Saturday, September 18, 2010

Jesus, Elgar, and the Violin.....

Your throne, O God, will last forever and ever; a scepter of justice will be the scepter of your kingdom. You love righteousness and hate wickedness; therefore God, your God, has set you above your companions by anointing you with the oil of joy. All your robes are fragrant with myrrh and aloes and cassia; from palaces adorned with ivory the music of the strings makes you glad.

Elgar’s love affair with the violin began during boyhood when he listened to a rehearsal of Handel’s Messiah for the 1869 Three Choirs Festival. Stirred by a passage from the aria O thou that tellest, he implored his father to loan him a violin from the family music shop.  A short time later he not only taught himself how to play but also how to perform the passage from Handel’s aria.[1] Considering the inherent difficulties of violin technique, this was no small feat in such a brief span of time. He continued to play the violin as he grew up, entertaining aspirations of becoming a famous violin soloist. Since his parents could not afford lessons, his progress resulted from hard work and personal study. When it came to the mysteries of composition and violin technique, Elgar was an autodidact. In 1877 at the age of twenty, he scraped together enough money to afford a few lessons with Adolf Pollitzer. A highly respected teacher in London, Pollitzer performed Mendelssohn’s Violin Concerto as a child for the composer.[2] Following just a few lessons, Elgar realized it was too late to achieve international acclaim as a soloist. Like Robert Schumann (his ‘ideal’), he was forced to abandon the goal of becoming an instrumental soloist in favor of composition. That was a most fortunate setback for the history of Western music.
Elgar did not forget his boyhood love for the violin as he entered young adulthood. When he became engaged to Alice Roberts, he composed one of his most popular works, Salut d’Amour (Op. 12), as an engagement present for her.  Originally given the German title Liebesgrüss (Love’s Greeting), the name was translated into French by the publisher as a ploy to increase sales. Elgar’s genius and love for Alice were both genuine, so linguistic marketing gimmicks were not necessary to assure that work’s enduring popularity and ultimate success.  Elgar met his future bride while teaching her piano accompaniment, so the scoring is exquisitely appropriate as it is for solo violin with piano accompaniment. Elgar was a gifted violinist, so it is likely he performed the violin part with his wife at the piano. Another popular piece and perennial encore favorite is La Capricieuse, a virtuosic piece for violin with piano accompaniment composed by Elgar in 1891 after his wife purchased for him a fine Italian Gagliano violin from W.E. Hill and Sons in London. This was the same firm that purchased Stradivari’s legendary ‘Messiah’ violin in 1890 for the then record sum of £2,000. In 1891 the Hill firm produced an elegant monograph about the ‘Messiah’ instrument. Nathan Milstein was reportedly the last violinist to play that legendary violin before it was donated by the Hills to the British nation in 1940 under the condition it never be played again.

The Messiah Stradivarius

Elgar believed almost anybody could learn to play the piano, but that it took a consummate artist to play the violin. That explains his insistence the violin was “my instrument, not the piano.”[3] In his first Birmingham lecture, he described the piano as “rigid”, capable only of a limited range of tone qualities.[4] As a singing instrument, the violin eclipses the piano in its capacity to imitate the human voice by means of vibrato, sustained volume control, and varied tonal inflection. The way it is held on the left shoulder in front of the voice box alludes to its special role as an extension of the human voice. Elgar composed a violin concerto but never completed a piano concerto.  In that comparison, one can discern what instrument was closest to his heart. He once told Ivor Atkins that he wished to have the nobilmente theme of the slow movement from his violin concerto inscribed on his tombstone.[5]
Some of the greatest violins were constructed in the 1700s. Stradivari’s Golden Era began in 1700 and culminated in 1720 with the construction of some of his greatest instruments such as the ‘Messiah’ in 1716 and the ‘Red’ Mendelssohn in 1720. It is entirely reasonable to draw a numerological association of the number 17 with the violin. The Enigma Theme is 17 measures in length, and the melody is almost entirely confined to the violins. In addition to possessing marvelous scoring for strings, the Enigma Variations contain a symbolic reference to one of the greatest violinist of the nineteenth century: Joseph Joachim (1831 – 1907). In Variation XIII, the Mendelssohn fragments appear in three different keys: A flat major, F minor, and E flat major.  The letters for these keys (F.A.E.) form the title of a famous violin Sonata composed jointly for Joachim by SchumannBrahms and Albert Dietrich. The cryptic letters in the title come from Joachim’s personal motto, Frei Aber Einsam (‘Free but lonely’). [6] This veiled reference dovetails with Elgar's comments about the Enigma theme capturing "the loneliness of the artist." Joachim was immensely popular in England, was a favorite performer of Queen Victoria, and received an honorary doctorate from Cambridge in 1877. This was the same degree conferred by the same university on Elgar in 1900.[7]  It is noteworthy that Joachim was permitted to play Stradivari’s ‘Messiah” in 1891, commenting in a letter afterward, “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.”[8] Joseph Joachim's initials (J.J.) match the same Bach routinely wrote on manuscripts as a shortcut for the Latin phrase Jesu Juva.

Joseph Joachim

As the opening passage from the psalms says, the Messiah is pleased with the sounds of stringed instruments. There is far more to the connection between Jesus and the violin than this one scriptural reference. Hidden in plain sight on the violin is an astounding array of symbolic connections that undoubtedly contributed to Elgar’s identification with that revered instrument. Jesus was a carpenter’s son and worked with wood before beginning his ministry, and the violin is made primarily of wood.[9] The end of the violin neck is traditionally carved in the form of a scroll. In Revelations 5:5 it says the only one worthy to open the sacred scroll with seven seals is “the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the root of David” – a distinct reference to Jesus. Amazingly, the side profile of the violin scroll is shaped like the number seven. Similarly, the number of natural musical notes is limited to seven: A, B, C, D, E, F, and G.
Just as Jesus is known as the Lion of Judah, the violin is called the lion of the orchestra because it outnumbers all other instruments and dominates the orchestra. Some violins even have in place of the standard scroll the form of a lion’s head. Jesus is also known as the King of Kings.[10] In a copy of Anton Reich’s Orchestra Primer given to Elgar by his mother on March 7, 1869, it says the violin is the “king of instruments.”[11] Before the rise of the modern conductor, the orchestra was directed by the leading violinist known as the concertmaster. The white conductor’s baton developed from the use of the violin bow with its easily visible white horsehair. The orchestra is tuned to at 440 Hz, known as concert A. The A string on the violin produces the A tone, and together those words spell atone, as in the atonement. The violin's two lowest strings (G and D) are the phonetic equivalent of God. In a surprising parallel, the three upper strings (D, A, and E) are a phonetic version of Dei, the Latin word for God. In the Hebrew scriptures, God's name is represented by four letters, the tetragrammaton. Similarly, the violin also has four letters that correspond to the four strings of the instrument. With so many uncanny parallels, the violin is symbolically God's instrument.

Lion's Head Violin Scroll

     Elgar once wrote, “This is what I hear all day – the trees are singing my music, or have I sung theirs?”[12] Such a pastoral description alludes to his favorite instrument as the wood for the violin traditionally comes from three kinds of trees: Ebony, spruce, and maple. When Elgar played the violin, the trees were literally singing his music. Ebony is a black hardwood traditionally used for the pegs, fingerboard, tailpiece, chin rest, saddle, nut, endpin, and purfling. Spruce is a softwood used for the top, bass bar, and sound post. The Italian term for the sound post is anima, or ‘soul’. For this reason, the soundpost is also known as the soul post. At his crucifixion, Christ said, “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit.”[13] Spirit is a synonym for the soul, and Jesus sacrificed his life on a wooden post. Maple is a hardwood used for the bridge, purfling, neck, ribs (or sides), and back of the instrument. In the scriptures, the cross is described symbolically as a tree, and at the crucifixion, there were three crosses on the rocky outcropping of Golgotha.[14] Jesus was crucified with two other criminals, one at his left who rejected him, and another at his right who accepted him. Three crosses, three trees – a striking parallel. In the Torah, the number three is closely associated with trees because God made them on the third day of Creation.[15] The grain of the spruce top runs vertically, while the grain on the flamed maple back runs horizontally. Consequently, the longitudinal and horizontal wood grains on the front and back of the violin form the outline of the cross.
There is much more to the connection between the violin and Jesus than merely the number of trees or grain direction, for the types of wood used in the instrument’s construction is rife with theological symbolism. Ebony can be seen as representative of Jesus because he became sin on the cross, and the color black is symbolic of sin and judgment in the scriptures. For example, there was darkness over the land of Egypt for three days during the Exodus, and during the crucifixion, there was darkness over the land of Israel for three hours.[16] Elgar’s use of the phrase ‘dark saying’ in describing the enigma could be interpreted in this context as an allusion to the crucifixion and God’s judgment. The hardwood forming the back of the instrument can be allegorically seen as the criminal who hardened his heart and turned his back on Christ by rejecting him. In contrast, the softwood face of the violin can be seen symbolically as the second criminal who softened his heart and turned his face towards Christ in his dying hours. When the contrite criminal said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom,” Jesus replied with some of the most poignant words of the New Testament: “I tell you the truth, today you will be with me in paradise.”[17] In his lowest moment, Jesus expressed God’s love, forgiveness, and reconciliation to the lowest of the low – a criminal justly condemned to death for his many crimes. The way the violin is held lends credence to this interpretation as the hardwood back faces the left arm while the softwood top faces the right. This mirrors the crucifixion of Jesus because the rebellious criminal was to his left, and the contrite one to his right.
Believers from many denominations celebrate the Stations of the Cross by remembering the different stations or positions of the cross through the city of Jerusalem towards Golgotha. Just as the cross is associated with positions, the violin also has positions since performers shift up and down the fingerboard. There are 15 stations on the Via Crucis, and likewise, there are 15 positions on the violin. In a remarkable parallel, the Enigma Variations consist of 15 movements. 

The 'Enigma' Variations

The body of the violin is a wooden soundbox designed to amplify the vibration of the strings. In the Old Testament, there are two wooden boxes associated with salvation and the presence of God: Noah’s ark and the Ark of the Covenant. Both structures were built based on the golden ratio, an extraordinary number that has captivated mathematicians and theologians for millennia because of its pervasiveness in quantifying the aesthetics of art, architecture, biology, astronomy, physics, mathematics, and music. The golden ratio is an irrational mathematical constant approximating 1.1618 and is also known as the divine section, the divine proportion, and the golden mean. Like Noah’s ark and the Ark of the Covenant, the violin’s construction is based on the divine ratio. For example, this ratio is formed by the length of the neck relative to the violin’s body, and the body to the overall length of the instrument.[18] Intriguingly, Stradivari deliberately placed the eyes of the F-holes based on this geometric ratio.[19] A superb example of Stradivari's work is the Red Mendelssohn violin made in 1720, the final year of Stradivari's Golden Age.

Elizabeth Pitcairn with the Red Mendelssohn Stradivari

 The architecture of tonal music may be described in terms of the golden ratio, and hence pertains to the function of the violin. The famous mathematician Fibonacci used the golden ratio to delineate a series of numbers known as Fibonacci numbers. In this series, each subsequent number is determined by the golden ratio and is the sum of the preceding two numbers (1, 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 13, 21, 34, 55, 89, and so on for infinity). In tonal music, a standard scale consists of 8 notes. The total number of notes contained within the octave is 13 and is known as the chromatic scale. The tonic triad is formed with the first, third, and fifth notes from the standard scale. The fifth note in the scale is known as the dominant and is the eighth note in the chromatic scale. The dominant has the strongest relationship with the tonic or first and eighth notes of the scale. The strings of the violin are separated by fifths. The same Fibonacci number is associated with Elgar’s initials because the letter E is the fifth in the alphabet as well as the first and highest string on the violin. In connection with the Enigma Variations, the only one lacking a clear dedication is identified with two Fibonacci numbers: 13 for the variation’s number, and 3 for the number of asterisks obscuring the dedicatee’s initials.

Noah's Ark in the mountains of Ararat

Noah’s ark symbolizes God’s plan of salvation, and according to scripture was 300 cubits long.[20] Converting Egyptian Royal Cubits into feet yields 515, the very same number mentioned in Canto XXXIII of Dante’s Divine Comedy by Beatrice as the identity of a mysterious future savior. She calls her cryptic prophecy an enigma forte (‘hard enigma’) and refers to the prophesied savior by his number, cinque cento diece e cinque (‘the Five Hundred and Ten and Five’). This is the only time in Dante's magnum opus that he deploys the word enigma. The foot is an ancient unit of measurement dating back to at least Roman times, so Dante could have converted the biblical dimensions of the Ark from Egyptian Royal cubits into feet to arrive at this special number. Moses was raised as a prince of Egypt, receiving his education at the Royal Court, so such a conversion is justifiable. The number 515 is biblically associated with a potent symbol of salvation.
Based on Dante’s description, some scholars believe 515 is the number for Jesus.[21] Just as the Antichrist has a number, so too does the Christ. With this special number in mind, it is feasible to find on the face of the violin at least two indirect references to the enigma forte, the mysterious number 515. Looking directly down on the face of the instrument, the bridge appears like the number one (1), and the sound holes to either side look like the cursive S closely resembling the number five (5). A second method to find this number involves the C-bouts and fingerboard. The letter c is the first letter in the Italian word for five (cinque), and the fingerboard appears like a large number one. A third way to form the Roman numerals V, I, and V is produced by the way a violinist holds the violin and bow. As illustrated in the print of Paganini below, the left arm forms a V, the bow an I, and the right arm another V.


While admittedly these are highly figurative readings, particularly since the modern violin did not exist in Dante’s time, they are nonetheless thought-provoking. In an intriguing coincidence, the name of one of the greatest composers for the violin, Vivaldi, begins with the Roman numerals VIV, or 515. It is deeply symbolic that measure 515 of the Enigma Variations appears in Variation XIII (four measures after rehearsal 57), the one secretly dedicated to Jesus Christ.

It is hardly coincidental Variation XIII begins at rehearsal 55, or that measure 515 appears in this movement four measures after Rehearsal 57. That particular movement is 51 measures long.

Traditional violin strings come from the animal most closely associated with Jesus and his sacrifice on the cross in New Testament theology. Unlike their synthetic and steel counterparts of today, traditional violin strings were originally made of sheep gut (more commonly known as catgut). In the New Testament, John the Baptist called Jesus the “Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the World.”[22] In the Roman Catholic tradition, Jesus is called the Lamb of God using the Latin Agnus Dei. For Christian theologians, Jesus personifies the Passover lamb, and the horizontal lintel and vertical posts on which the lamb's blood was applied foreshadows the contours of the wooden cross.[23] Elgar openly dedicated a majority of his musical works to God using the Latin abbreviation A.M.D.G. This stands for the phrase Ad majorem Dei gloriam, a motto of the Society of Jesus meaning “For the greater Glory of God.” This saying was purportedly formulated by the founder of the Jesuits, Saint Ignatius of Loyola. It is remarkable this abbreviation contains three of the four strings of the violin (i.e., A, D and G). Recalling Elgar’s cursive script, the capital M may be viewed alternatively as a cursive capital E turned on its side, thus accounting for the fourth and final string of the violin. With this decidedly Catholic dedication, the initial for Elgar’s name is seen prostrating itself before the D signifying the Latin word for God (i.e., Dei). It should come as no surprise Elgar would link an act of worship with the violin. After all, the two lower strings of the violin (i.e., G and D) give the phonetic spelling for the word God, and the middle strings (i.e., A and D) form the initials for Agnus Dei.
During his earthly ministry, Jesus wore the traditional tzitzit (Hebrew for "tassels") on the four corners of his clothing. In the New Testament, a woman was miraculously healed after touching one of those tassels. The tassels are worn by observant Jewish men according to the Torah as an outward sign of their faith and as a reminder to follow the commandments (see Numbers 15:37-40). According to the Torah, one of the threads in the tassels must be blue.  Just as there are four tassels required by the law, there are four strings on the violin. To distinguish among the different string types, each is given a color code by the maker.  The most popular brand of violin strings in the world is Thomastik Dominant, and that firm assigns the following colors to the strings: G is yellow, D is green, E is purple, and A is blue. It is deeply symbolic the A string is given the color blue because one of the many titles for Jesus is the Alpha and the Omega. A is the first letter (Alpha) in the Greek alphabet, and Omega is the 24th and last letter. The lower case of Omega is ω, a letter that looks very much like a cursive E on its back. Therefore, the Alpha and the Omega appear as the two upper strings of the violin with the dominant A string coded with the significant color blue that signifies God's law. The color purple for the E string may be interpreted as symbolizing royalty and power.

Dominant violin string colors

The violin has two C-bouts. The letter C appears as the first letter in such words as Christ, cross, crucifixion, catholic, Christian, Calvary, and other theologically significant terms like creation. Between the C-bouts is a bridge holding up the strings. According to Christian theology, Jesus is the bridge between God and man whose sacrifice on the cross atones for sin and makes reconciliation possible. The F-holes are in the shape of a serpent. Jesus told the Pharisee Nicodemus, “Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the desert, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, that everyone who believes in him may have eternal life.”[24] The Latin name for Jesus is IESVS, a word with two capital S’s on either side of a capital V (the Latin equivalent for U). The top of the violin has two capital S’s in the form of two sound holes, and the name of the instrument begins with the letter V. The Enigma Theme Music Box Cipher phonetically spells the name Jesus as gsus. The term gsus with the s on either side of u resembles the two sound holes bracketing the bridge, and the g is the lowest string of the violin. At the Last Supper Jesus lowered himself before all of his disciples including the traitor Judas by washing their feet like a common servant. G is the seventh letter of the alphabet, and the number seven is associated with the creation, God, and the Sabbath Day. In Roman numerals, the letter V stands for the number five, and both the Latin and English spellings for the name of Jesus consist of five letters. The tip of the bow is traditionally made of ivory, and in some cases in the frog is made of ivory. In the Psalms is says the Messiah's pace is adorned with ivory.

An ivory bow frog and screw

When the center of the bow is placed across the strings, it forms the distinct outline of the cross. The bow is strung with white horsehair, and at the Second Coming, Jesus is described as riding a white horse.[25] The tip of the bow is usually finished with ivory, and the epigraph describes how the Messiah lives in a palace adorned with ivory.

The bow is shaped like the number seven

The violin bow is shaped like the number seven (7). In the Bible the number seven is closely associated with God, principally because He rested on the seventh day of Creation and sanctified it. It is deeply symbolically that the bow, shaped like the number seven, "rests" on the strings when the violin is played. The modern violin consists of about seventy parts. The number seventy is prominently featured in the Old and New Testaments, and is associated with the ministry of Jesus.[26] For instance, Jesus appointed seventy followers to go before him throughout the land of Israel to preach the gospel. The violin’s rounded contours lend themselves easily to forming the Christian symbol of the fish. This can be accomplished with the edges of the C-bouts, upper or lower bouts, the curvature of the neck or scroll, and the top and bottom curves of the sound holes. The fish (or Ichthys) is an early symbol of Christianity, and it is used for a variety of reasons. Jesus told his disciples he would make them fishers of men.[27] He miraculously multiplied five loaves and two fishes to feed the five thousand.[28] In the parable of the net, Jesus compares the kingdom of heaven to a net that catches all kinds of fish.[29] He referred to the sign of Jonah being in the belly of the whale for three days as a symbol of his burial and resurrection on the third day.[30] Interestingly, some Dutch and Flemish luthiers used whalebone purfling on their violins. [31] The rounded features of the violin are evocative of the whale’s morphology, and the sound holes are similar to the V-shaped double blow holes of the gray whale.

The double blow holes of a Gray Whale

The Ichthys closely resembles a violin's chinrest. Without the chinrest (an invention by Louis Spohr around 1820), both halves of the violin appear as mirror images of one another. According to the New Testament Jesus is the exact representation of his heavenly Father.[32] As Jesus told Phillip, “Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father.”[33] Both halves of the violin may be figuratively interpreted as representations of the heavenly Father and his Son. Continuing with this interpretation, the sound from the instrument completes the Trinity by suggesting the invisible personage of the Holy Spirit. Appropriately, the F-holes are shaped like the capital S, the first letter in the word spirit. The violin is made predominantly of dead organic material, and when played, metaphorically comes back to life. This presents an audible impression of the resurrection.

Violin Chinrest

The Ichthys or Fish Christogram

      The Messiah Strad
Since 1950 the most prized violin in all the world has been on display at the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford. Gifted by the Hill family to the nation of England (the same nation that produced Elgar), it has never been played in public. Only in private has it ever been played by a select few including such luminaries as Joseph Joachim and Nathan Milstein. When it went on public display, it did so with the condition it never be played to preserve its near perfect condition. As the most copied violin in history, it was popularized by a renowned luthier aptly named after John the Baptist: Jean-Baptiste Vuillaume. Although it is almost three hundred years old, it miraculously appears as if it left its master’s hands only yesterday. It is the most pristine example of the work of Antonio Stradivari, made in 1716 during his golden era when his finest instruments were produced. Like other violins by Stradivari, is has a special name, one profoundly relevant to this review of the uncanny connections between the violin and Jesus. It is called the Messiah.

The Messiah” Stradivari

Like Stradivari’s 1720 Red Mendelssohn (more commonly known as the Red violin), the Messiah has a rich golden-red varnish. The literal translation of the word Messiah from the Hebrew is “anointed one”, a reference to the practice of pouring oil on the head of a one chosen by God to serve as king, priest, or prophet.[34] Thanks to the exhaustive research of Stewart Pollens, the secret recipe to Stradivari’s varnish is now known. It is an oil-based application made of three ingredients: Linseed oil, pine resin, and red ochre.[35] Pine resin is also known as colophony or rosin, the substance applied to bow hair before playing. So the Messiah violin is literally anointed with oil, a compelling parallel to Jesus who was anointed with oil at Bethany just before his crucifixion.[36] Linseed come from flax, and that plant fiber is used to make linen. That is truly remarkable because the Turin Shroud is made is fine linen, and linen comes from flax. Remember the color blue and its connection to the A string and the traditional tzitzit? The flower of the flax plant is commonly blue, but it can also be scarlet like the red finish of Stradivari's Messiah.”

Blue flax flowers

Scarlet flax flower

The number of ingredients (three) in Stradivari's varnish is linked to Jesus because he began his earthly ministry at age 30, was crucified at 33, spent three days in the tomb before rising from the dead, and is one of the three manifestations of the Trinity.

The Messiah tailpiece displaying the Virgin Mary and infant Jesus

The color red is deeply symbolic of Christ’s ministry and crucifixion. His first public miracle was to turn lowly bath water into fine red wine for a wedding feast.[37] At the last supper, he said the wine symbolized his blood that must be shed for the remission of sin.[38]  Ochres come from naturally tinted clays containing mineral oxides, and red ochre is hydrated iron oxide. The Messiah and other instruments by Stradivari derive their distinctive reddish hue from the presence of iron oxide in the varnish. There is a powerful association between iron and the crucifixion because Jesus was hung on the cross with iron nails. More symbolically, the neck joint of the Messiah violin is reinforced with three iron nails.[39]  Iron is also associated with Jesus at the Second Coming because he is described as one ruling with an iron scepter.[40]

Flamed maple back of the Messiah

The back of Stradivari’s Messiah violin is covered with horizontal stripes of flamed maple. These stripes bring to mind a passage from Isaiah that says the Messiah “…was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon him; and with his stripes we are healed.”[41] The term stripes is a reference to the excruciating process of scourging. Before being crucified, Jesus was flogged with a Roman flagrum, a multi-lash whip embedded with pieces of bone and metal that literally flayed the flesh off the bone. This punishment marred the back with deep, bloody lacerations that appear as stripes. Stradivari's label inside the Messiah has the image of the cross:

Second if not equal to the work of Stradivari is that of the famous luthier Guarneri "del Gesu." His instrument labels bore the image of a Roman cross and the Christogram I.H.S.

The 1743 Guarneri del Gesu was Nicolo Paganini’s favorite violin, and he called it the Canon because of its tremendous volume and resonance. In my analysis of Elgar’s musical checkerboard cipher, it was determined the phonetic spelling for Jesus was done with the tetragrammaton “Gsus”. In Exodus 3:15, the name for God was given as the tetragrammaton YHWH. Similarly, the strings of the violin are identified with four letters. The checkerboard cipher is contained in a box with four sides. It is truly remarkable the spelling “Gsus” incorporates three of the four letters from the Italian word for Jesus (Gesu). Only the e is exchanged for a second s; and as previously observed, the shape violin’s two sound holes are shaped like the letter s. When the numbers for each letter from the tetragrammaton “Gsus” are added together, the sum is 66 (7+19+21+19). This figure presents a strong numerical connection with Elgar’s 6 x 6 checkerboard cipher. For more information about Elgar's ingenious musical checkerboard cipher, consult this post.
With this unprecedented analysis of the links between Jesus, Elgar, and the violin, it is now possible to more fully appreciate the countless Christian allusions found within the Enigma Variations.  The opening six measures of the Enigma theme are scored solely for strings with the melody confined to the first violins, a passage that can be played on three strings in the third position. Confining the orchestration to strings alone furnishes a direct parallel with the passage from the psalms that says the music of the strings is pleasing to Messiah. The rhythmic palindrome generated every two bars over these first six measures with alternating eighth note and quarter note pairs spells “I M M I” in Morse code, an anagram for the great double “I AM” from the Exodus account when Moses ask God for his name at the burning bush.[42] Combining the Morse and cipher solutions from measure one of the Enigma theme results in the phrase “I M GSUS”, or “I am Jesus.”[43] Elgar’s brilliant musical checkerboard cipher embedded in the opening measures of the Enigma theme can be tied to the violin by more than merely the scoring. The checkerboard cipher is based on a 6 by 6 grid, and the two F-holes of the violin are numerically equivalent to six because the letter F is the sixth letter in the alphabet. The violin has two C-bouts, and the initials for “checkerboard cipher” are C.C. The checkerboard cipher is also known as a box cipher because of the square shape of the solution grid, and the violin is a wooden soundbox. A box has four sides, and the violin also has four sides with four strings tuned by four pegs inserted into a pegbox.
Concerning the term box, it is highly symbolic the word contains the symbols of the Labarum or Chi-Rho, a Christogram created and popularized by the Roman emperor Constantine I (272 AD – 337 AD). As the first Christian Roman emperor, he ordered this sign of salvation be carried before his armies following a dramatic vision. This sign of the crucified Christ is formed from the first two Greek letters of the word Christ (ΧΡΙΣΤΟΕ), the Chi (Χ) and Rho (Ρ). In the word box, the Chi is formed by the x, and the Rho by the b as an inverted p. The Chi-Rho was typically displayed in a circle or wreath, and in the word box, this circle is conveniently provided by the letter o. Elgar’s use of a music box cipher can therefore be linked in a literary manner to one of the most ancient and enduring Christograms of the Roman Catholic Church.

Labarum or Chi-Rho

The orchestral accompaniment to the Mendelssohn quotations in Variation XIII consists of marine like pulsations that spell in Morse code “I I M M”. The length of each of the three Mendelssohn quotations is 5.5 quarter note beats dispersed over three measures. This is likely an allusion to Dante’s prophetic figure, the “Five-hundred, Ten and Five” from the Divine Comedy named by Beatrice as the enigma forte in Canto XXXIII of Purgatorio. The language from Longfellow’s translation uses the words “difficult enigma” (enigma forte in the original Italian) and “dark utterance”, virtually the identical language Elgar uses to describe the Enigma Variations for the original 1899 program note. That Longfellow was one of Elgar’s favorite poets bolsters this conclusion, especially since a number of Elgar’s major works composed during the 1890s (The Black Knight in 1893 and King Olaf in 1896) were inspired by Longfellow’s prose and poetry.  Following the premiere of the Enigma Variations by Hans Richter, Elgar gifted the conductor a copy of Longfellow’s Hyperion. When Elgar later composed The Apostles (1903), he turned to Longfellow’s The Divine Tragedy for inspiration.[44]  We are presented with yet another example of a double “I AM” underlying a musical passage with an elimination cipher spelling “S TURIN” and pinpointing the deeply symbolic number 515. Called the Romanza Cipher because it appears in Variation XIII, this cipher presents a veiled reference to one of the most revered relics of the Roman Catholic Church, the burial cloth of Christ known as the Shroud of Turin.[45] There are many connections between the Turin Shroud and the Enigma Variations.

Elgar's Secret Dedicatee is.....
The discovery Elgar connects the Shroud of Turin to the hidden dedicatee of the Enigma Variations raises the prospect of a similar association with the mysterious dedication to his violin concerto. Ernest Newman, a friend of Elgar's, insisted the hidden friend portrayed in Variation XIII of the Enigma Variations was the same soul enshrined in the violin concerto. Commissioned by the Royal Philharmonic Society in 1909, the violin concerto was premiered in 1910 with Fritz Kreisler, a fellow Roman Catholic, as the featured soloist.  The cryptic Spanish dedication to the violin concerto is “Aqui está encerrada el alma de…..” The translation is “Herein is enshrined the soul of…..” Five dots take the place of the name of the hidden dedicatee.

Fritz Kreisler

The quotation is from the novel Gil Blas by Alain-René Lesage (1668 – 1747) in which a student reads an inscription on a poet’s tomb. Gil Blas is a fictional character born into poverty who leaves the city of Oviedo at the age of seventeen to attend the University of Salamanca but is forced to abandon his plans and contend with life’s many obstacles to better himself. The identity of Elgar’s mysterious dedicatee has remained an enigma...until now. Based on what is now known about the hidden friend of the Enigma Variations, it is reasonable to conclude the Spanish dedication to the violin concerto alludes to the other famous cloth associated with the burial and resurrection of Christ: The face cloth called the Shroud of Oviedo, or Sudarium.

The Shroud of Oviedo

Sudarium can be spelled using seven letters from the Spanish dedication with u repeated twice (Aqui está encerrada el alma de). This sacred cloth has been forensically linked to the Turin Shroud and is stored at the Monastery of the Holy Face in Oviedo, Spain. The human bloodstains on the Shroud of Turin and the Sudarium are of the same type (AB), one common in the Middle East but rare in medieval Europe. Pollen residues from the Sudarium and the Shroud of Turin confirm both were at one time in the vicinity of Jerusalem. Elgar’s Spanish dedication is simply a linguistic allusion to this other famous cloth connected with Christ, particularly since it contains the letters needed to spell its Latin designation. Interestingly, the word soul in the Spanish dedication is an allusion to the violin since the sound post is known as the soul post.
The scripture says, “For whatever is hidden is meant to be disclosed, and whatever is concealed is meant to be brought out into the open.”[46] Elgar posed an astounding series of questions with the Enigma Variations, and now the answers are known to the world.

[1] Kennedy, Michael. The Life of Elgar (Musical Lives). New York: Cambridge University Press, 2004, p. 25.
[2] McVeagh, D. (2007), Elgar the Music Maker. Rochester, New York: Boydell Press, p. 2.
[3] Ibid, p. 178.
[4] The Cambridge Companion to Elgar (Cambridge Companions to Music). (2005). New York: Cambridge University Press, p. 5.
[5] Kennedy, Michael. The Life of Elgar (Musical Lives). New York: Cambridge University Press, 2004, p. 124.
[6] Ostwald, P. (1987). Schumann: The Inner Voices of a Musical Genius. Westford: Northeastern University Press, p. 265.
[7] McVeagh, D. (2007), Elgar the Music Maker. Rochester, New York: Boydell Press, p. 75.
[8] Faber, T. (2004). Stradivari's Genius. New York: Random House, p. 152.
[11] Moore, J. N. (1987). Edward Elgar: A Creative Life. New York: Oxford University Press, p. 43.
[12] The Cambridge Companion to Elgar (Cambridge Companions to Music). (2005). New York: Cambridge University Press, p. 33.
[18] Buchanan, L., & Gaulter, B. (1995). Application of Number (Oxford GNVQ Core Skills S) (4th Revised edition ed.). London: Oxford University Press, p. 230.
[19] Livio, M. (2003). The Golden Ratio. Boston: Bantam Dell Publishing Group, p. 184.
[21] Lansing, R. (2010). The Dante Encyclopedia. New York: Routledge, p. 382.
[22] John 1:29
[31] Nelson, S. M. (2003). The Violin and Viola: History, Structure, Techniques. New York: Dover Publications, p. 60
[33] John 14:9
[35] Pollens, Stewart. Recipe for Success. The Strad Magazine, May 2009.
[39] Davis, F. A., & Hill, W. H. (1963). Antonio Stradivari: His Life and Work (2 ed.). New York: Dover Publications, p. 188.
[41] Isaiah 53:5 KJV
[42] Exodus 3:14
[43] A detailed analysis of Elgar’s Enigma cipher is presented here.
[44] McVeagh, D. (2007), Elgar the Music Maker. Rochester, New York: Boydell Press, p. 103.
[45] Elgar’s Romanza cipher is described here.
[46] Mark 4:22


MPadgett said...

Hey dad! I really like the Blog! I saw the Messiah and that was really cool. I just absolutely love that Violin. I think that that is the best violin in the whole world. Thanks for emailing me the link to the blog dad!

Anonymous said...

The violin was really detailed. No wonder it costs so much! It was really beautiful

Wintershaw said...

Your research and writings are phenomenal Sir P! These blog postings reveal more than has ever been considered before, not only about the Enigma Theme, but it is as though you have a direct insight into Sir E's very private life... revelation upon revelation! Can't wait for the next installment. Sir R.

things of beauty said...

I had a dream about this violin before I even knew it existed. A woman spoke to me about it and all I could do was hold it in adoration. Even the detail of the neck and the royalty designs and the color were flawless.

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.