|Felix Mendelssohn-Bartholdy (1809–1847)|
The essence of beauty is unity in variety.
In Variation XIII of the Enigma Variations, Edward Elgar quotes a four-note melodic fragment from the beginning of a theme in Felix Mendelssohn’s concert overture Calm Sea and Prosperous Voyage. Each Mendelssohn quotation is performed by the Clarinet with the first two in A-flat major and the third in E-flat major. There is another Mendelssohn fragment in F minor performed by the trumpet and trombone sections which is not enclosed by quotation marks because it departs from the original major mode. The key letters of those melodic fragments — A, E, and F — are an anagram of a well-known musical cryptogram derived from the violinist Joseph Joachim’s romantic motto “Frei aber einsam” (Free but lonely). The presence of such a conspicuous music cipher in the Mendelssohn fragments is remarkable for two reasons. The first is that legacy scholars like Julian Rushton failed to detect it. The second is that it strongly suggests the presence of more cryptograms in the Mendelssohn fragments, and by extension, the Enigma Variations.
The conventional wisdom has long held that the Mendelssohn fragments are extraneous to the Enigma Variations. That opinion seemed justified as the Mendelssohn quotations originate from an entirely different work. Far from being unrelated, these fragments conceal a rich cache of cryptograms that confirm the identities of the covert melodic Theme and the secret friend memorialized in Variation XIII. This really should come as no surprise because Elgar was an expert cryptographer. The Mendelssohn fragments harbor or form a part of at least eleven cryptograms:
Further research has unveiled a twelfth that may now be added to the list, the Mendelssohn Fragments Melodic Intervals Cipher. This cipher is based on the melodic intervals in the Clarinet solos that begin with the A-flat and E-flat major Mendelssohn fragments. Of the three Clarinet solos that begin with Mendelssohn quotations, the first and third contain identical sequential melodic intervals. Those numbers are significant because they may be combined to form thirteen (13), the Roman numeral assigned to this movement. A melodic interval represents the difference between two adjacent notes in a melody. Only intervals greater than a unison were considered for the purposes of this sequential melodic interval analysis. Put another way, only melodic intervals between different notes were considered, a feature common to certain types of ciphers where redundancies are eliminated.
Each Mendelssohn quotation is performed by the Clarinet and is further elaborated into a plaintive seven measure solo. The structure of the Clarinet solo is based closely on the Mendelssohn fragments characteristic stepwise descent by melodic seconds. The opening Clarinet solo in Variation XIII begins with the first A-flat major Mendelssohn quotation (“C, B-flat, A-flat, A-flat”). Elgar develops this solo with a virtual restatement of the fragment a third higher (E-flat, D, C) that omits the repeated note. This is followed by an augmented version of the fragment in retrograde played a fourth lower (E-flat, F, G), also missing the repeated note. The final Clarinet solo in the movement starts with the E-flat major Mendelssohn quotation (“G, F, E-flat, E-flat”) and is followed by an almost complete restatement of the fragment up a third (B-flat, A, G). It concludes with an augmented version of the fragment in retrograde down a fourth (B-flat, C, D, D), with the first D appearing as a fleeting grace note.
In both the first and third Clarinet solos in Variation XIII, there are precisely two E-flats. Each pair of E-flats conveniently furnishes a coded reference to Edward Elgar’s initials, a feature common to multiple ciphers in the Enigma Variations. Elgar took great pride in his cryptographic prowess, embedding his initials within varied decryptions to serve as a stealth form of identification and authentication. Returning to the decryption of Mendelssohn Fragments Melodic Intervals Cipher, the next step was to identify the melodic intervals used in the first and third Clarinet solos. There are three types of melodic intervals larger than a unison: 2nd, 5th, and 6th. The application of a simple number-to-letter conversion (A = 1, B = 2, C = 3, etc.) to these melodic intervals yields the letters B, E, and F. These plaintext solution letters are an anagram of the initials for Ein feste Burg, the covert Theme to the Enigma Variations. In an astonishing parallel, a count of the different key signatures in which the different movements of the Enigma Variations are written produces the exact same numbers as those found among the intervals in the clarinet solos beginning with the Mendelssohn fragments.
It should come as no surprise that numerous cryptograms in the Enigma Variations encode these identical letters. There are at least ten ciphers that encode the initials for Ein feste Burg. The first is the Keys Cipher in which the accidentals for the Enigma Theme’s G minor and major modes are B-flat, E-flat, and F-sharp. The second is the Nimrod Timpani Cipher in which the tuning for the three timpani drums for Variation IX is indicated in the score as E-flat, B-flat, and F. The third is the “FAE” Cipher in Variation XIII. The fourth is the Letter Cluster Cipher in Variations XII and XIV. The fifth is the Enigma Date Cipher at the end of the original score. The sixth is the Dominant-Tonic-Dominant (5-1-5) Cipher embedded in the Mendelssohn fragments of Variation XIII. The seventh is the Cover Page Cipher where Elgar traced a box and wrote the letters “FEb” not once, but twice, on the original cover page of the Enigma Variations. The eighth in the form of the Enigma Date Cipher appears on the final page of the master score where Elgar wrote “FEb” for a third time. The ninth is the Enigma Variations Key Numbers Cipher which also encodes the initials “EFB.” The tenth is the Mendelssohn Melodic Intervals Cipher.
With so many ciphers pinpointing the same set of initials, is it absurd to insist they could be the result of coincidence, confirmation bias, or contrivance. A melodic mapping of Mendelssohn's adaption of Ein feste Burg from the Finale of his Reformation Symphony “through and over” Nimrod offers a compelling case. Elgar encodes the correct melodic solution in the Enigma Theme's opening six measures using a sophisticated musical Polybius box cipher. To learn more about the secrets of Elgar’s Enigma Variations, read my free eBook Elgar’s Enigmas Exposed.
|Cover of the Autograph Score to the Enigma Variations|