|Jesus heals the blind beggar|
They have mouths, but cannot speak,
eyes, but cannot see.
They have ears, but cannot hear,
noses, but cannot smell.
Elgar dedicates Variation I of the Enigma Variations to his wife (Caroline Alice Elgar) by assigning her initials (C. A. E.) to the title for this poignant movement. It is remarkable two of her initials are exact sequential matches for those secretly enciphered in Variation XIII: F. A. E. More intriguing still is these hidden initials (✡ ✡ ✡) are encoded by musical fragments that sonically portray the sea, the phonetic equivalent of Alice’s first and remaining initial, “C.” In this context, it appears Elgar hinted at a connection between the letters “A” and “E” in the sea fragments of Variation XIII by means of his wife’s initials. The Enigma Theme's time signature is in common time, and that meter may be represented by a capital “C”. This suggests a link between XIII and the Enigma Theme. The Mendelssohn fragments are drawn from the symphonic overture Calm Sea and Prosperous Voyage (Meeresstille und glückliche Fahrt). These melodic incipits are quoted in the keys of A-flat major, F minor, and E-flat major.
In the orchestral score, three of the four Mendelssohn fragments are enclosed by quotation marks and are performed by a solo clarinet. Two of these quotations are in A-flat major and begin on the major third of that key (C) the phonetic equivalent of sea.
Could this all be just a coincidence? The answer is most emphatically no. Elgar is portraying the sea, deliberately beginning the symbolic quotation with the note C to subtly reinforce this imagery. It is deeply symbolic that the circular bell of the clarinet closely resembles the letter “C”. It is hardly coincidental Elgar would use an instrument whose name begins with the letter C to capture the ocean’s deathly stillness so ominously conveyed by Goethe's poetry that inspired Mendelssohn's concert overture.
The connection to the letter C ventures beyond Elgar’s symbolic use of the clarinet to begin two of the Mendelssohn fragments on the note C, the major third of the A-flat major scale. The two A-flat major quotations are buoyed by an accompaniment figure played by the violas and cellos. In an interesting twist, both instruments have C-bouts and C strings. As part of the accompaniment figure, the violas play the open C-string, musically suggesting the very place where land is not visible, the open sea.
The sound of a passing steamship's engine is deftly portrayed by a timpani roll on C with coins placed near the edge of the rim. Notice that coin begins with the letter c, and the secret friend of Variation XIII was betrayed for 30 pieces of silver or coins. The sea picture is intimately linked to Jesus as he compared his death to the plight of Jonah who spent three days in the belly of a whale. What happened when Jonah was cast into the raging sea and swallowed by the great fish? The storm subsided, and the waters became calm. In Variation XIII, Elgar makes this theological allusion by quoting the Mendelssohn fragments that symbolize a calm sea. Elgar was also fond of quoting scripture, particularly in his many sacred oratorios.
The accompaniment figure mimics the palindromic rhythm of the Enigma Theme, alluding to the presence of a cipher. Unlike a Music Box Cipher marked off by double bar lines, this one is identified by double apostrophes in the form of quotation marks. The solution to the Romanza Cipher in Variation XIII points to the famous burial cloth of Elgar's hidden friend, the Turin Shroud. The combination of the unique letters from “CAE” and “FAE” permits the spelling of “FACE”, a subtle reference to the Catholic devotion to the Holy Face of Jesus. These devotions were first approved by Pope Leo XIII in 1895. It is not inconceivable the number thirteen and capital letter “L” to identify Variation XIII may allude to this pope and these devotions. Elgar did not begin work on the Variations until 1898, five months after Secondo Pia took his famous photographic negative of the Turin Shroud. That picture became an international sensation in both the secular and Catholic press, so Elgar was aware of this incredible discovery in the months immediately preceding the Variations. The subtitle for Variation XIII, Romanza, is easily identified with Elgar's Roman Catholic faith.
The notes forming the marine accompaniment for the A-flat major Mendelssohn quotations are A-flat, C, and E-flat. Sound familiar? They should be, for they are the initials for Elgar’s wife: C.A.E. This observation should decisively extinguish any speculative claims regarding Elgar’s alleged longing for Helen Weaver or some other long-forgotten love interest. Among the Mendelssohn fragments, Elgar only quotes the A-flat major fragment twice. This is revealing on one level because C. A. E. is the second movement of the Enigma Variations. Why would Elgar allude to his wife in a Variation secretly dedicated to Jesus? One likely explanation involves his Christian concept of marriage which views the union between a husband and wife as ordained by God, symbolizing the union of Christ and the Church. On another level, Elgar’s use of the A-flat major key for the Mendelssohn fragments places extra emphasis on A-flat or A tone. Could this be a musical reference to the word atone, as in atonement, one of the few theological terms coined in the English language? It would certainly be a fitting gesture in a movement dedicated to Jesus. Remarkably the Christian symbol for marriage somewhat resembles a treble clef, the same used for the clarinet.
Jesus began his ministry at the Wedding Feast at Cana by miraculously turning water into wine. The word Cana starts with the letter C, just like the terms Christian, Catholic, Christ, Church, crucified, Calvary and cipher. In another miracle involving water, Jesus calmed a raging sea, prompting his disciples to exclaim, “What kind of man is this? Even the winds and the waves obey him!” In yet another miracle involving water, Jesus walked on the sea of Galilee. Other notable connections to the letter C within the Enigma Variations are discussed in the following posts:
To learn more about the secrets of the Enigma Variations, read my free eBook Elgar’s Enigmas Exposed.