The new house was named with an anagram of the family’s initials: E, A, C. E L G A R—‘Craeg Lea’. He sent the new name to Dora Penny, teasing her with the anagram’s secret.
The British composer Edward Elgar reveled in phonetic spellings, wordplays, and anagrams. One notable example is the appellation “Craeg Lae” that he bestowed on his Malvern residence where his family resided between 1899 and 1904. This strange moniker is an anagram obtained from the reverse spelling of “Elgar” (Craeg Lea) merged with the initials from the first names of his daughter (Carice), wife (Alice), and himself (Craeg Lea). Elgar challenged Dora Penny to decipher the meaning of his home’s odd name. Dora caught on quickly as recounted in her memoir:
Edward called the place Craeg Lea and challenged me to guess how he had found the name. By some stroke of luck, I realized that the key lay in the unusual spelling of “Craeg” and immediately saw that the thing had been built up anagrammatically from (A)lice, (C)arice, (E)dward ELGAR. I think he was a little annoyed that this mystification had fallen flat.
Elgar’s enthusiasm for word games spilled over into the field of cryptography, the discipline of coding and decoding secret messages. Ciphers elevate wordplay to a higher plane of complexity that conceals words behind a smokescreen of seemingly disorganized letters or symbols. His obsession with that esoteric art merits an entire chapter in Craig P. Bauer’s treatise Unsolved! The bulk of its third chapter is devoted to Elgar’s brilliant decryption of an allegedly insoluble Nihilist cipher unfurled by John Holt Schooling in an April 1896 issue of The Pall Mall Magazine. Elgar was so pleased with his solution that he mentions it in his first biography published in 1905 by the music critic Robert J. Buckley. Elgar painted the solution in black paint on a wooden box, an appropriate medium as another name for the Polybius checkerboard is a box cipher.
Elgar’s methodical decryption of Schooling’s cipher is summarized on a set of nine index cards. On the sixth card, Elgar relates the task of cracking the cipher to “. . . working (in the dark).”
This use of the word “dark” as a synonym for a cipher is revealing as this same adjective turns up later in Elgar’s 1899 program note for the premiere of the Enigma Variations. It is an oft-cited passage that deserves repeating as he lays the groundwork for his tripartite riddle:
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 produced his orchestral Enigma Variations in 1898-99. That extraordinary work elevated him from provincial obscurity 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. In the 1899 program note and other primary sources, 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 cornerstone underlying the whole work, a subject that has provoked considerable debate about what could possibly be the correct melodic solution.
Some contend there is no answer by insinuating Elgar concocted the notion of an absent principal Theme as an afterthought, practical joke, or marketing ploy. These myths obdurately reverberate in the echo chamber of academia. 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 this debate, conventional scholarship stalwartly maintains the solution cannot be known with certainty because Elgar allegedly took his secret to the grave in February 1934. They insist Elgar never wrote down the answer for posterity to discover. However, this opinion overlooks his documented obsession with cryptography. This incontestable fact raises the likelihood that the solution is encoded within the Enigma Variations’ orchestral score.
A decade of trawling the Enigma Variations has netted over one hundred cryptograms in diverse forms that encode a set of mutually consistent and complementary solutions. Although that figure may seem extravagant, it is entirely consistent with Elgar’s lifelong obsession with ciphers. More significantly, their solutions give 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 cordoned off by an oddly placed double barline. 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, prodigious, and decisive. Ongoing research continues to excavate new cipher discoveries in Elgar’s symphonic homage to cryptography.
The Title Page Acrostic Anagram Ciphers
With so many ciphers expertly woven into the fabric of the Enigma Variations, it is prudent to sift the title page of the autograph score for ciphers. A facsimile of the original title page is exhibited below:
Elgar penned three distinct sections on the title page:
- The Dedication.
- The Title.
- The Square listing the dates and place of orchestration.
The first section is the Dedication that reads, “Dedicated to my Friends pictured within.” Two of the words are capitalized, and the remaining four are lowercase. This breakdown of capitalized and lower case terms in the six-word Dedication may be combined to form 24, the sum of the letters in the six-word German title Ein feste Burg ist unser Gott. The initials from the three sequential words “. . . my Friends pictured . . .” form an acrostic glyphs anagram of “EFb,” the initials of Ein feste Burg. This decryption is feasible because the m is the glyph for a capital cursive E, and the p is the same character for the letter b. This cryptogram is deemed an acrostic anagram because only three of the Dedication’s six initials are used in its construction. In this instance, the glyphs and initial are sequential and appear in the correct order.
Interpolating the glyphs m and w as coded versions of a capital E is justified by Elgar’s pliable treatment of that character in his ingenious Dorabell Cipher. For this cryptogram dating from July 1897, Elgar invented a series of 24 curlicue characters derived from the letter c. The choice of c as the building block for this odd cast of characters was ostensibly inspired by the words cipher and cryptogram. The ciphertext begins with a capital cursive E that is reoriented to duplicate the letters M and W. Elgar did not officially begin work on the Enigma Variations until October 1898, fifteen months after formulating the Dorabella Cipher.
A second acrostic glyphs anagram of “EFb” is produced by the initials from the contiguous words “. . . Friends pictured within.” The dedication’s second line (“. . . my Friends pictured within.”) harbors two overlapping acrostic glyphs anagrams that encipher the initials for Ein feste Burg, the Variations’ covert principal Theme.
The cover page’s second section is the Title consisting of nine terms with four beginning with capitalized letters. The Title contains at least two acrostic anagrams of “Efb.” The first is generated by the initials from its second, fifth, and sixth words, namely for, by, and Edward, respectively. The “L” pattern formed by drawing lines between those three initials conveys the initial for Luther, the composer of Ein feste Burg. “L” is also the initial for various titles for Jesus such as Life, Light, Lion, and Lord. In the Roman numeral system, “L” is the number 50.
The positions of those three title words are conspicuous because the alphabet’s second, fifth, and sixth letters furnish the initials for Ein feste Burg. This form of encipherment is known as a number-to-letter key in which a numeral is converted into its corresponding letter of the alphabet (1 = A, 2 = B, 3 = C, etc.). According to this formula, the number two converts to the second letter B, the number five to the fifth letter E, and the number six to the sixth letter F. Remarkably, Elgar deployed two contrasting modes of encipherment with the title words “for,” “by” and “Edward” to encode the initials “EFB.” The first is an acrostic anagram cipher, and the second is a title word position cipher. These overlapping ciphers encode the same solution using two contrasting techniques that serve as two-factor authentication.
A second “Efb” is encoded by the title words for, by, and Elgar as an acrostic anagram. The initials appear in lines 4, 5, and 6 of the title page with the dedication consisting of lines 1 and 2. The first and last lines of the Title Section “EFb” ciphers are 4 and 6, respectively. The numerals 4 and 6 may be combined to form 46, the chapter from the Psalms that inspired Luther to compose Ein feste Burg. Similar to the two “EFb” anagrams in the second line of the dedication, the two “EFB” acrostic anagrams in the title share two common words, i.e., “by” and “for.” The similar construction of the dedication and title “EFB” ciphers presents a subtle yet discernible symmetry that affirms a deliberate design. The “V” configuration of the second “EFB” acrostic anagram in the Title suggests the initial for Variations. In the Roman numeral system, the letter “V” is the number five.
There is another acrostic anagram in the Variations’ title that spells “VocE,” the Italian performance direction for voice. This acrostic anagram is traced to the initials from Variations, orchestra, composed, and Elgar. Connecting these initials with straight lines yields two “L” formations. The first “L” faces backward and is tilted about 45 degrees. The second overlapping “L” is flipped upside down at a 45-degree angle. In all, there are three capital “L” formations tied to acrostic anagrams in the Title that spell “EFb” and “VocE.” These similarly shaped acrostic formations link the two anagrams, proclaiming that Ein feste Burg is the absent “voice” of the Variations.
The “VocE” anagram is created by the initials from the first, third, fourth, and seventh words from the title. Converting those positions into their corresponding letters of the alphabet generates the plaintext A, C, D, and G. The first and third letters (AD) are the Medieval Latin initials for Anno Domini. This comes from the original phrase “anno Domini nostri Jesu Christi” which translates as “in the year of our Lord Jesus Christ.” The Savior of Elgar’s Roman Catholicism is the secret friend memorialized in Variation XIII. Jesus Christ is named in the second stanza of A Mighty Fortress. Not only is the letter C the initial for Christ, it is also a homonym for see and sea. Elgar cites a melodic incipit from Mendelssohn’s overture Calm Sea and Prosperous Voyage in Variation XIII. The last two letters (G-D) are a phonetic spelling of God. In a revealing gesture, the first two melody notes of Variation XIII are “G-D.”
The double bass section performs the notes “D-E-A-D” starting four bars after Rehearsal 55. This discovery is consistent with the Mendelssohn quotations that symbolize the “deathly stillness” of a calm sea. The spelling of the word “dead” by the lowest voice of the string choir is immediately followed by three melodic statements in the woodwinds of “G-D,” a phonetic spelling of “God.” Three statements of “G-D” aptly symbolize the Roman Catholic belief in the Trinity. These same note sequences are reprised later in the movement. The coding of “DEAD” followed by three statements of “G-D” intimates the person of the Trinity who died. A central tenant of Christianity is the belief that Jesus — the human manifestation of God — suffered a gruesome death on the cross and was miraculously resurrected from the tomb. Elgar's “Dead God” Notes Cipher implicates Jesus as the secret friend memorialized in Variation XIII.
Proceeding to the third section of the title page, the Square houses no less than six “EFB” anagrams. The first and most obvious are the “FEb” abbreviations of the month February for the start and end dates of the orchestration.
The letters “FEb” are a transparent anagram of “EFb.” The second letter in these “FEb” abbreviations is conspicuously capitalized when the rules of grammar require that it be lowercase. Those same rules demand that the first letter of a title be capitalized, and that is the case with Ein feste Burg. Those two incorrectly capitalized Es in “FEb” are a coded form of Elgar’s initials (EE). To the right of the orchestration’s start and end dates are two capital Ls camouflaged as square brackets. The letter L is the initial for Luther and various titles for Jesus. The presence of two overlapping Ls may represent “Luther’s Lord” or “Longfellow's Luther.”
There are five initials from terms within the Square that furnish the letters and glyphs needed to construct six acrostic anagrams of “EFb.” These letters and glyphs are provided by the initials for FEb 5th, ended, Feb 19th (with the anomalous F nearly duplicating a backward B), Forli, and Malvern (with the M approximating a capital cursive E as observed in the Dorabella Cipher).
The outlines of the acrostic anagrams “EFb” and “VocE” in the Title section generate “L” and “V” formations. In addition to being the initial for Luther, “L” is also the initial for various titles for Jesus mentioned earlier. “L” is also a homonym for El, the Hebrew word for God. Elgar’s first sacred oratorio about Jesus healing a man blind from birth is called Lux Christi (Light of Christ). On the original short score of Variation XIII, Elgar gave this movement the title “XXX Var. L.” The “XXX” and “L” are in blue pencil, and “Var.” is in black ink. The short score of Variation XIII is mentioned due to the prominence of the initial L which is emblematic of the L-formations of some acrostic anagrams on the title page.
In my next forthcoming essay, I will describe and decrypt a significant acrostic anagram cipher in the title of Variation XIII that only recently came to my attention. Incidentally, the word “acrostic” is suggestive of the phrase “a cross” due to its spelling and pronunciation (acrostic). For this reason, the prominence of acrostic anagrams on the title page further hint at the identity of Elgar’s secret friend.
Some acrostic anagrams on the title page are presented in “L” and “V” configurations. When treated as Roman numerals, the letters “LV” represent the number 55. That figure may be interpreted as a coded reference to Elgar’s initials (EE) as E is the fifth letter of the alphabet. Rehearsal 55 marks the beginning of Variation XIII, a movement dedicated in secret to Jesus Christ. The letters “LV” may also be read phonetically as love and live.
There are four “EFB” anagrams in the dedication and title sections, and six more within the suare for a total of ten. This distribution of the “EFB” anagrams alludes to the numbers four and six. These same numbers are also emphasized by four acrostic anagram EFB ciphers and six acrostic anagram glyph EFB ciphers. These same numbers are emphasized by the Enigma Theme with four melody notes per measure in Section A (bars 1-6) and A’ (bars 11-16), and six melody notes per measure in Section B (bars 7-10). The coded references to the numbers 4 and 6 allude to 46, the chapter from the Psalms that inspired Luther’s Ein feste Burg. Psalm 46 is known as “Luther’s Psalm.” Seven discrete performance directions in the opening measure of the Enigma Theme are an acrostic anagram of “EE’s Psalm.” In a remarkable parallel, there are exactly 46 characters in that particular cryptogram that implicate Psalm 46.
A survey of acrostic anagram ciphers incorporated on the title page of the Variations’ autograph score uncovered ten encryptions of “EFB” and one of “Voce.” Consistent with Elgar’s affinity for anagrams and ciphers, these decryptions implicate Luther’s Ein feste Burg as the absent voice of the Enigma Variations. Some of these anagrams are laid out in “L” and “V” patterns. The letter L is the initial for Luther and assorted titles for Jesus such as Life, Light, Lion, Lord, and Lux. L is also a homonym of the Hebrew word El meaning God. The letter V is the initial for Variations. The Roman numerals LV for the number 55 communicates a coded form of Elgar’s initials as E is the fifth letter of the alphabet. These anagrams bear Elgar’s initials and complete signature, providing a second tier of encryption that complements the solutions unveiled by the first tier. To learn more about the secrets of the Enigma Variations, read my free eBook Elgar’s Enigmas Exposed.
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