I call architecture petrified music. Really there is something in this; the tone of mind produced by architecture approaches the effect of music.
This is my thirty-first entry posted on the thirteenth of January 2011. With the appearance of the number thirteen and its inversion, it is timely to revisit Variation XIII from Elgar’s Enigma Variations. This movement is divided into five sections ranging from six to sixteen measures in length:
There is a sixth section in measure 51 that forms a plagal cadence, but it is too brief to warrant attention for the purposes of this analysis. Excluding the last measure, there are a total of 50 measures divided into five sections culminating in E-flat major. E is the fifth letter in the alphabet, and the Luther Rose featured above the epigraph has five petals. The prominence of the number five is difficult to overlook, particularly since the composer's initials are “EE.” It is equally intriguing Elgar's numerical allusions within the structure of this movement extends to its harmonization. For instance, it is hardly a coincidence the intervals formed by the key modulations between these five suggest the number 1313:
- G major to A flat major is a rise of 1 note forming a minor second
- A flat major to F minor is a drop of 3 notes forming a minor third
- F minor to G major is a rise of 1 note forming a major second
- G major to E flat major is a drop of 3 notes forming a major third
Elgar's cryptographic spelling of 1313 in Variation XIII is significant on a number of levels. For instance, the Roman numeral assigned to this movement is XIII. Another example occurs in the accompaniment to the Mendelssohn fragment consisting of a pulsating figure alternating between the first and third degrees of the scale.
In the A flat major section (measures 532 – 547), the accompaniment figure sways back and forth between A-flat (the first) and C (the third). On the viola the fingering for these notes is 1 and 3, posing yet another spelling of this movement's Roman numerals. In the F minor (measures 548 – 553), the accompaniment figure rocks between F and A-flat, again the first and third degrees of the scale. Finally, in the E-flat major section (measures 564 – 571), the accompaniment figure ebbs between E-flat and G, which again the first and third degrees of the scale. Elgar employs the Alto clef for two instruments in the orchestral score of the Enigma Variations, namely the trombone and viola. The Alto clef, also known as the C clef, closely resembles the number 13. Even the score contains a veiled reference to 1313. Moreover, the number of letters in viola and trombone add up to precisely thirteen.
There is far more to this puzzle than just the repetition of the numbers one and three. Consider the following observations:
- The Rosicrucian Order was founded in the year 1313. This mystical order was first openly described in the anonymous manifesto Fama fraternitatis Roseae Crucis published in Kassel, Germany.
- Alchemy is closely tied to the history of Rosicrucianism. Elgar developed an interest in chemistry, a science that emerged from alchemy. He also had a deep fascination for ciphers, another discipline linked to the Rosicrucian Order.
|Elgar in his laboratory|
- Some believe Dante Alighieri was a Rosicrucian based on his extensive use of Rosicrucian symbols in The Divine Comedy. As I explain here, Elgar employs a considerable amount of symbolism in the Enigma Variations that clearly alludes to Dante and his great epic Christian Poem composed around the year 1313.
- Another famous poet thought to have been a Rosicrucian based on his extensive use of Rosicrucian symbols was Goethe. In Variation XIII Elgar quotes a fragment from a concert overture by Mendelssohn inspired by Goethe's poem Meeresstille und glückliche Fahrt (Calm Sea and Prosperous Voyage).
- The symbol of the Rosicrucian Order is the Rosy Cross.
- Martin Luther’s wax seal was a cross inside an open rose. As I explain here, the unstated Principal Theme to Elgar's Enigma Variations is Ein feste Burg by Martin Luther.
- The symbol of the Knights Templar is the Red Cross, a symbol equivalent to the Rosy Cross. According to researchers at the Vatican, the Knights Templar hid the Shroud of Turn and secretly venerated it for more than a century. As I explain here, Elgar refers to the Shroud of Turin using an elimination cipher embedded in Variation XIII. Some believe the Knights Templar merged with the Order of the Rose-Croix in the 1300s, the same era when Dante wrote the Divine Comedy.
- A founding member of the Knights Templar was Godfrey de Saint-Omer. The name Godfrey belongs to a leading protagonist in Torquato Tasso's Jerusalem Delivered, an epic Christian poem glorifying the end of the First Crusade and the liberation of Jerusalem. The story ends with Godfrey shedding his armor and worshiping at the Holy Sepulchre, the tomb of Christ. It is highly revealing Elgar concluded the original score of the Enigma Variations with a quote by Tasso from this famous epic poem. Tasso was deeply influenced by Dante and The Divine Comedy, so Elgar's numerous allusions to that work within the Enigma Variations are salient and mutually reinforcing.
|The Rosy Cross|
A Rose By Any Other Name
There are many more pieces to this exquisite puzzle that time and space prevent from exploring at length. For instance, consider the cryptic symbolism Elgar gave Variation XIII in the form of three asterisks. Elgar was a Roman Catholic, and his use of the asterisks (***) suggests by their floral appearance an ancient rite of the Roman Catholic Church. In the fifth century, the Pope consecrated roses and had them placed over confessionals to denote secrecy. The rose is the emblem of silence, accounting for the Latin phrase sub rosa. In more recent times this practice developed into the ceremony of the Golden Rose. On the fourth Sunday of Lent (Laetare Sunday), the Pope wears rose-colored vestments and blesses a Golden Rose. The rose symbolizes Christ because he is described in scripture as “the flower of the field and the lily of the valleys.” In poetry, Jesus is metaphorically portrayed as a Rose. One superb example of this practice is displayed in a poem by W. B. Yeats called The Secret Rose. This poem first appeared in September 1896, three years before Elgar completed the Enigma Variations. Elgar admired Yeat's poetry and set at least one of his poems to music in 1901. It is remarkable the rose is also a symbol for Martin Luther and the Rosicrucian Order. The broad outlines of this overview point from many different angles at the same thing, namely that Christ is Elgar's secret friend. Elgar was a true tone poet of the highest rank whose talent for musical cryptograms equals if not eclipses those of his musical forebears. To learn more about the secrets of the Enigma Variations, read my free eBook Elgar’s Enigmas Exposed.