“All praise to Thee, my God, this night, for all the blessings of the light!
Keep me, O keep me, King of kings, beneath Thine own almighty wings!”
Martin Bird, the current editor of The Elgar Society Journal, is to be commended for raising Rushton’s moratorium by publishing a new solution to Elgar’s Enigma Variations. In the April 2013 issue, Martin Gough theorizes the Enigma Theme is a puzzle canon that may be played with another canon by Thomas Tallis. Strangely Gough only introduces his candidate theme seven pages into the article: ‘Eighth Tune’ from Archbishop Parker’s Psalter of 1567. Never heard of it? Tradition has shortened that diffuse title to the Tallis Canon.
Contrary to Gough's insistence, the Tallis Canon is not a puzzle canon, but rather a restricted canon. An excellent example of a puzzle canon is Bach's Crucigeros Canon. Below the canon Bach wrote the riddle, "Symbolum: Christus Coronabit Crucigeros." The translation of is, "Symbol: Christ will crown those who carry His cross." The solution is a double canon in contrary motion over a quotation from the Goldberg soggetto.
Another humbler example of an enigma canon is provided below. Like the Bach puzzle canon, my puzzle canon is only three measures long with a riddle beneath the title hinting at the solution. With the Tallis Canon there is no riddle below the title, no puzzle to solve, only a canon as its title makes quite clear. With a central tenet resting precariously on a false premise, the key to Gough's imaginative theory appears to crumble. Despite its enduring popularity in religious settings, the Tallis Canon has yet to deserve an article on Wikipedia. That omission does not bode well for its alleged popularity, a deficit that will not deter Wikipedia's Nomenklatura from adding Gough's theory to its growing list of erroneous enigma solutions.
Some Accurate Insights
Gough makes a number of stunningly accurate observations about the nature of the correct melodic solution to the Enigma Variations. The first is his conclusion that Elgar’s planning of the Variations ventured far beyond that of a brief improvisational foray on a relaxing Friday evening. He arrives at this assessment because canons “do not happen by chance.” Much could be said about a set of variations, for those too could hardly be described as the product of happenstance or luck. This opinion is one advanced years ago, one decidedly at odds with the conventional wisdom the Variations were the result of little or no advanced planning. Of course, such a view is utterly inconsistent with Elgar’s documented compositional style of accumulating ideas over years and even decades before finally fashioning them into a finished work. Gough’s second insight is to thoughtfully distinguish between the Enigma and the "larger theme" that goes but is not heard. He emphasizes these are two separate parts of the puzzle, not overlooking the possibility they could be related in some way. His third contribution is the hypothesis the hidden melody to the Variations is a famous hymn tune from the sixteenth century inspired by the Book of Psalms from the Bible. On all of these points, Gough is uncannily accurate.
Enigma or Enigmas?
Although laying out some remarkably accurate premises, Gough soon veers off course beginning with his fixation on the fugal qualities of the Enigma Theme most clearly exhibited in Variation IV. Correctly noting the opening bars of the Enigma Theme may be refashioned into a brief canon, Gough reverse engineers it to comport with this aspect of Variation IV. In essence, he extrapolates one of Elgar’s variation techniques to the Enigma Theme and calls it an Old Canon. The canon itself is in three parts (Violin 1, Violin 2, Viola 1) accompanied by two other voices (Viola 2, Cello). Hence there are five parts in the Old Canon, yet there only four in the first six measures of the Enigma Theme (Violin 1, Violin 2, Viola and Cello).
It is remarkable Gough limits his canonical treatment to just the first six measures of the Enigma Theme while ignoring the remaining bars of that movement. His brief canon amputates a significant portion of the Enigma Theme, bowing slavishly to the conventional wisdom. He writes, “…we know that the Enigma is specifically associated with the theme heard in the first six bars…” Just how do we know that precisely? He concludes this must be the case because Elgar asked his friend Jaeger to write Enigma in place of Theme on the title page. That is hardly a convincing argument, except for one already convinced at the outset. Gough presumes the Enigma Theme is limited to the first six measures without ever furnishing any objective proof. A significant flaw with this view is the opening material from measures 1-6 is recapitulated in measures 11-16 before the final cadence in measure 17. If the Enigma Theme is restricted to the first six measures, its recapitulation surely constitutes a repetition. That means a more accurate title would be Enigmas (plural) rather than Enigma (singular). We know Elgar asked Jaeger to write the singular version, so this must mean the title Enigma applies to the entire movement rather than a six measure fragment.
It is a common error on the part of enigma detectives to confuse Elgar’s "dark saying" (which is confined to the first six measures) with the Enigma Theme. The two are separate as Gough earlier points out, but not in the way he suspects. What Gough fails to grasp is Elgar’s "dark saying" (a definition of enigma) is a musical Polybius Box Cipher embedded in the first six measures. Elgar is a recognized expert in ciphers, so this really should come as no surprise. As for the Enigma Theme, it remains intact as one complete movement in ternary form beginning in measure 1 and cadencing in measure 17. It may be cogently argued the bridge in measures 18-19 constitutes an elaboration of the final cadence, making the Enigma Theme 19 rather than 17 measures. This position is confirmed by Elgar's written remarks for a set of pianola rolls published in 1929. Regarding the first Variation he wrote, "There is no break between the theme and this movement." The double barline in measure 19 is identical to that found in measure 6, the alleged end of the Enigma Theme. The double bar in measure 19 marks the surreptitious conclusion of the entire Enigma Theme and would explain why Variation I does not begin until measure 20. Consequently, Gough’s failure to account for at least measures 7 through 17 renders both his Old Canon and New Canon incomplete, and inconsequential for a partial answer is no answer at all. In his New Canon, Gough alters the Tallis Canon in measure 7 to accommodate his novel harmonization of the Enigma Theme. These alterations to the source melody negate the whole point of the exercise insofar as Gough attempts to show how the Enigma Canon is a counterpoint to the Tallis Canon. One part can be changed to accommodate the other; but when both are modified it becomes a free transcription rather than a credible counterpoint.
Elgar’s Conditions – not Gough’s
For the Tallis Canon to be the secret melody to the Enigma Variations, it must satisfy six conditions given by Elgar describing the relationship between the Enigma Variations and the covert principal Theme. Secured directly from Elgar’s recorded words by multiple, independent, unimpeachable sources, those six conditions are:
- The Enigma Theme is a counterpoint to the principal Theme.
- The principal Theme is not heard.
- The principal Theme is famous.
- Fragments of the principal Theme are present in the Variations.
- The principal Theme is a melody that can be played through and over the whole set of Variations including the entire Enigma Theme.
- The Enigma Theme comprises measures 1 through 19.
|Gough's conception of counterpoint (sans Tallis)|
The Tallis Canon fails to present a complete or convincing counterpoint over the entire seventeen measures of the Enigma Theme. Strike one. It produces an unacceptably high number of dissonant intervals in the process. Strike two. On top of these difficulties, Gough fails to show how the Tallis Canon could conceivably play “through and over” the remaining movements, a requirement Elgar imposes in the original 1899 program note. Strike three. To circumvent these obvious flaws, Gough invents a new set of conditions to rationalize his novel transcriptions of the Old and New Canons, incorporating elements of the Enigma Theme around the Tallis Canon to suggest some contrapuntal relationship. Moreover, Gough asserts the continuation of this contrived contrapuntal relationship between the two themes by cataloging from other movements some examples of thematic material drawn from the Enigma Theme without ever actually spelling out how the Tallis Canon plays over these other movements. Such a vain undertaking is more counterexample than counterpoint. It's all sizzle and no steak. If Gough desires a credible example of counterpoint between the hidden theme and the Variations, there is no more compelling an example than Luther's Ein feste Burg (as realized by Felix Mendelssohn) played "through and over" Variation IX Nimrod. With so many strikes against it, Gough’s imaginative enigma theory may be safely rejected like so many others before it.
While beginning with a few sound principles, Gough quickly wanders into a wilderness of innuendo, musings, and unrestrained speculation. So much of his thought process amounts to the stratification of tenuous assumptions, layering guess upon guess in a quest for some semblance of an answer. Instead of achieving clarity, Gough sows confusion. For instance, he loosely interprets the remarks "for fuga" on an early sketch of the Enigma Theme as evidence for a puzzle canon. He further speculates Elgar likely showed that sketch to Dora Penny, anticipating that particular clue somehow would help her guess the solution. Seriously? Would any reasonable person view the comments "for fuga" as evidence of a puzzle canon? How Gough's research ever cleared the peer review process is the real enigma.
Although Gough emphasizes the concept of a puzzle canon, he fails to mention Santa’s original research showing the mathematical constant Pi is encoded in the Enigma Theme. Canons are also commonly identified as rounds, and Pi is a special ratio derived from the mathematical properties of circles. To overlook something so obvious and relevant to his research belies Gough’s lack of circumspection, not to mention Martin Bird's editorial insensitivity. The irony is that both are named Martin, a first named shared by the actual composer of the missing melody to the Enigma Variations, Martin Luther. With the aid of the British academic establishment, Martin Gough's enigma theory attempts to rehabilitate Elgar by linking the Enigma Variations to one of England's great early composers, Thomas Tallis. What Gough overlooks is the fact Elgar was no Vaughan Williams, a votary of English folk music and song. On the contrary, Elgar was a fervid disciple of the German School. For answers to the Enigma Variations, one must look beyond England and across the channel to Germany.
A Mighty Fortress
The only theme to successfully satisfy Elgar’s six specific conditions is Ein feste Burg (A Mighty Fortress) by Martin Luther. A precise vertical and horizontal alignment between the two melodies is realized by Elgar's sophisticated treatment of Ein feste Burg as a retrograde counterpoint in an augmented form. Such an unconventional approach accounts for the profound difficulty in detecting a contrapuntal alignment because researchers invariably pair the beginning of a prospective melody with the beginning of the Enigma Theme. Such a predictable approach produces a mismatch even when the correct melody is considered.
The case for Ein feste Burg as the covert Principal Theme to the Enigma Variations is extensive and persuasive. Confirmation that Ein feste Burg is the hidden theme is given by a diverse range of music ciphers in the Enigma Theme and Variation XIII. Within the Enigma Theme is concealed a music box cipher, Elgar’s "dark saying" linked to the Enigma mentioned in the original 1899 program note. Incredibly, Elgar did not take his secret to the grave, but rather enciphered the answer within the orchestral score to ensure its survival and organic connection to the work. When discovered, the decrypted answer would remain unguessed just as Elgar predicted. He even went so far as to encode the initials for the hidden melody in the Enigma Theme which modulates between the minor and major modes of G. It is truly remarkable the accidentals for those two keys (E flat, F sharp, B flat) are the initials for Ein feste Burg.
The odd nickname for Jaeger’s Variation (Nimrod) is linked to the title A Mighty Fortress by of one Elgar’s favorite pastimes, wordplay. When he gave a copy of Longfellow’s novel Hyperion to the conductor Hans Richter following the premiere, Elgar literally gave away the answer. No wonder he suspected the solution would soon be discovered. Even the wrong date on the original score is a revealing clue since it falls on the anniversary of Luther’s death. According to an alphanumeric cipher within the Mendelssohn fragments, the missing initials for Variation XIII (***) are E.F.B. – the initials for Ein feste Burg. The mapping of Ein feste Burg over Nimrod is so self-evident that the melodic solution to Elgar's Enigma Variations is as plain a pikestaff.
If he were alive today, Elgar's response to Gough’s theory would undoubtedly be, “I do not see that the tune you suggest fits in the least." If the theme does not fit, then one cannot commit. To learn more about the secrets of the Enigma Variations, read my free eBook Elgar’s Enigmas Exposed.