forms an anagram of IHC. That is a historic Christogram. A Christogram is an abbreviation for the name of Jesus Christ that appears in Christian churches. This solution elegantly intersects with the initials for Jesus Christ unveiled by the first two plaintext letters.
The fifth through seventh plaintext letters (BFE) is an anagram of EFB. Those are the initials for Ein feste Burg, the covert principal Theme to the Variations. Elgar's original title deftly conceals the initials for the covert principal Theme.
The final two plaintext letters are an anagram of BC. Those are the initials for “Before Christ” used to classify the era before the birth of Christ. This solution is mutually consistent and complementary with the first and second sets of initials (JC and IHC).
This series of decryptions consists exclusively of initials generated by contiguous plaintext letters.
Three of the four sets — JC, IHC, and BC — unmask the identity of the secret friend commemorated in Variation XIII. The remaining set (EFB) unveils the initials of Ein feste Burg, the covert principal Theme. Initials are the predominant species of title for the Variations, providing ten out of the fifteen headings. This simple yet elegant cryptogram is named the Title Words Lengths Cipher. Elgar’s title for the Enigma Variations ingeniously enciphers the initials of the covert principal Theme and the secret friend depicted in Variation XIII. To learn more about the secrets of the Enigma Variations, read my free eBook Elgar’s Enigmas Exposed.