Sunday, October 3, 2021

Elgar's Program Anagram Enigma Ciphers

Edward Elgar posing at the front door of his home Craeg Lea

In the early months of that year [1899], Elgar decided to take another house, so he moved to Craeg Lea, Wells Road, Malvern, on 21st March.  It will be noticed, no doubt, that the mind which turned Jaeger into Nimrod, the daughter from Caroline Alice into Carice, and so on, once more exercised its ingenuity upon the name of his house, which is an anagram constructed from the names of all the people who lived in it, i.e., Carice, Alice, Edward, ELGAR.

William H. Reed  in The Master Musicians: Elgar

The British composer Edward Elgar relished phonetic spellings, wordplays, and anagrams. One notable example is the title “Craeg Lae” which he imparted to his Malvern home where his family resided between 1899 and 1904. That strange moniker is an anagram obtained from the reverse spelling of “Elgar” (Craeg Lea) mingled with the initials from the first names of his daughter Carice, his wife Alice, and himself (Craeg Lea). Elgar challenged Dora Penny to decipher the meaning of his home’s bemusing name. She 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.

In honor of Elgar’s affinity for anagrams, the title of this article produces the acrostic anagrams “PEACE.” It also forms the telestich anagram “M MASS” in which the “M” symbolizes the initial “E” for Elgar prostrating itself before the word Mass, a central liturgical rite of his Roman Catholic faith.

Elgar’s enthusiasm for word games inevitably spilled over into the field of cryptography, the discipline of coding and decoding secret messages. His obsession with that esoteric art is granted 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 conveyed by John Holt Schooling in an April 1896 issue of The Pall Mall Gazette.  A Nihilist cipher is a derivative of the Polybius square cipher. Elgar was so delighted with his solution that he mentions it in his first biography published in 1905 by Robert J. Buckley. Elgar painted the solution in black paint on a wooden box, an appropriate medium as another name for the Polybius square is a box cipher.

Elgar’s methodical decryption of Schooling’s conundrum 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).” His use of the word “dark” as a synonym for a cipher is relevant to this investigation 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 warrants revisiting as he lays the groundwork for his melodic 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 birthed the 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 unconventional 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 a prolonged 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 ploy. Others take Elgar at his word and accept the challenge that there is a famous melody lurking behind the Variations’ contrapuntal and modal facade. Regardless of what side is taken in this debate, conventional scholarship stalwartly insists that the answer cannot be verified because Elgar allegedly took his secret to the grave in February 1934. They insist Elgar never wrote down the solution for posterity to discover. However, this opinion glosses over or flagrantly ignores Elgar’s documented obsession with cryptography. This incontestable facet of Elgar’s personality profile raises the possibility 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 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 for 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 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, mutually consistent, and decisive.

The Enigma Theme Performance Directions Cipher

One exemplar of Elgar’s affinity for acrostic anagrams is ensconced within the Enigma Theme. Below is a facsimile of the Enigma Theme’s opening bars from the autograph score.

First page of the Enigma Theme from the Autograph Score

In the first measure, Elgar penned seven discrete performance directions in Italian. Those seven words are listed below: 

  1. Andante.
  2. legato
  3. e
  4. sostenuto
  5. molto
  6. espress.
  7. Piano

The first letters of those seven performance directions are an acrostic anagram of “EE’s PSALM.” The order of the terms is reshuffled below to spell out this remarkable discovery.

  1. e
  2. espress.
  3. Piano
  4. sostenuto
  5. Andante.
  6. legato
  7. molto

Elgar initialed this cryptogram with his dual Es observed in the first part of the decryption. He often signed his letters with his initials. His friends also referred to him as “E. E.” as shown by Dora Penny’s diary from 1899. “Psalm” in the singular refers to a particular chapter in the Book of Psalms. Which one could it be? Elgar’s cipher has precisely 46 characters, a figure that implicates Psalm 46. That chapter is known as “Luther’s Psalm” because it inspired Luther’s epic hymn Ein feste Burg. In the very first bar of the Enigma Theme, Elgar enciphered the answer to his melodic riddle with an elegant acrostic anagram that he stealthily initialed to authenticate the solution.

Akin to locks, ciphers are unlocked by keys. The Enigma Theme is set in the parallel keys of G minor and G major. The accidentals that define those key signatures are B-flat, E-flat, and F-sharp. Remarkably, those letters are an acrostic anagram of the initials for “Ein feste Burg.” The Enigma Theme’s performance directions in bar 1 encode “Psalm 46,” and the accidentals for its keys encode the initials “E.F.B.”

The Program Note Maeterlinck Phrase Cipher

With so many cryptograms expertly woven into the fabric of the Enigma Variations, it would be prudent to sift through Elgar’s original 1899 program note for prospective ciphers. There is a conspicuous phrase in his commentary that begins with the Belgian playwright’s name Maeterlinck followed by the French titles for two of his plays. This reference is anomalous because Elgar only gives the name of a stranger when describing a work dedicated to his friends. This Maeterlinck phrase also stands out because it is bookended by two long dashes. These punctuation marks add emphasis and are referred to as an “em dash.” This label for the long dash was standard before Elgar composed the Enigma Variations. “Em” is a homonym of the letter “M.” Consequently, the two em dashes surrounding the Maeterlinck phrase suggest the dual initials for Maurice Maeterlinck.

An analysis of the Maeterlicnk phrase revealed its unique first initials spell “Psalm” as a reverse acrostic: Maeterlinck’s ‘L’Intruse’ and ‘Les sept princesses’. More remarkable still, there are precisely 46 characters in that Maeterlinck phrase. That sum points to the 46th chapter of the Psalms. Elgar also subtly associates the numbers four and six in that phrase by distributing six apostrophes among four words. The decryption of the anomalous Maeterlinck phrase as “Psalm 46” parallels the Enigma Theme’s Performance Directions Cipher.

There is a second layer to this Maeterlinck Phrase Cipher. The German initials for the secret melody (E.F.B.) are ingeniously enciphered by the nationalities associated with Elgar’s program note. Elgar is an English composer whose explanatory note for the Enigma Variations is in his native language. In his remarks, he refers to the Belgian playwright Maeterlinck and the French titles of two plays. These three nationalities (English, French, and Belgian) are an acrostic anagram of the initials for the covert Theme: Ein feste Burg. In a remarkable display of cryptography, the phrase “Maeterlinck’s ‘L’Intruse’ and ‘Les sept Princesses’” efficiently enciphers Psalm 46 and the initials for the secret melody. These two overlapping ciphers provide a set of mutually reinforcing solutions in which one affirms and authenticates the other.

The Program Note Enigma Phrase Cipher

The Maeterlinck Phrase Cipher consists of six words set apart by long dashes. This phrase is anomalous as Elgar only furnishes a stranger’s name in a program note describing a work dedicated to friends. There is another unusual six-word phrase followed by a long dash that appears earlier in his commentary. It begins, “The Enigma I will not explain – ...” Elgar contradicts this refusal by continuing to explain the Variations are based on an absent principal Theme that can be played over the set but is not heard. Like the Maeterlinck Phrase Cipher, the anomalous six-word phrase ends with an em dash. The phrase “The Enigma I will not explain” consists of six words with a total of 24 characters. These sums present two striking parallels with the covert Theme’s title because it also consists of six words with 24 characters: Ein feste Burg ist unser Gott. These elements of the Enigma phrase allude to the existence of another phrase cipher in Elgar’s program note.

A cryptanalysis of the Enigma phrase was conducted to detect if it employs the same encryption techniques found with the Maeterlinck Phrase Cipher. The first letters from the six-word Enigma phrase appear in order as “TEIwne.” The first three initials are capitalized followed by three more in lower case. The balanced distribution of three capitalized and three lowercase letters suggests a coded form of Elgar’s initials as the glyph “3” is the mirror image of a capital cursive E. Two Es in this series of initials — the first capitalized and another lowercase — present another coded version of his initials. The first revealing anagram from this set of initials is “EIn,” the first word from the title of Ein feste Burg. Note that the first two letters are capitalized with the third in lower case. This pattern of capitalized and lowercase letters surfaces on the cover sheet, original final page, and the last page of the extended Finale of the autograph score. In all three places, Elgar’s abbreviated the month of February as “FEb.” Remarkably, this anomalous abbreviation is an anagram of the covert Theme’s initials. Consequently, the anagram “EIn” is organically linked to “FEb” based on this distinctive pattern of capitalized and lowercase letters.

"EFB" anagrams on the cover page of the Autograph Score 

"EFB" anagram on the last page of the autograph score

Setting aside the initials for “EIn” leaves “Twe,” an anagram of “weT.” Merriam-Webster defines wet as “covered or soaked with water…” There is only one place in the Enigma Variations where Elgar openly depicts water: Variation XIII. In that movement, he cites melodic incipits from Felix Mendelssohn’s overture Calm Sea and Prosperous Voyage to portray a calm sea. Like the title of the covert Theme, the overture’s original title is in German (Meeresstille und glückliche Fahrt). These Mendelsohn quotations are anomalous because they originate from a seemingly extraneous work unrelated to the Enigma Theme. This sonic portrayal of water presents a clever wordplay as water is a solution. As an aficionado of wordplay, Elgar’s aquatic quotations subtly hint at a solution lurking beneath the surface of the Mendelssohn fragments.

Do the Mendelssohn quotations conceal ciphers? Extensive cryptanalysis confirms they harbor a diverse array of cryptograms that encode the secret melody’s initials, title, and distinctive ending phrase. Some ciphers also supply answers about the identity of Elgar’s secret friend who is the mysterious dedicatee of Variation XIII. A sampling of these cryptograms with links to their solutions are provided below:

  1. Mendelssohn Fragments Scale Degrees Cipher
  2. Mendelssohn Clarinet Solo Nominal Notes Cipher
  3. Rehearsal 55 Clarinet Solo Cipher
  4. Variation XIII Clarinet Key Signature Cipher
  5. Mendelssohn Keynotes Cipher
  6. Music Anagram Cipher
  7. Mendelssohn Fragments Melodic Intervals Cipher
  8. Mendelssohn Fragments Major Keys Cipher
  9. Mendelssohn Fragments Clefs Cipher
  10. Mendelssohn Quotations Accidentals Cipher
  11. Mendelssohn Quotations Elimination Cipher
  12. Mendelssohn Fragments Solo Passages Cipher
  13. Mendelssohn Quotations Polybius Box Cipher

The partial decryption “wet” from the Enigma Phrase Program Note Cipher robustly implies the solution to the Variations is hidden within Elgar’s marine quotations. Trawling those melodic fragments netted a substantial hual of cryptograms that verify the authenticity and accuracy of this “wet” decryption.  Martin Luther was inspired by Psalm 46 to compose Ein feste Burg, a chapter that mentions the sea in its opening verses. Psalm 46:1-3 reads:

God is our refuge and strength,

    a very present help in trouble.

Therefore we will not fear though the earth gives way,

    though the mountains be moved into the heart of the sea,

though its waters roar and foam,

    though the mountains tremble at its swelling. Selah

It is equally feasible to rearrange the initials “TEIwne” as the anagram “TwIn Ee.” The expression “Twin EE” is an apt characterization of Elgar’s initials (EE). It is also an accurate description of the first initials for the Enigma Theme and its covert melody, Ein feste Burg. Although these two melodies are outwardly dissimilar, they are like fraternal twins as they share a unique contrapuntal fusion.

In less frequent cases, the last letters from words may also form an anagram, a type known as a  telestich.  The last letters from each word of the phrase “The Enigma I will not explain…” are “eaIltn.” As there is only one letter in “I,” it counts as both the first and final letter in this analysis. When treated as a telestich anagram, these last letters may be reshuffled as “latIne.” This arrangement may be read as “Latin E.” The “E” may be confidently interpreted as Elgar’s initial as he sometimes signed his correspondence with “E.” His wife also routinely identified him in her diaries with a solitary capital E. Alternatively, the last initials “eaIltn” may be reorganized as “latIne.” The Latin adverb Latine means “in Latin.” This ancillary decryption is a virtual twin to “Latin E.”

Elgar was born, raised, and educated as a Roman Catholic. During his formative years, he studied Latin at three Roman Catholic schools and regularly attended Latin Mass. Some of his earliest choral works are set in that language. In all, Elgar composed fifteen Latin Motets with three forming his Op. 2: Ave Verum (Jesu, Word of God Incarnate), Ave Maria, and Ave Maris Stella. Elgar wrote Ave Maria and Ave Maris Stella during his tenure as organist at St. George’s Church in Worcester. He arranged Ave Verum in 1902 from music prepared for William Allen’s funeral. These Latin works furnish gargantuan clues regarding the identity of Elgar’s secret friend depicted in Variation XIII. The decryption of a musical Polybius cipher in the Enigma Theme unveiled a Latin expression in bars 1-2.


This investigation identified two anomalous phrases from Elgar’s commentary cited in the original program note for the June 1899 premiere of the Enigma Variations. These phrases consist of six words and are set apart by long dashes. The first is “The Enigma I will not explain — ...” This phrase possesses six words and 24 letters, the very same sums associated with Ein feste Burg ist unser Gott. The Enigma Phrase Cipher encodes the acrostic anagrams Ein, Wet, Twin EE, and the telestich anagrams Latin E and Latine. The second phrase is “...Maeterlinck’s ‘L’Intruse’ and ‘Les sept princesses’ — ”. This phrase has 46 characters and encodes a reverse acrostic of Psalm. The solutions to these 1899 program note phrase ciphers furnish substantive clues regarding the covert Theme, the location of other cryptograms in the orchestral score,  and the identity of Elgar's secret friend memorialized in Variation XIII. To learn more concerning the secrets of the Enigma Variations, read my free eBook Elgar’s Enigmas Exposed.

Soli Yah Gloria

About Mr. Padgett

My photo
Mr. Padgett studied violin with Michael Rosenker (a student of Leopold Auer), and Rosenker’s pupil, Owen Dunsford. Mr. Padgett studied piano with Sally Magee (a student of Emanuel Bay), and Blanca Uribe (a student of Rosina Lhévinne). He attended the Stevenson School in Pebble Beach, California, and Vassar College in Poughkeepsie, New York, where he graduated Phi Beta Kappa with a degree in psychology. At Vassar he studied music theory and composition with Richard Wilson. Mr. Padgett has performed for Joseph Silverstein, Van Cliburn, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Maria Shriver, Steve Jobs, Prince Charles, Lady Camilla, Marcia Davenport, William F. Buckley, Jr., and other prominent public figures. His original compositions have been performed by the Monterey Symphony, at the Bohemian Grove, the Bohemian Club, and other private and public venues. In 2008 Mr. Padgett won the Max Bragado-Darman Fanfare Competition with his entry "Fanfare for the Eagles." It was premiered by the Monterey Symphony under Maestro Bragado in May 2008. A member of the Elgar Society, Mr. Padgett is married with five children.