|Schlossskirche (Castle Church) in Wittenberg|
Now the church is not wood and stone, but the company of people who believe in Christ.
The British composer Edward Elgar produced his symphonic Enigma Variations between October 1898 and July 1899. 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 unconventional theme dubbed “Enigma,” the work is popularly referred to as the Enigma Variations. In the 1899 program note and other primary sources, Elgar explains 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 secret tune is the cornerstone underlying the whole work, a subject that has provoked an intractable debate about the correct 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 gimmick. The editors of the Elgar Complete Edition of the Enigma Variations blithely deny the likelihood there could be any covert counterpoints or even cryptograms. Relying on Elgar’s recollection of playing new material at the piano to gauge his wife’s reaction, the editors tout the standard lore that he extemporized the idiosyncratic Enigma Theme mirabelle dictu without any forethought or planning:
There seems to have been no specific ‘enigma’ in mind at the outset: Elgar’s first playing of the music was hardly more than a running over the keys to aid relaxation. It was Alice Elgar’s interruption, apparently, that called him to attention and helped to identify the phrases which were to become the ‘Enigma’ theme. This suggests it is unlikely that the theme should conceal some counterpoint or cipher needed to solve the ‘Enigma’.
Such a blanket abnegation conveniently relieves them of any obligation to probe for ciphers or cryptograms. Proponents of such a crude denialism extol the validity of their position based on a dearth of evidence for which they never executed a diligent or impartial search. This ridiculous state of affairs is a textbook case of confirmation bias pawned off as scholarship.
The more sensible view (adopted by those who take Elgar at his published word) accepts the challenge there is a famous melody lurking behind the Variations’ contrapuntal and modal facade. Regardless of what side is taken in the debate, mainstream scholars insist the answer can never be known with absolute certainty because Elgar allegedly took his secret to the grave in February 1934. The intellectual establishment presumes he never wrote down the solution for posterity to discover. Such a staid opinion glosses over or flagrantly ignores Elgar’s documented obsession with cryptography. That incontestable facet of his psyche raises the prospect that the solution is meticulously encoded within Enigma Variations’ orchestral score.
A decade of trawling that sublime symphonic masterpiece has netted over one hundred cryptograms in diverse formats that encode a set of mutually consistent and complementary solutions. Although that figure may seem extravagant, it is entirely consistent with Elgar’s lifelong fascination with ciphers. More significantly, the 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 the “dark saying” ensconced within the Enigma Theme? Answer: A musical Polybius box cipher embedded in its inaugural six bars cordoned off by a strangely positioned 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 yet mutually consistent, multivalent, and decisive. With such a vast trove of cryptograms, the Enigma Variations is Elgar’s musical homage to cryptography.
Elgar’s Enigma Date Cipher
On the last page of the original Finale to the Enigma Variations, Elgar penned the wrong completion date as “FEb 18 1898”. A facsimile of this final page from the autograph score is exhibited below:
Elgar’s finish date is flagrantly erroneous as he did not officially begin work on the Enigma Variations until October 21, 1898. On that historic Friday evening, Elgar first performed the Enigma Theme at the piano for his wife, Alice. The cover of the autograph score confirms it was completed on February 19, 1899.
Both end dates were Fridays with a divergence of 366 days. It is noteworthy that the first two numerals from that deviation match the opus number (36) of the Enigma Variations. Scholars concede the massive discrepancy between these two completion dates yet fail to offer any credible or cogent explanations. Why would Elgar write the wrong end date at the conclusion of Variation XIV, his own musical self-portrait? He was far too meticulous with his scores to make such an egregious error. Ultimately, the resolution to this anomaly hinges on Elgar’s lifelong obsession with cryptography.
Elgar’s anomalous completion date marks the 352nd anniversary of Martin Luther’s death on February 18, 1546. The wrong date cleverly insinuates who composed the hidden principal Theme. It also hints at where to find the answer to Elgar’s contrapuntal riddle because the complete title of Ein feste Burg is inscribed on Schlossskirche (Castle Church), Luther’s resting place in Wittenberg. The title of his most celebrated hymn does not appear on the original grave plate or bronze plaque in the sanctuary where Luther is interred. Instead, it is emblazoned around the top of the imposing church tower that was renovated between 1883 and 1892. This is a highly suitable monument as one of the English translations for Ein feste Burg has the title A Strong Tower. The renovation of Castle Church was completed six years before Elgar started work on his Enigma Variations.
Wittenberg Castle Church
Wittenberg Castle Church Tower
A coded reference to Luther’s resting place not only unveils the title of the covert Theme, for it also implicates the identity of Elgar’s secret friend whose title “Christi” (Christ) appears on the grave plate. The title of Elgar’s first sacred oratorio is Lux Christi (Light of Christ) which was premiered in 1896. The word “LUX” is encoded as a reverse acrostic anagram on the short score sketch of Variation XIII.
Martin Luther’s Grave Plate
Elgar’s incorrect completion date on the autograph score pinpoints the death anniversary of Martin Luther, the composer of the hidden melody. Luther died in his birth city of Eisleben at the age of 63. Remarkably, the number 63 is the most used metronome marking in the Enigma Variations as it sets the tempo for three different movements: The Enigma Theme, Variation I (C. A. E.), and Variation V (R. P. A.). Not only does Elgar cleverly insert the death anniversary for the covert Theme’s composer, but he also incorporates Luther’s age of death using the metronome marking 63. The opus number (36) is the reverse of that age. Luther was 36 years old when Pope Leo X issued the bull Exsurge Domine in June 1520 that threatened excommunication if he did not recant 41 propositions from his Ninety-five Theses and other papers. Luther responded with even more polemical essays and a public burning of the papal bull in December 1520.
The Roman numerals and initials from these three affiliated movements are A, A, C, E, E, I, P, R, and V. Two Es suggest a coded version of Elgar’s initials, a feature of other cryptograms ensconced within the Enigma Variations. When treated as an anagram, these nine letters may be rearranged as “PA VICAR EE.” “PA” is a shortened form of “Papa” and is informal for “Father.” A Roman Catholic priest is addressed as “Father.” Catholic canon law defines the role of a vicar as a representative of an ecclesiastical entity. For example, one of the titles for the Pope is the Vicar of Christ. These decryptions of “Father” and “Vicar” are accompanied by Elgar’s initials (EE). The relevance of these anagrams is that Martin Luther was awarded the titles “Father” and “Vicar” by the Roman Catholic Church. In 1507, he was ordained into the Roman Catholic priesthood and received the title “Father.” In 1515, Luther was appointed Vicar of Saxony and Thuringia by his religious order.
The nine letters A, A, C, E, E, I, P, R, and V may also be rearranged as the anagram “C EE PRA VIA.” “C” is a homonym of see. “EE” is Elgar’s initials. “PRA” is a phonetic form of pray. The first three words are a phonetic encryption of the phrase, “See EE pray.” “VIA” is Latin for way. Christians in the 1st century called themselves followers of “The Way.” This label was likely inspired by Jesus’ declaration in John 14:6, “I am the way . . .” In Acts 9:2, early believers are referred to as adherents of “the Way.” The phrase “See EE pray [the] Way” is distinctly Christian and is consistent with Elgar’s Roman Catholicism and its many ritual prayers.
Another possible anagram from the initials A, A, C, E, E, I, P, R, and V is “VIA PEARCE.” The way that Jesus traveled through Jerusalem to be crucified is called the Via Doloroso (The Way of Sorrows). That path is also known as the Via Crucis (Way of the Cross). There are fourteen stations of the cross, and likewise, there are fourteen numbered variations in the Enigma Variations. It is remarkable that the word “stations” rhymes with “variations.” “PEARCE” is a phonetic equivalent of pierce. A prophecy in Psalm 22:16 regarding the Messiah’s execution reads, “. . . they have pierced my hands and feet.” Jesus walked the Via Crucis to Golgotha where his hands and feet were nailed to the cross. There is ample theological justification for the anagrammatic and phonetic decryption “VIA PIERCE.”
Elgar ingeniously records Martin Luther’s death anniversary in the anomalous completion date “FEb 18 1898” on the autograph score of the original ending to the Enigma Variations. The significance of this cipher is that Luther’s tomb bears the titles of the covert Theme and Elgar’s secret friend. The title Ein feste Burg ist unser Gott prominently encircles the church tower. The title “Christi” appears on Luther’s grave plate. Luther’s resting place puts to rest the misguided myth that the solutions to Elgar’s enigmas are unsearchable mysteries.
Luther’s age of death appears in the score as the metronome marking “63” for the Enigma Theme, Variation I (C. A. E.), and Variation V (R. P. A.). The Roman numerals and initials for those three affiliated movements form the anagram “PA VICAR EE” (Father Vicar EE). Before establishing the Lutheran Church, Luther served as an ordained Roman Catholic Priest and was awarded the titles “Father” and “Vicar.” Other possible anagrams from those Roman numerals and initials are “C EE PRA VIA” (See EE pray [the] Way), and “VIA PEARCE” (Via Pierce). These phonetic anagrams intersect elegantly with Elgar’s Roman Catholic education, faith, and sacred works. To learn more about the secrets of the Enigma Variations, read my free eBook Elgar’s Enigmas Exposed.
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