|Dr. Joseph Joachim by Russell & Sons (1898)|
“Künstler sollen nicht Diener, sondern Priester des Publikums sein.”(Artists should not be servants, but priests of the public.)
Whenever I had an opportunity of hearing Joachim play, I always felt as though he were a priest, thrilling his congregation with a sermon revealing the noblest moral beauties of a theme which could not help but interest all humanity.
The main attraction in the April 1898 issue of The Musical Times is a biographical sketch of Joseph Joachim. Prefaced by his formal portrait from the distinguished studio Russell & Sons, the article opens with “JOSEPH JOACHIM” and the accolade, “The greatest living violinist.” Joachim was a child prodigy, composer, conductor, and elite instructor whose notable students included Leopold Auer. As a youthful protégé of Felix Mendelssohn at the Leipzig Conservatory, Joachim performed Beethoven’s Violin Concerto in D major for the Royal Philharmonic Society in May 1844. Nearing his thirteenth birthday, he was granted a special dispensation at Mendelssohn’s behest from a rule barring child prodigies from that prestigious stage. He composed two original cadenzas for his momentous London debut directed by Mendelssohn. Joachim quickly became a perennial favorite of Queen Victoria and the British public for over six decades, making London his second home.
Joachim embodied the childhood ambitions of Edward Elgar who dreamed of attending the Leipzig Conservatory and becoming an acclaimed violinist. Those youthful ambitions were dashed by insufficient funds and sporadic instruction. Despite their dissimilar beginnings, the lives of Joachim and Elgar converged to share an astonishing array of commonalities. They were concert violinists, instructors, composers, conductors, and ardent advocates of the German romantic tradition. They were born in June — Joachim on June 28, 1831, and Elgar almost 26 years later on June 2, 1857 — and died at the age of 76. They wrote symphonic overtures in C major. Joachim completed his Overture in C major in 1896. Elgar followed four years later with his Cockaigne Overture in 1900. They produced unusually long violin concertos in three movements with overlapping performance directions in their titles, i.e., Allegro, Andante, and Allegro. Joachim’s Violin Concerto No. 2 in D minor requires over 45 minutes to perform. The duration of Elgar’s Violin Concerto in B minor is between 45 and 55 minutes. Popular with English and European audiences, Joachim and Elgar were fêted with many honors. The University of Cambridge conferred an honorary Doctor of Music degree on Joachim in March 1877. Elgar received an honorary doctorate from Cambridge on St. Cecilia’s Day in November 1900. The patroness of music and musicians, Saint Cecilia is venerated by Catholic, Orthodox, Anglican, and some Lutheran churches.
Arthur Reynolds chronicles Elgar’s glowing esteem for Joachim in his meticulously researched essay “Elgar and Joachim” from the July 2007 issue of The Elgar Society Journal. Reynolds comments how Elgar’s veneration bordered on “hero-worship” by identifying one of Joachim’s discarded E-strings as a “precious relic.” Elgar recognized Joachim as “the last great musician of the German Romantic style.” As Reynolds explains, Elgar was captivated by Joachim who was “an intimate of Mendelssohn, Schumann and Brahms who outlived them long enough to make gramophone records in 1903.” Such unbridled approbation ensured Elgar heedfully scrutinized Joachim’s profile article in The Musical Times. That periodical’s reporting on Elgar guaranteed he read it often, for his name is mentioned 100 times during 1898.
The Musical Times released Joachim’s biographical sketch 204 days before the genesis of the Enigma Variations. Key characters and elements from that exposé are recapitulated in Elgar’s breakout work. While some are openly identified, most lurk stealthily behind the score’s coruscating facade. These opaque references are unmasked by the detection and decryption of secret codes. Applying cryptanalysis to the Enigma Variations is justified by Elgar’s expertise in cryptography, a specialty that merits a full chapter in Craig P. Bauer’s book Unsolved! What follows is a survey of these overt and covert confluences that implicate Joachim’s biographical sketch in The Musical Times as a formative catalyst for the Enigma Variations.
The Musical Times calls attention to Joachim’s participation in the Monday “Pops” Concerts at St. James Hall where he performed as a soloist and leader of the Joachim String Quartet. Unlike other artists who would perform and depart, Joachim stayed to observe the entire program. At one of these concerts, “ . . . the great violinist vigorously clapped his hands to recall Dr. Hubert Parry after the performance of his ‘Symphonic Variations.’” Reading of Joachim’s enthusiasm for Parry’s Symphonic Variations undoubtedly piqued Elgar’s interest in composing his own Variations for orchestra.
Elgar shared Joachim’s enthusiasm and respect for Hubert Parry. It was Parry who sagaciously declared, “Inspiration without methods and means at its disposal will no more enable a man to write a symphony than to build a ship or a cathedral.” To help bridge the gap between imagination and execution, Parry contributed over a hundred articles to George Grove’s encyclopedic Dictionary of Music and Musicians. Elgar carefully studied Parry’s scholarly essays during his musical apprenticeship. In 1895, Parry succeeded Grove as head of the Royal College of Music. In his first lecture at the University of Birmingham in 1905, Elgar praised Parry as “ . . . the head of our art in this country . . . ” Parry’s most popular work is his 1916 choral setting of William Blake’s poem Jerusalem about Jesus secretly visiting England. Elgar’s 1922 orchestration of that renowned hymn is traditionally performed as an ersatz national anthem on the last night of the BBC Proms. Another enduring work by Parry is his anthem I was glad which is a fixture at coronations, royal jubilees, and weddings.
Parry was instrumental in recruiting Hans Richter to conduct the premiere of the Enigma Variations. After Elgar shared some sketches with August Jaeger, Jaeger asked Parry to exert his influence with Richter. Parry consented and “ with characteristic generosity, put in his own word for a work as yet unfinished by a man he scarcely knew.” Elgar would not forget Parry’s intercession, contemplating a variation in his honor before abandoning it to avert musical parody. In recompense, he cleverly encoded Parry’s name among the titles of the Enigma Variations. Elgar sketched five different lists of the Variations, a process that yields an assortment of anagrams from proximate title letters. The initials for Variations V (R. P. A.) and VI (Ysobel) are a thinly disguised anagram of “PARY,” a phonetic rendition of Parry. A bridge passage connecting these two movements suggests combining these two titles. A phonetic decryption reflects Elgar’s affinity for inventive spellings that pepper his correspondence.
In the March 1899 issue of The Musical Times, Jaeger exploited the label “Symphonic Variations” to promote Elgar’s Variations for orchestra. There was ample precedent for that nomenclature. In May 1887, Richter introduced London audiences to Dvořák’s Symphonic Variations which enjoyed “an enormous success.” Richter recalled its enthusiastic reception in a letter to the composer, “. . . no new work has ever had such a success as yours.” Dvořák’s Symphonic Variations is based on a part-song for male voices called Huslař, Czech for “The Fiddler.” Impressed by the resounding triumph of Dvořák’s Symphonic Variations, Parry premiered his own Symphonic Variations in E minor in 1897. In his book Parry Before Jerusalem, Bernard Benolial writes that Parry’s Symphonic Variations “is an effective orchestral showpiece” that was greatly “admired by Tovey, Joachim and Elgar . . .” Joachim expressed a high opinion of that work. Jaeger’s strategy to market Elgar’s orchestral project as a set of “Symphonic Variations” recalled past London coups by Dvořák and Parry.
The reference to Joachim’s approval of Parry’s Symphonic Variations in The Musical Times provides three connections to the Enigma Variations. First, both works are a set of orchestral variations. Second, Parry helped coax Richter to premiere the Enigma Variations. Third, Elgar encoded a phonetic version of Parry (“PARY”) using contiguous initials from the titles of Variations V (R. P. A.) and VI (Ysobel) coupled by a bridge passage. Parry sent “a nice rapturous letter” after the successful debut of the Enigma Variations, and Elgar replied in January 1900 with a presentation copy of the engraved score.
Another link between Joachim’s biography and the Enigma Variations is Felix Mendelssohn. As an early German romantic composer, pianist, organist, and conductor, Mendelssohn mentored Joachim and managed the launch of his career. Joachim warmly acknowledges Mendelssohn as “The revered benefactor of my early days, who unceasingly looked after me with fatherly care.” Elgar pays homage to Mendelssohn in Variation XIII by citing a melodic incipit from his concert overture Calm Sea and Prosperous Voyage (Meeresstille und glückliche Fahrt). The overture was inspired by Beethoven’s 1815 cantata with the same title that sets to music the poetry of the German romantic poet Johann Wolfgang von Goethe. Mendelssohn was twelve years old when he first met Goethe in 1821, and they became lifelong friends. Mendelssohn was a guest at Goethe’s home on four occasions between the ages of 12 and 21. The painter Moritz Oppenheim depicts one of those visits in 1830 with Mendelssohn playing piano as Goethe reclines and listens.
Elgar skillfully deployed the Mendelssohn fragments to portray a distant steamer crossing a calm sea. The ostinato figure accompanying those melodic incipits replicates the Enigma Theme’s palindromic rhythm of alternating pairs of eighth notes and quarter notes. Merging the Mendelssohn fragments with the Enigma Theme’s rhythmic structure implies a connection between those ostensibly disparate melodies. Cryptanalysis of those fragments determined they encode the initials “EFB” for the covert principal Theme to the Enigma Variations, Ein feste Burg by Martin Luther. This epic hymn was inspired by the poetry of David recorded in Psalm 46. Goethe’s poem that inspired Mendelssohn’s overture is in German, the same language as the covert Theme’s title. The German pronunciation of Goethe rhymes with Luther, a parallel that subtly hints at the composer of the absent principal Theme.
The first word from Mendelssohn’s overture merges sea (Meeres) with still (stille) to denote a “calm sea” (Meeresstille). It is significant that the words sea and still surface in Psalm 46. The sea is mentioned in the second verse. One of the most quoted passages from Psalm 46 is verse ten, "Be still, and know that I am God." The German word for still is integral to the title of Mendelssohn's overture, Meeresstille und glückliche Fahrt.
Some counter that Elgar’s Roman Catholicism would preclude a Protestant anthem as the hidden melody to the Enigma Variations. The irony of such an objection is that Elgar cites the music of a Lutheran in Variation XIII. Mendelssohn was baptized a Lutheran at the age of seven on March 21, 1816 — the birthday of another famous Lutheran composer, J. S. Bach. Remaining a devout Protestant throughout his life, Mendelssohn composed the Reformation Symphony in 1830 that cites Ein feste Burg in the Finale which is followed by a set of variations. These connections to Luther and his most famous hymn provide a cogent explanation for Elgar’s anomalous Mendelssohn quotations in Variation XIII.
Goethe is another major literary figure in Joachim’s biography who poetry is disclosed by the title of Mendelssohn’s overture cited in Variation XIII. Like his junior friend Mendelssohn, Goethe was born into a Lutheran family and was baptized a Lutheran. His upbringing and education were deeply permeated by Luther’s weltanschauung. In her insightful essay “Luther’s Contributions to German Language and Literature” from the February 1918 issue of Vassar Quarterly, professor emeritus Henriette Struck cogently delineates Goethe’s literary and spiritual heritage from Luther:
All our great men have freely and generously acknowledged their debt to Luther, none with greater appreciation than Goethe. A linguistic genius like Luther, his language recalls Luther’s in its simplicity, its wealth of imagery and folk idiom, its concrete biblical quality. This is especially true of the language of the youthful poet, at a time when art to him meant nature, poetry the expression of a heart overflowing with feeling, when he drank deep at the fountain of folk song and the Bible. This was the time also when the human side of Luther’s Reformation appealed to him more strongly than its spiritual significance. But the youthful enthusiasm of the storm-and-stress poet for Luther’s humanness made room for a profound respect and appreciation of the mature thinker, Goethe, for Luther the Reformer and liberator from intellectual and spiritual thralldom.
Eleven days before his death at age 83, Goethe rendered his final verdict on Luther in a conversation with Eckermann:
We scarcely know how much we owe to Luther and the Reformation in general. We are freed from the fetters of mental narrowness. We have in consequence of our increasing culture, become capable of turning back to the fountain-head and of comprehending Christianity in its purity. We have, again the courage to stand with firm feet on God’s earth and to feel ourselves in our God-endowed human nature. Let mental culture go on advancing, let the natural sciences go on gaining in depth and breadth, and the human mind expand as it may, it will never go beyond the elevation and moral culture of Christianity as it gleams and shines forth in the Gospel!
Goethe is discussed when Joachim visited the poet Tennyson. At that gathering, they “. . . talked of Goethe, especially praising a poem of Goethe’s old age, ‘Der West-ӧstliche[r] Divan,’ . . .” The West-Eastern Diwan is a collection of lyrical poems inspired by the Persian poet Hafez. In his poem Meeresstille und glückliche Fahrt, Goethe describes a calm sea with the exclamation, “Todesstille fürchterlich!” This expression literally translates as “Terrible deathly stillness.” Such vivid language makes it unequivocally clear that Goethe’s “calm sea” symbolizes death. Scott Horton focuses on the dichotomy posed by Goethe’s seemingly benign imagery of a languid sea:
These two short poems were composed at least as early as 1795, when Schiller published them, though perhaps a bit earlier. They were clearly intended as a pairing, and they consistently appeared published together during Goethe’s lifetime. The image they present is an unusual one, but highly evocative of the thinking of the early Romantic period. Normally we would associate danger at sea with a violent storm. But Goethe points to just the opposite: complete quiet. For a ship stuck in a listless latitude, the absence of wind could be every bit as threatening as a storm, though also combined with a greater measure of mystery. The image that Goethe presents is a masterful study in contradictions: the utter peace of the motionless sea provokes fear and alarm. But the fear associated with the calm sea gives way to joy as a mist is dispelled and the wind kicks up. The tension is finally dispelled when land is sighted.
Elgar’s 1899 program note for the Enigma Variations’ premiere intimates he recognized the macabre significance of Goethe’s marine metaphor. In his commentary, Elgar likens the absent principal Theme to a mysterious character in Maurice Maeterlinck’s plays who never appears on stage. That absent character is death. For those who doubt that Elgar understood the mortal symbolism of Goethe’s poem, the contrabass line spells “DEAD” on two occasions in Variation XIII. The first instance occurs in bars 496-497, and the second in bars 528-529.
The note sequence “DEAD” given in the lowest voice of the string choir is immediately followed by three statements of “G-D” by the upper woodwinds. The notes “G-D” produce a phonetic spelling of “God.” Three statements of “G-D” is a Trinitarian gesture. These contiguous note sequences “DEAD G-D” unveils the phrase, “Dead God.” Elgar was raised and educated as a Roman Catholic, believing that Jesus is the incarnation of God who died and rose from the dead. A coded reference to a “Dead God” resonates with other lines of evidence verifying that Jesus is the secret friend memorialized in Variation XIII. One of the most basic hinges on its Roman numerals that encode the initials for Jesus Christ (JC) using a basic number-to-letter key. X represents ten, and III is the number three. The tenth letter is J, and the third is C.
A plaintive solo clarinet performs three Mendelssohn fragments in Variation XIII. The first two quotations are in A-flat major (bars 505-507 and 513-515), and a third in E-flat major (bars 537-539). These three melodic incipits are enclosed by quotation marks. Another Mendelssohn fragment in F minor is played by three trumpets and three trombones but lacks quotations as it departs from the major mode. In all, there are four Mendelssohn fragments with two in A-flat major, one in F minor, and the last in E-flat major. The significance of these discrete key letters — A, F, and E — is that they are an anagram of a well-known musical cryptogram sourced from the initials of the violinist Joachim’s romantic motto “Frei aber einsam” (Free but lonely).
Joachim coined his maxim in 1853 during his early twenties when he was lonely and desired to be married. When his dating prospects improved in 1854, he confided in a letter to Gisela von Arnim that he revised FAE to denote, “für alle Ewigkeit” (For all eternity). Like his friend Schumann, Joachim incorporated cryptograms in some of his compositions (e.g., Abendglocken Op. 5 No. 2). The phrase “frei aber einsam” appears verbatim in an 1846 book by Dr. August Schröder about the German Protestant Reformation and Catholic Reformation. One wonders if Joachim perused that text before his conversion to the Lutheran faith on May 3, 1855. Joachim’s baptismal name was Georg Maria Joseph Joachim in honor of his royal patrons, King George V of Hanover, and his Queen Maria of Saxe-Altenberg. Following in the footsteps of Mendelssohn, Joachim joined the Lutheran church. Joachim’s initials (JJ) and his baptismal name (George) furnish an alias adopted by Luther when he took refuge at Wartburg Castle. To evade Catholic bounty hunters, he dubbed himself Jünker Jӧrg (Knight George) and exchanged his priestly vestments for those of a noble knight. Ten titles in the Enigma Variations consist of initials. Joachim’s second baptismal name (Maria) is the name of Jesus’ mother.
Elgar’s FAE cryptogram in Variation XIII is exquisitely appropriate as Mendelssohn and Joachim were professional colleagues and friends. Elgar confided in a 1912 letter to the English music critic Ernest Newman that the Enigma Theme “. . . expressed when written (in 1898) my sense of the loneliness of the artist . . .” Joachim’s motto and Elgar’s characterization of the Enigma Theme share the mutual theme of loneliness. The FAE cipher in Variation XIII adds Joachim to the list of illustrious persons from the April 1898 biographical sketch who are embodied in the Enigma Variations.
The Mendelssohn fragments are accompanied by an ostinato figure that replays the Enigma Theme’s palindromic rhythm of alternating pairs of eighth notes and quarter notes. This unlikely pairing implies that the Enigma Theme is connected to Mendelssohn and, by extension, J0achim. The Joachim String Quartet was founded in 1869 and only disbanded in 1907 with the death of Joachim. The article cites his “unrivalled gifts as a quartet leader.” The orchestration of bars 1-6 of the Enigma Theme pays homage to Joachim because it is confined to the four voices of the string quartet: Violin I, Violin II, Viola, and Cello. The Enigma Theme’s portrayal of a lonely artist resonates with Joachim’s motto and profession as a quartet leader.
A coded reference to Joachim presents multilayered allusions to Jesus, the anonymous friend memorialized in Variation XIII. Joachim was born Jewish and converted to Christianity when he was baptized a Lutheran in 1855. Joachim’s first name is identical to Saint Joseph, the husband of Mary and stepfather to Jesus. Joseph is associated with Jesus in Roman Catholic prayers. For example, an 1894 Lent Book for a London Roman Catholic Church has the recitation, “Jesus, Joseph, and Mary.”
Joachim played the Messiah Stradivarius in 1891 when it was owned by Robert Crawford. Joachim reminisced about that experience in a letter, “Of course, the sound of the Strad, that unique ‘Messie’, turns up again and again in my memory, with its combined sweetness and grandeur, that struck me so much in hearing it.” The Messiah Stradivarius was originally named “Le Messie” by the French violinist Jean-Delphin Alard, the son-in-law of the renowned Luthier Jean-Baptiste Vuillame. Custom pegs and a tailpiece displaying the nativity of Christ were installed on the violin by Vuillame. Elgar’s coded references to Joachim in the Enigma Variations potently allude to the identity of his anonymous friend. Joachim professed faith in the Messiah, played on the Messiah, and bore the first name of the Messiah’s stepfather.
Joachim made some recordings in 1903 and 1904. His recording of the fourth movement from Bach’s Partita No. 1 confirms that his abilities remained undiminished at the age of 72. Elgar followed in Joachim’s footsteps by recording many of his own compositions that Lani Spahr digitally remastered from Elgar’s collection of test pressings.
The FAE musical cryptogram is the foundation of the F.A.E. Sonata, a four-movement piece about the friendship of four friends. The sonata was written in 1853 as a gift for Joachim by Robert Schumann, Albert Dietrich, and Johannes Brahms. This trio of composers anchored their collaborative project on a motif using the notes “F-A-E” to signify Joachim. Schumann wrote two of the movements, an Intermezzo and a Finale. Like the F.A.E. Sonata, the Enigma Variations also have an Intermezzo (X) and a Finale (XIV). Brahms composed a Scherzo, and Dietrich the opening movement in sonata form. Schumann and Brahms are key figures in the creation of the F-A-E Violin Sonata, and their names figure prominently in Joachim’s profile article.
Dietrich recalled how Schumann proposed the idea of a collaborative work as a humorous gift for Joachim:
Once, when expecting a visit from Joachim, Schumann jokingly proposed our composing a violin sonata all together, and then letting Joachim guess who was the author of each movement. The first movement fell to me, the intermezzo and finale were composed by Schumann, whilst Brahms wrote the scherzo on a theme from my first movement. After having played the sonata with Clara Schumann, Joachim immediately recognized the author of each part.
Schumann wrote the German dedication, “F.A.E.: In Erwartung der Ankunft des verehrten und geliebten Freundes JOSEPH JOACHIM schrieben diese Sonate R.S., J.B., A.D.” The translation reads, “F.A.E.: In expectation of the arrival of their revered and beloved friend, JOSEPH JOACHIM, this sonata was written by R.S., J.B., A.D.” Like the title of his April 1898 biographical sketch, Joachim’s name appears in capital letters. The composers’ initials are reminiscent of ten titles in the Enigma Variations consisting of initials. Joachim performed the F.A.E. Sonata with Clara Schumann at the piano on Friday, October 28, 1853. The musicale became a game in which Joachim was challenged to guess the composer of each movement, a feat he accomplished with ease. Elgar played a similar game with his wife when he first performed the Enigma Theme at the piano on Friday, October 21, 1898. He reimagined the Theme through the personality of various friends and challenged her to guess their identities as he played through different versions.
Schumann held a central place of honor in Elgar’s musical pantheon. In a July 1883 letter to Dr. Buck, he described Schumann as “my ideal!” The violinist William H. Reed recalled that Elgar “ . . . loved Schumann and would discuss his symphonies at great length . . .” Schumann’s fascination with secret codes infiltrated his compositions, a practice adopted by Elgar. A committed Lutheran, Schumann wrote in January 1851, “Devoting one’s strength to religious music remains the supreme goal of an artist.” Elgar’s adherence to Schumann’s dictum is illustrated by such sacred works as The Light of Life (Lux Christi) Op. 29, The Dream of Gerontius Op. 38, The Apostles Op. 49, The Kingdom Op. 51, and Great is the Lord (Psalm XLVIII) Op. 67.
There is a compelling explanation for why Elgar would gravitate toward a famous Lutheran hymn. Schumann drafted “a gigantic oratorio” on Martin Luther and enlisted the poet and critic Richard Pohl as a collaborator. Elgar used the same terminology regarding his sacred oratorio The Apostles in July 1902, describing it as a “GIGANTIC WORX.” Pohl boldly proposed expanding the project into a “Reformation Trilogy” similar to Wagner’s Ring cycle. Similarly, Elgar envisioned his own Gospel Trilogy with The Apostles, The Kingdom, and sketches for The Last Judgement. They exchanged letters for two years before Schumann eventually abandoned the oratorio in 1852. He planned to conclude his Luther oratorio with a rousing performance of Ein feste Burg, the epic hymn cited by Mendelssohn in the fourth movement of his Reformation Symphony. Elgar’s devotion to Schumann would account for his unexpected choice of Luther’s greatest chorale as the covert Theme to the Enigma Variations.
Joachim was one of the first eminent musicians to recognize the brilliance of Brahms, introducing him to Robert and Clara Schumann. Their lifelong friendship was sparked in 1853 by the F-A-E Sonata. As Walter Frisch explains in his book Brahms and His Word:
No friendship did more to reduce Brahms’s loneliness than that with Joseph Joachim, the violinist and composer who was two years his senior (and outlived him by a decade). “Free but lonely” (Frei aber einsam) was Joachim’s personal motto; its initials FAE make a musical pattern which Schumann, Brahms, and Dietrich used in their jointly composed “F. A. E.” Sonata for Violin and Piano. Brahms also employed the theme elsewhere, for example in the first movement of his String Quartet in A Minor, Op. 51, No. 2.
Elgar shared Joachim’s glowing assessment of Brahms as one of the greatest composers of his generation. When his chamber music was performed in Malvern in January 1887, Elgar praised Brahms in the newspaper as “the classical composer par excellence of the present day; one who, free from any provincialism or expression of national dialect (the charming characteristic of lesser men: Gade, Dvořáck, Grieg) writes for the whole world and for all time . . .” Elgar devoted his third Peyton Lecture to an analysis of Brahms’ Symphony No. 3 in F major, a work that uses a musical motif (F, A-flat, F) to represent Brahms’ maxim “Frei aber froh” (Free but happy). Brahms conceived this slogan in response to Joachim’s motto “Frei aber einsam.” Richter conducted the premiere of Brahms’ Third Symphony with the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra in December 1883. Richter would later direct the London premiere of the Enigma Variations in June 1899. Like Schumann, Brahms incorporated cryptograms in his music. This tradition was carried forward by Elgar as shown by the FAE and “DEAD” Notes ciphers in Variation XIII.
The ostinato accompaniment for the F minor Mendelssohn fragment cycles back and forth between the notes F, A-flat, and F in eleven overlapping sequences in bars 519-524. These are the exact same notes used by Brahms to encode his personal motto. Three of four notes in the F-minor Mendelsson incipit (A-flat, G, F, F) yield the anagram”FAF.” The F-minor fragment is the third in the series, a number that corresponds with the Third Symphony where Brahms incorporates his FAF motif. The third Mendelssohn fragment sounds the most ominous because it is the only one in a minor mode. Elgar explained the Enigma Variations “commenced in a spirit of humour & continued in deep serious . . .” The encoding of the “Frei aber froh” acronym in the F minor fragment mingles mirth (froh) with seriousness. The Mendelssohn fragments that encode Joachim's motto contain ancillary ciphers that encodes Brahms’ motto. Joachim and Brahms were friends, a theme at the heart of the Enigma Variations.
There are distinct associations between Luther and Brahms who was born into a Lutheran family. Following the death of his mother in 1865, Brahms composed Ein deutsches Requiem (A German Requiem). Completed three years later in 1868, it consists of seven movements with a duration between 65 and 80 minutes, making it his longest work. He assembled the libretto from the German Luther Bible. A German Requiem won critical acclaim and made Brahms famous by 1870. Like Mendelssohn, Brahms quotes Luther in a major symphonic work. Brahms turned again to Luther’s translation of the Bible to assemble his text for Vier ernste Gesänge (Four Serious Songs), his last song cycle. His friend Clara Schumann suffered a stroke on March 26, 1896. In expectation of her death, Brahms completed Four Serious Songs by his birthday on May 7, 1896. Clara died less than two weeks later on May 20.
Joachim refers to Schumann as, “My dear revered friend, and so kind to me, whose lofty character I greatly admired.” Schumann used the identical expression when he called Joachim a “revered friend” in the dedication to the F.A.E. Sonata. The article further mentions Joachim’s prized copy of Schumann’s autograph score of the Symphony No. 4 in D minor. Schumann wrote the following inscription:
Sketched in the year 1841; newly orchestrated in the year 1853. When the first strains of this Symphony were conceived Joseph Joachim was then a little fellow. Since then the Symphony, and still more the little fellow, has grown, wherefore I dedicate it to him—though in secret.ROBERT SCHUMANN.Düsseldorf, December 23, 1853.
Schumann’s confidential dedication of a symphonic work to Joachim is analogous to the anonymous dedicatee of Variation XIII. In that enigmatic movement, Joachim’s motto is cleverly encoded by the keys of the Mendelssohn fragments.
Clarinet Solo “FAE” Anagrams
The discovery of the FAE music cryptogram in Variation XIII is bolstered by three-note melodic sequences performed by the solo clarinet on four occasions in that movement. The Romanza beings in bar 494 with the solo clarinet playing the melody notes “G-D-E” in concert or sounding pitch. The B-flat clarinet is a transposing instrument, making these notes appear on the score a whole step higher as A, E, and F-sharp. Remarkably, the note letters “AEF” are an anagram of “FAE.” This melodic sequence is revisited three more times by the clarinet in bars 500, 526, and 532. The musical anagram “AEF” effectively camouflages the solution “FAE '' which requires repositioning the last letter first to make out the decryption.
Italian Titles “FAE” Anagrams
Variation XIII encodes the musical cryptogram FAE in five different ways. The first is through the keys of the Mendelssohn quotations. The remaining four instances consist of a three-note melodic anagram played by the solo clarinet in bars 494, 500, 526, and 532. There is yet another way in which Elgar enciphers Joachim’s motto in the Enigma Variations that centers on a distinct subgroup of four Italian titles: Enigma, Intermezzo, Romanza, and Finale. When treated as an acrostic anagram, these Italian titles may be rearranged to spell “FREI,” the first word from Joachim’s motto. Remarkably, two of the titles from this subgroup match those Schumann contributed to the F. A. E. Sonata, namely an Intermezzo and a Finale.
The second word (aber) is rendered in Italian as “ma” using the middle letters of Romanza and Finale. The last letters of these four Italian titles are a phonetic telestich of einsam as “eanzam.” The cross formation of this third word powerfully alludes to the secret friend’s lonely fate at Calvary. The word order of Joachim’s motto is faithfully preserved by this elegant series of acrostic, mesostich, and telestich anagrams. Elgar’s tactic of employing multiple languages with some phonetic spellings substantially complicates the cipher.
The FAE musical cipher in the Mendelssohn fragments of Variation XIII is extraordinary for two reasons. First, acclaimed scholars like Julian Rushton failed to detect something so transparently concealed. This oversight was fueled by Rushton’s stubborn insistence that the Enigma Variations contain no cryptograms or counterpoints. Second, the FAE cipher verifies that Elgar inserted a familiar musical cryptogram in Variation XIII. This enhances the likelihood of other cryptograms in the Enigma Variations, something amply documented in this essay.
The editors of the Elgar Complete Edition of the Enigma Variations blithely deny the likelihood of any covert counterpoints or 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 the obligation to probe for ciphers or cryptograms. Proponents of such dumb 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, transmogrifying mythconceptions into received opinion. The diverse yet complementary FAE ciphers in the Enigma Variations verify mainstream Elgar scholars are hugely misguided.
Stars over the Sea
Joachim’s biography recounts a visit with the poet Alfred Tennyson. They praised Goethe’s poetry at that meeting before Tennyson recited his popular poem “The Revenge.” After reading the line, “And the sun went down, and the stars came out far / over the summer sea,” Tennyson inquired, “Could you do that on your violin?” Talk of Goethe before reciting poetry about stars over the sea is evocative of the seascape in Variation XIII, a marine movement with a cryptic title consisting of stars. In lieu of initials on the Master Score, Elgar wrote three six-pointed stars as asterisks.
Elgar depicts a calm sea in Variation XIII by citing a melodic incipit from Mendelssohn’s Calm Sea and Prosperous Voyage, an overture inspired by Goethe’s poetry. What Tennyson asked Joachim to portray on the violin, Elgar dexterously depicts in Variation XIII. The hexegrammic star is the Star of David. Elgar chose this particular symbol because one of the titles for Jesus is the Son of David. The emblematic asterisks on the master and published scores of Variation XIII symbolically allude to the identity of Elgar’s secret friend honored in other works like The Light of Life (Lux Christi), The Dream of Gerontius, The Apostles, and The Kingdom.
During one of Mendelssohn’s visits to his residence, Goethe confided, “You are my David, and if I am ever ill and sad, you must banish my bad dreams by your playing; I will never throw my spear at you, as Saul did.” Ever the consummate wordsmith, Goethe chose his words wisely. Like King David, Mendelssohn was a gifted Jewish musician and composer. Largely attributed to David, the Psalms inspired Mendelssohn throughout his career. He produced settings of Psalm 2, 5, 22, 24, 31, 42, 43, 91, 93, 98, 100, 114, and 115. Although it constitutes his most important genre, Mendelssohn’s sacred music is largely neglected and rarely performed. As Professor R. Larry Todd so eloquently explains:
Owing mainly to changes in music fashion Mendelssohn’s impressive output of psalm settings, motets, cantatas, occasional liturgical pieces and the Lobgesang (Hymn of Praise); works that figured so prominently in the European music life of the mid to late 1800s are either largely forgotten or rarely performed. In fact, around the early part of the twentieth century many musicologists including eminent German musicologist Hermann Kretzschmar (1848-1924) considered Mendelssohn’s sacred choral music to be the most important genre of his broad output.
In Psalm 42 Op. 42, Mendelssohn sets Martin Luther’s translation for soloists, mixed choir, and orchestra. Mendelssohn deemed this composition “my best sacred piece” and a work “ . . . I hold in greater regard than most of my other compositions.” Mendelssohn was an avid psalmist who incorporated the lyrics and melodies of Luther’s great hymns in his compositions. These insights present varied connections between the covert Theme and the conspicuous Mendelssohn quotations in Variation XIII.
In his perceptive essay ‘Now He Belongs to the Big Word’: The Historical Elgar, Carl Newton encapsulates Elgar’s view of the Romantic artist in perpetual conflict with vulgar society:
A further factor of major significance is that Elgar was strongly influenced by the second stage of the Romantic Movement. This I suspect to have been mediated through his mother, who grew up at precisely the time when the influence of Byron and Wordsworth was at its height. Her role in introducing her son to the works of Longfellow is well documented. The concept of the Romantic artist as a lone figure battling against a hostile and philistine society was almost obsessively acted out by Elgar throughout his life, as was that other key notion, the primacy of the creative artists’s psyche and personal feelings over all social considerations.
The word “philistine” originates from the Biblical episode about a youthful David striking down the giant Goliath, a Philistine champion who mocked the God of Israel. Goethe likened Mendelssohn to King David. Elgar’s ideal composer, Schumann, is also linked to David. Schumann founded the Davidsbündler (League of David), a literary society that defended contemporary music against its critics. Remarkably, the second initial from the title of Variation II (H. D. S-P.) stands for the name David.
Tennyson’s poem “The Revenge” is a ballad about the Battle of Flores in 1591. The hero of that fateful naval engagement is Sir Richard Grenville, the captain of the HMS Revenge. There is a literary link between Tennyson’s poem and the first ending to the Enigma Variations. At the end of the original Finale, Elgar penned a paraphrase from Torquato Tasso’s poem La Gerusalemme liberata (Jerusalem Delivered). It appears on the Master Score as “‘Bramo assai, poco spero, nulla chieggio’ (sic, 1595) [Tasso]”.
Elgar provides the translation in the first person on the reverso as, “I essay much, I hope little, I ask nothing.” The original passage reads, “Brama assai, poco spera, e nulla chiede.” The literal translation is, “He desires much, hopes little, and asks for nothing.” The source of the modified Tasso fragment was discovered by Geoffrey Hodgkins while browsing through one of Elgar’s large account books. As he flipped through the pages, he encountered the following entry:
‘Bramo assai, poco spero, nulla chieggio’ Tasso
See ‘Sir Rich Grenville’ 15 –
“Mrs. Browning” is the poet Elizabeth Barret Browning. She cites the original Tasso fragment at the beginning of her book An Essay on Mind, with Other Poems. “Sir Rich Grenville” refers to a 1595 book by Gervase Markham called The Most Honorable Tragedie of Sir Richard Grinuile, Knight. Markham also published books on the Passion and Resurrection of Jesus. The title page displays the same Tasso paraphrase used by Elgar at the end of the original Finale to the Enigma Variations. The source of Elgar’s Tasso paraphrase is a book about the exploits of Sir Richard Grenville, the captain of the HMS Revenge. Elgar was actively pursuing a symphony in honor of General Gordon, a protestant martyred at Khartoum by Mahdist forces, before he abruptly diverted his full attention to the Enigma Variations. Numerous parallels between Gordon and Grenville account for Elgar’s fascination with these war heroes who died opposing overwhelming odds.
According to Ian Dawson in Who’s Who in British History, Grenville was “undeviatingly protestant.” Tennyson’s poem referenced in Joachim’s biographical sketch is named after that renowned English galleon with 46 guns built in 1577. In Joachim's sketch, Tennyson read aloud his poem The Revenge, a ballad about Grenville and his heroic delaying action to save the fleet at the Battle of Flores. This establishes a multifaceted literary connection between Joachim's biographical sketch and the original ending to the Enigma Variations.
Like Grenville, Hubert Parry was an avid sailor who was elected to the Royal Yacht Squadron in 1907. He enjoyed cruising on his 21-ton yawl The Latois, and the 61-ton yacht The Wanderer. One of his sailing companions was Dr. Sinclair, the Hereford Cathedral organist and friend depicted by Elgar in Variation XI. Sinclair’s profession centered on the performance of sacred works and Protestant hymns such as A Mighty Fortress. At the Three Choirs Festival in 1897, Sinclair directed a performance of Bach’s cantata A Stronghold Sure, a set of variations based on Ein feste Burg. This work was followed by Parry’s newly minted Magnificat with Latin text. Elgar dedicated his Te Deum and Benedictus to Sinclair, a work that premiered at that same festival. Within twelve months of observing his friend conduct Bach’s Ein feste Burg, Elgar began composing the Enigma Variations in October 1898.
There is a subtle link between the title Jerusalem Delivered and Variation XIII. Its cryptic title of three hexagrammic stars duplicate the Star of David. 1 Chronicles 4:5-6 records how King David led the Israelites in the siege and capture of Jerusalem from the Jebusites. For this reason, Jerusalem is known as the City of David. The Chronicler also calls it the “Fortress of Zion.” This coincides with the second word of the title Ein feste Burg which means fortress. Psalm 46 by King David moved Luther to write his most famous hymn. The name “David” is also linked to Joachim’s musical education. While in Leipzig, he consulted with Ferdinand David who heavily influenced his repertoire and interest in chamber music.
The minibiography mentions Joachim visiting Straussberg to convene with Franz Liszt, Hans von Bülow, and Richard Wagner. At this meeting, Wagner read the libretto to his cycle of four operas called Der Ring des Nibelungen. Joachim recalled, “Wagner took a great fancy to me,” and offered to serve in the premiere of The Ring. Elgar took a great fancy to Wagner. Barry Millington observes that Wagner’s “ . . . influence on the harmonic language of composers such as Parry, Stanford and Elgar is self-evident.” A profession of Elgar’s Wagnerian faith appears is on his piano-vocal score of Tristan und Isolde where he inscribed, “This Book contains the Height,—the Depth,—the Breadth,—the Sweetness,—the Sorrow,—the Best and the whole of the Best of This world and the Next.”
Peter Dennison posits, “The single most influential composer on Elgar’s formative years and maturity was Wagner.” Much of Elgar’s musical apprenticeship was devoted to an immersive study of Wagner’s music. Between 1876 to 1902, he analyzed Wagner’s orchestration, avant-garde harmonies, and elaborate system of leitmotifs. His first documented project was an arrangement of the overture to Der fliegende Holländer (The Flying Dutchman) for the Worcester Glee Club in October 1876. Some of Elgar’s early compositions embed and embellish Wagnerian leitmotifs. He refashioned the leitmotif for Siegfried’s Second Horn Call in the opera Götterdämmerung to form the opening phrase of Chanson de Nuit, a work for violin and piano. During this period, Elgar regularly attended London concerts led by Hans Richter and August Manns where Wagner’s music dominated the programs. As a zealous Wagnerian, Elgar made the pilgrimage to Germany numerous times to bask in the mythical romanticism of Wagner’s operas at Bayreuth and other venues. His protracted efforts culminated in 1900 with The Dream of Gerontius, a numinous homage to Wagner’s final opera Parsifal.
Elgar’s choice of the title “Enigma” for his sphinxian Theme may have been swayed by articles and books about Wagner. T. L. Southgate uses the word “enigma” to characterize Wagner in his article “More About Wagner” from the March 25, 1892, edition of The Musical News. The article begins:
What may be termed the Wagner literature increases, and as time goes on is likely still to increase. A daring composer, who put forth such novel theories, who wrote such remarkable music, and possessed such a marked personality, will certainly engage the attention of the musical world for many a year to come. Despite all that has been written about him, Wagner’s character is still an enigma; the Wagner of one period is not always the Wagner of another.
Houston Stewart Chamberlain utilizes the word “enigma” six times in his 1897 biography Wagner. When writing about Parsifal, Chamberlain calls Wagner an “enigma” and likens him to Luther:
We feel towards the works of a Shakespeare, a Beethoven, or a Wagner as towards a miracle; and Wagner testifies that he himself stood before a completed art-work of his own as before an enigma (R. 65). That this religious side of his being found more expression in the old man living away from the world, than it did when he was young and still fighting his way through the midmost throng of battle, is natural. A sort of transfiguration takes place here. The assertion that Wagner became religious in his old age can only provoke a smile. When in his s0-called revolutionary time he violently attacked a degenerate church, he proved by so doing his deep “religiousness” ; St. Francis, Luther, and Savonarola did the same.
Wagner’s impact on the Enigma Variations is apparent in its orchestration, melodic and harmonic language, the melodic incipits in Variation XIII that duplicate Senta’s redemption motive from Der fliegende Holländer, and the revised ending modeled closely after the closing cadence from the overture that same opera. Elgar cites Mendelssohn’s overture to sonically portray a marine atmosphere, the same that characterizes the seafaring plight of Wagner’s Dutchman. These Wagnerian features in the Enigma Variations hint that Wagner also cites the covert Theme in one of his symphonic works. This hunch is confirmed by quotations from Ein feste Burg in Wagner’s Kaisermarsch, a work performed dozens of times at Richter concerts attended by Elgar. By quoting a melodic incipit used by Mendelssohn and Wagner in symphonic overtures, Elgar hints by imitation that the hidden melody is also quoted by both of those great artists. Mendelssohn quotes Ein feste Burg in his Reformation Symphony, and Wagner cites the same theme in his Kaisermarsch.
An “Elegiac” Connection
Joachim’s biographical sketch dwells on the conferment of an honorary Doctor of Music degree by Cambridge University in March 1877. For that solemn occasion, he conducted a performance of his Elegiac Overture by the Cambridge University Musical Society. Joachim composed the overture in 1856 in memory of the German romantic poet Heinrich von Kleist, a contemporary of Goethe and Schiller. Kleist died tragically in 1811 when he committed suicide with a terminally ill woman. Premiered in 1857 and published in 1878, the overture reflects Joachim’s retreat from Franz Liszt with its classical Beethovian orchestration and textures.
There are some unmistakable parallels between Joachim’s Elegiac Overture and the Enigma Variations. The overture’s time signature (4/4) and key signature (G minor) match those for the Enigma Theme. The overture’s opus number (13) corresponds to the movement (XIII), where Joachim’s “FAE” acronym is encoded by the Mendelssohn fragments. The overture begins with a forte G minor chord in bar 1 that descrescendos to piano in bar 2. The principal B-flat clarinet introduces the theme in bar 3 with a seven-bar solo phrase that is answered by the bassoons and violas in bar 9 before the first violins take up the theme in bar 10. This inaugural clarinet solo shares some similarities with those in Variation XIII that open with the Mendelssohn quotations. Specifically, each solo consists of a seven-bar phrase marked espressivo with a quiet dynamic (p, pp, or PPP).
The “Elegiac” title of Joachim’s overture furnishes a literary link to the extended Finale of the Enigma Variations. Following the June 1899 premiere of the Enigma Variations, Richter and Jaeger asked Elgar to expand the Finale to a more suitable length. Elgar initially resisted this suggestion. In a letter dated June 30, 1899, he wrote to Jaeger, “You won’t frighten me into writing a logically developed movement where I don’t want one by quoting other people! Selah!” The word “Selah” appears 71 times in the Psalms, a Hebrew word that denotes the end of a section punctuated by a musical interlude. Elgar soon relented and appended 96 bars to Variation XIV in July 1899. On the Master Score of his expanded Finale, Elgar cites the beginning of stanza XIV from Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s poem Elegiac Verse: “Great is the art of beginning, but greater the art is of ending.” He ironically omits the ending of that stanza, “Many a poem is mired by superfluous verse.” The stanza number (XIV) is a precise match with the Roman numerals for Elgar’s movement. Elegiac Verse was published posthumously in 1882, the year of Longfellow’s death, as “Part II Ultima Thule” of his book In the Harbor. The title of Longfellow’s book presents a marine metaphor that resonates with the sonic imagery of a calm sea in Variation XIII.
The article closes with Joachim being introduced by the popular Anglican priest W. H. Brookfield to Thomas Carlyle (1795–1881). Carlyle was a respected Scottish philosopher, historian, and essayist. After meeting at Chelsea House, Carlyle invited Joachim on his morning “constitutional” through Hyde Park.
During their long walk, Carlyle spoke “incessantly about Germany, the Kings of Prussia, Moltke, Bismarck . . .” and the 1870 Franco-Prussian War. Wagner composed his Kaisermarsch (Imperial March) in 1871 to commemorate Prussia’s victory in that conflict. That martial work cites the beginning and ending phrases of Luther’s hymn Ein feste Burg. Carlyle’s 1831 essay Luther’s Psalm presents his popular translation of Ein feste Burg with the title A Safe Stronghold our God is still. The anecdote about Carlyle’s Teutonic soliloquy in Joachim’s retrospective presents a nuanced connection to the covert principal Theme of the Enigma Variations. Joachim attempted to wade into Carlyle’s flood of commentary by innocently inquiring if Carlyle knew Sterndale Bennett. Carlyle replied rather impertinently, “No, I did not care generally for musicians.” He quipped, “They are a wind-baggy sort of people.”
In a letter dated October 24, 1898, Elgar explained to Jaeger his novel symphonic project about his friends:
Since I’ve been back I have sketched a set of Variations (orkestry) on an original theme: the Variations have amused me because I’ve labeled ‘em with the nicknames of my particular friends—you are Nimrod. That is to say I’ve written the variations each one to represent the mood of the ‘party’—I’ve liked to imagine the ‘party’ writing the var: him (or her) self & have written what I think they would have written—if they were asses enough to compose – it’s a quaint idea & the result is amusing to those behind the scenes & won’t affect the hearer who ‘nose nuffin’. What think you?
The pseudonym Nimrod is a multipronged wordplay on Jaeger’s German name and the covert Theme’s title. In German, the word Jaeger means “hunter.” Genesis 10:9 describes Nimrod as “. . . a mighty hunter before the Lord.” That biblical description supplies the first two words in order from the covert Theme’s title: A Mighty Fortress. According to the Genesis account, Nimrod was the architect and builder of fortress cities. A medieval castle on the southern slopes of Mount Hermon in the Holy Land is called Nimrod Fortress. Characterizations of Nimrod as “a mighty hunter” and the architect of fortress cities may be culled together to assemble the hidden theme’s title: A Mighty Fortress. Jaeger’s name intimates the need to convert that solution into German as Ein feste Burg.
Extra-biblical tradition holds that Nimrod commissioned the Tower of Babel. Remarkably, one English translation of Ein feste Burg is A Strong Tower. That three-word title with twelve letters is enciphered by the three Mendelssohn quotations with twelve notes via a musical Polybius cipher. That particular cipher is not an isolated case as there is also another at the beginning of the Enigma Theme. Its opening six measures with twenty-four melody notes encipher as an anagram the six-word German title with twenty-four letters Ein feste Burg ist unser Gott. These three and six-word titles for the covert Theme encoded by two distinct Polybius ciphers furnish a coded form of 36, the opus number for the Enigma Variations.
Why would Elgar refer to his friends as asses to characterize their varied attempts at composition? A cursory explanation would be to imply the stubbornness needed to realize a musical idea. A more sophisticated analysis ties that pejorative to the covert Theme’s title via wordplay, one of Elgar’s favorite diversions. While literally rendered as A Mighty Fortress, Ein feste Burg was famously translated by Carlyle as A Safe Stronghold. The initials for A Safe Stronghold spell ass. By calling his friends asses, Elgar made them the butt of a double entendre that supplies the initials for the secret melody. This coded use of initials is consistent with the prevalence of initials as titles for the Enigma Variations.
The title for Carlyle’s 1831 essay “Luther’s Psalm” is reminiscent of two acrostic anagrams in the Enigma Variations. In the first bar of the Enigma Theme, the discrete performance directions form an acrostic anagram of “EE’s Psalm.” The two Es are the initials for Edward Elgar. The cryptogram has precisely 46 characters, a sum that implicates Psalm 46, commonly referred to as Luther’s Psalm.
There is a similar acrostic anagram in bar 465, the first measure in Variation XII. The performance directions for the principal cello staff generate the acrostic anagram “Es Psalm.”
Elgar’s wife identifies him in her diary using the initial “E.” This insight permits interpreting “Es” in its possessive form as “E’s.” Consequently, “Es Psalm” may be read as “E’s Psalm” or “Elgar’s Psalm.” This acrostic anagram is obtained from four performance directions on the solo cello staff with a total of six words. The numbers four and six suggest 46, the chapter from the Psalms that motivated Martin Luther to write his rousing hymn Ein feste Burg. The number 46 is also intimated by the position of this cipher in bar 465, a number that begins with 46. This cryptogram is labeled the Rehearsal 52 Cello Solo Psalm 46 Cipher.
|Ludwig van Beethoven rendered by Hadi Karimi|
Ludwig van Beethoven is a pivotal figure in Joachim’s history. For his 1844 London debut, he performed Beethoven’s Violin Concerto in D. Joachim’s original cadenzas are de rigueur. The biographical sketch concludes with Sir George Grove’s praise for Joachim’s fealty to the composer’s intentions, singling out Bach and Beethoven. As he explains, “When one hears him play the Beethoven Concerto, or a Bach solo, or anything else, it is obvious that the player’s desire all through has been to play the piece as nearly as possible as Beethoven or Bach wanted it.” The Joachim String Quartet popularized Beethoven’s late string quartets. The 50th anniversary of Joachim’s European debut was celebrated in March 1889 in Berlin. At that extravaganza, it was announced that Beethoven’s home in Bonn would become a museum and that Joachim would serve as the first honorary president of the Beethoven-Haus Society. Joachim was so at home in the music of Beethoven that he was made the first president of the Beethoven House Society.
No one held Beethoven in higher esteem than Elgar. In a lecture at the University of Birmingham he confessed, “When I see one of my own works by the side of, say, the Fifth Symphony [of Beethoven], I feel like a tinker may do when surveying the Forth Bridge . . .” Elgar owed a singular debt of gratitude to Beethoven’s example. In September 1898 when Elgar vowed to abandon composition, his friend Jaeger invoked the plight of Beethoven to dissuade him. Jaeger condemned Elgar’s ingratitude for his precious musical gift, summoning the towering model of Beethoven who persisted in pouring forth a stream of masterpieces in the face of seemingly insurmountable obstacles, most remarkably his deafness.
In gratitude for Jaeger’s scathing encouragement that spurred him to compose one of his most celebrated symphonic works, Elgar dedicated the elegiac Variation XI (Nimrod) to his faithful friend and champion at Novello. For a set of pianola rolls published in 1929, Elgar explained Variation IX was “the record of a long summer evening talk, when my friend discoursed eloquently on the slow movements of Beethoven . . . it will be noticed that the opening bars are made to suggest the slow movement of the Eighth Sonata (Pathétique).” There is a robust connection between Beethoven and Nimrod, for both were giants in their respective fields. Beethoven composed his cantata Meeresstille und Glückliche Fahrt Op. 112 in 1815 and dedicated it to Goethe whom he met in 1812. The cantata was a potent stimulant for Mendelssohn’s 1828 overture by the same name and in the same key of D major. Goethe inspired Beethoven, who in turn influenced Mendelssohn. These three German romantics overshadow Elgar’s seafaring Romanza.
Joachim’s biographical sketch discusses his interpretive mastery of Bach. Following the stellar example of Mendelssohn, Joachim became an active promoter of Bach’s music. The single greatest influence on the German School of composition is arguably Johann Sebastian Bach. Wagner was an avid Bachian as recounted in 1867 by his protégé, the conductor Hans Richter:
We were seated at the piano, Wagner and I, playing a duet version of Bach’s preludes and fugues from the Well-Tempered Clavier. My friend! That wasn’t the old pedant, the father of fugue and counterpoint! No, that was the prototype of Beethoven’s C minor symphony [No. 5], the work of the greatest composer, the founder of German music. It sounded quite different from what I was used to hearing. Oh, this Wagner! It is impossible to describe what demonic power lies in these pieces when they are interpreted by my noble master. When we got to the C sharp minor Fantasy I could restrain myself no longer, the tears poured from my eyes. Wagner too was quite moved by the power of Bach’s sounds. Time and again he called out ‘he is the greatest master’.
Wagner’s indebtedness to Bach far exceeds the vast sums he pilfered from creditors who hounded him from Riga to Paris during his rise to fame. A 1910 edition of The Encyclopædia Britannica recounts Bach’s priceless musical bequest to Wagner:
Without the example of Bach, Wagner’s schemes of Leitmotif would never in his lifetime have become woven into that close polyphonic texture which secures for his music a flow as continuous as that as drama itself:—and ultimately connected with this is the whole subject of Wagner’s harmonization, which in many of its boldest characteristics was foreshadowed by Bach.
Like Wagner whom he lionized, Elgar was another heir of Bach’s contrapuntal legacy. Buckley conveys Elgar’s views in his official 1905 biography:
Questioned as to his actual feeling for the perpetuation of the fugal style, he rose and walked rapidly about, as is his custom when interested. “It has been done,” he said. “Bach has done it. No man has greater reverence for Bach than I. I play three or four preludes and fugues from the ‘Well-tempered Klavier every day.’
Bach casts a long shadow over the Enigma Variations as it is a work of masterful counterpoint. Buckley records Elgar’s description of his contrapuntal riddle:
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.
This contemporaneous biography was promulgated during Elgar’s lifetime, and it is significant that he never disputed or disavowed any part of it. Dora Powell confirmed the biography was sanctioned by the composer. Buckley could not have offered such intimate details as quotations, anecdotes, personal photographs, and copies of unpublished scores without Elgar’s extensive involvement. As Buckley explains in his introduction, “They sayings of Elgar are recorded in the actual words addressed directly to the writer, and upon these I rely to give the book an interest it would not otherwise possess.” Elgar’s cooperation is established by a facsimile of a handwritten autographed missive in German and English, “Ich habe nicht vergessen / Home on Mon-day + then!” The translation reads, “I did not forget / Home on Monday and then!” Those who naively insist that the Enigma Theme is not a counterpoint to a famous tune may only do so at the expense of their integrity, for such a misconception flagrantly contradicts Elgar’s published words.
This overview uncovered some surprising parallels between the Enigma Variations and Joachim’s biographical sketch in the April 1898 issue of The Musical Times. Some are overt while the vast majority are concealed behind a curtain of cryptograms and tangential references. Joachim vigorously applauded the Symphonic Variations by Hubert Parry, a work equally respected by Elgar. Its favorable public reception surely sparked Elgar’s interest in producing his own orchestral Variations. Jaeger advertised the Enigma Variations under the rubric “Symphonic Variations” in The Musical Times, tying it with past successes by Dvořák and Parry. Parry is connected to the Enigma Variations in further ways. At Jaeger’s behest, Parry lobbied Richter to conduct the premiere. In gratitude, Elgar considered adding a sketch of Parry. In lieu of a variation, Elgar enciphered a phonetic version of Parry’s name (PARY) as an acrostic anagram using the titles of V (R. P. A.) and VI (Ysobel), two movements joined by a bridge passage.
Joachim was mentored by Mendelssohn, a composer cited in Variation XIII. In that movement, a solo clarinet performs a melodic incipit from Mendelssohn’s Meeresstille und glückliche Fahrt, an overture inspired by Goethe’s poetry and Beethoven’s 1815 setting for chorus and orchestra. Goethe, Beethoven and Mendelssohn are mentioned in Joachim’s profile article. The keys of the Mendelssohn quotations are an anagram of “FAE,” the acronym of Joachim’s romantic motto “Frei aber einsam” (Free but lonely). It is contextually fitting that this maxim is encoded by the Mendelssohn fragments. Joachim’s motto corresponds with Elgar’s statement that the Enigma Theme “expressed when written (1898) my sense of the loneliness of the artist . . .” Other ciphers that encode “FAE” in the Enigma Variations verify that the Mendelssohn fragments are not an isolated cryptogram.
Schumann, Brahms, and Dietrich collaborated in 1853 to write the F-A-E Sonata for violin and piano as an offering of mutual friendship to Joachim. The work is built on a melodic motif that represents Joachim’s motto. Dietrich wrote the first movement, Brahms composed a Scherzo, and Schumann provided an Intermezzo and the Finale. Remarkably, the Enigma Variations also have an Intermezzo (X) and a Finale (XIV). Joachim’s friendship with Schumann and Brahms is emphasized in the article. When Joachim performed the F-A-E Sonata at the Schumann household, he was playfully challenged to guess the author of each movement. Elgar engaged in a similar game when he played variants of the Enigma Theme at the piano and challenged his wife to guess which friends were being represented. The friends who wrote the F-A-E Sonata identified themselves by their initials, a convention used by Elgar for ten titles in the Enigma Variations. Schumann, Brahms, and Joachim used ciphers in their music, a technique continued by Elgar as shown by scores of cryptograms in the Enigma Variations.
Schumann inscribed a secret dedication to Joachim on his autographed copy of the Symphony No. 4, something analogous to Variation XIII with its anonymous dedication to Jesus. Joachim’s Lutheran conversion in May 1855 presents clues about Elgar’s secret friend and the composer of the hidden melody. Joachim’s initials (JJ) match those of the alias “Jünker Jӧrg” used by Luther while hiding out at Wartburg Castle. His first baptismal name (Georg) is a variant of Jӧrg, and the second (Maria) is the name of Christ’s mother. Joachim played the Messiah Stradivarius in 1891.
When Joachim visited Tennyson, they spoke warmly of Goethe before the poet regaled him with a reading of his war ballad “The Revenge.” Tennyson paused after reading a passage about stars over the sea and asked Joachim if he could paint that canvass on his violin. Speaking about Goethe before reading a passage about stars above the sea is reminiscent of Variation XIII, a movement with a starry title that portrays the sea by citing a melodic fragment from an overture named after Goethe’s poem Meeresstille und glückliche Fahrt. “The Revenge” commemorates the captain of the HMS Revenge, Sir Grenville, and his heroic death at the naval Battle of Flores. There is a link between Grenville and Elgar’s musical self-portrait in Variation XIV. At the end of the original Finale, he wrote a six-word Italian paraphrase from Tasso’s Jerusalem Delivered. Elgar sourced the Tasso paraphrase from a 1595 book about Grenville, an unwavering protestant who died in combat like General Gordon. Grenville commanded a 46-gun galleon, a sum that matches the chapter from the psalms that inspired Luther to compose Ein feste Burg.
Joachim’s Elegiac Overture was performed when he received an honorary doctorate at Cambridge University in March 1877. After Elgar added 96 bars to Variation XIV in July 1899, he wrote a passage from Longfellow’s poem Elegiac Verse. The titles of Joachim’s overture and Longfellow’s poem share the word Elegiac. The opus number of Joachim’s Elegiac Overture is 13, the equivalent of the Roman numerals of the movement where the Mendelssohn fragments encode his FAE cryptogram. The Elegiac Overture opens with a clarinet solo that shares discernible similarities with those in Variation XIII. Elgar received an honorary Doctor of Music degree from Cambridge in November 1900.
The sketch highlights Joachim’s friendship with Wagner, a composer who exerted a profound impact on Elgar’s compositional output. The Enigma Variations reflect Wagner’s influence in its orchestration, harmonic and melodic language. The Mendelssohn quotations in Variation XIII duplicate Senta’s redemption motive from Der fliegende Holländer. This is consistent with some of Elgar’s earlier works that also incorporate leitmotifs from Wagner’s operas. The ending to the extended Finale nearly resembles the overture to that same opera. Elgar’s earliest known study of Wagner’s music is an arrangement of The Flying Dutchman overture for the Worcester Glee Club in October 1876. Striking parallels between the Enigma Variations and Der fliegende Holländer appear autobiographical as they hearken back to Elgar’s teenage analysis of that overture.
Through overt and covert allusions in the Enigma Variations to Bach, Brahms, Goethe, Mendelssohn, Longfellow, and Wagner, Elgar cleverly hints at something all of these great artists have in common — they cite Luther. Bach, Mendelssohn, and Wagner quote Ein feste Burg in various works. Brahms quotes the Luther Bible in A German Requiem and Four Serious Songs. Goethe quotes and praises Luther’s translation of the Bible in his correspondence and publications. Longfellow cites Ein feste Burg in Hyperion and Luther’s hideout at Wartburg Castle. In Christus: A Mystery, Longfellow penned a Second Interlude about Martin Luther hiding out at Wartburg Castle. In that poem, Longfellow mingles his poetry with each stanza of Ein feste Burg in a glowing tribute to the great German Reformer.
The article concludes with Rev. Brookfield introducing Joachim to Thomas Carlyle who escorts him on a morning stroll through Hyde Park. During their brisk walk, Carlyle spoke incessantly about German history and literature before callously voicing disdain for musicians. Carlyle is remembered for his translation of Ein feste Burg in his 1831 essay “Luther’s Psalm.” That title closely resembles solutions to two ciphers in the Enigma Variations. Elgar encodes “EE’s Psalm” as an acrostic anagram from discrete performance directions in the first bar of the Enigma Theme. 46 characters in that cryptogram pinpoint Psalm 46, a chapter called Luther’s Psalm. The cello solo’s performance directions at the beginning of Variation XII are an acrostic anagram of “E’s Psalm.”
The discovery of so many facets of Joachim’s history in the Enigma Variations provides compelling evidence that his biographical sketch served as a potent stimulus for Elgar. Overt references to Mendelssohn, Goethe, Longfellow’s Elegiac Verse, the poem and overture Meeresstille und glückliche Fahrt are accompanied by covert allusions to Bach, Beethoven, Brahms, Carlyle, David, Dietrich, the Elegiac Overture, Ein feste Burg, Der fliegende Holländer, Grenville, Jesus, Joachim, his motto F.A.E., the Kaisermarsch, Luther, Markham, Parry, Psalm 46, Senta’s Redemption motive, Schumann, Symphonic Variations, and Wagner. The Enigma Variations is a “homage-collage” to Joachim and proclaim Elgar’s fealty to German romanticism. To learn more about the secrets of the Enigma Variations, read my free eBook Elgar’s Enigmas Exposed.
Hello Mr. Padgett, I believe I was able to directly connect the "Enigma Variations" with the "Dorabella Cipher". Please see video. Thank you. https://youtu.be/vrj_8grs0gQ
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