The new house was named with an anagram of the family’s initials: E, A, C. E L G A R — ‘Craeg Lea’. He sent the new name to Dora Penny, teasing her with the anagram’s secret.
Jerrold Northrop Moore in Edward Elgar: Letters of a Lifetime
There is no doubt Edward Elgar was an expert in cryptography, the discipline of coding and decoding messages. His obsession with that esoteric art merits an entire chapter in Craig P. Bauer’s treatise Unsolved! Much of the third chapter is devoted to Elgar’s brilliant decryption of an allegedly insoluble Nihilist cipher presented by John Holt Schooling in an April 1896 issue of The Pall Mall Magazine. Elgar was so pleased with his solution that he mentions it in his first biography published in 1905 by Robert J. Buckley. Elgar painted his solution in black paint on a wooden box, an appropriate medium as another name for the Polybius checkerboard is a box cipher.
Elgar’s methodical decryption is summarized on a set of nine index cards. On the sixth card, he relates the task of cracking the cipher to “. . . working (in the dark).”
This use of the word dark as a synonym for cipher is significant because he employs that same phraseology in the 1899 program note for the premiere to characterize the Enigma Theme. It is an oft-cited passage that merits revisiting because Elgar lays the groundwork for his tripartite riddle:
The Enigma I will not explain – its ‘dark saying’ must be left unguessed, and I warn you that the connexion between the Variations and the Theme is often of the slightest texture; further, through and over the whole set another and larger theme ‘goes’, but is not played . . . So the principal Theme never appears, even as in some later dramas – e.g., Maeterlinck’s ‘L’Intruse’ and ‘Les sept Princesses’ – the chief character is never on the stage.
A compulsion for cryptography is a reigning pillar of Elgar’s psychological profile. A decade of systematic analysis of the Enigma Variations has netted over seventy cryptograms in diverse formats that encode a set of mutually consistent and complementary solutions. While this figure may seem incredible, it is entirely consistent with a dominant facet of Elgar’s psychological profile—an obsession for ciphers. More significantly, their solutions provide definitive answers to the core questions posed by the Enigma Variations. What is the secret melody to which the Enigma Theme is a counterpoint that serves as the foundation of the ensuing movements? Answer: Ein feste Burg (A Mighty Fortress) by Martin Luther. What is Elgar’s “dark saying” hidden within the Enigma Theme? Answer: A musical Polybius box cipher contained in the opening six bars. Who is the secret friend and inspiration behind Variation XIII? Answer: Jesus Christ, the Savior of Elgar’s Roman Catholic faith.
A conspicuous feature of some of those ciphers is their proximity to double barlines, particularly those situated in unusual locations. For example, the Enigma Theme has an oddly placed double barline at the end of measure 6. The placement of a double barline so close to the beginning of a movement is decidedly anomalous. This condition also applies to the first bridge passage that is framed by an end barline at the outset of bar 18 and a double barline at the terminus of bar 19. The insertion of multiple double barlines in less than twenty measures is inordinate and conspicuous.
An intensive cryptanalysis of the opening six measures of the Enigma Theme uncovered a series of cryptograms that encipher a narrow set of mutually reinforcing and consistent solutions. The most sophisticated is a musical Polybius box cipher that encodes Elgar’s mysterious “dark saying” first mentioned in the original 1899 program note. This secret message is an elaborate anagram of the covert Theme’s 24-letter title (Ein feste Burg ist unser Gott). This anagram reveals the secret friend’s name (Jesus encoded as “GSUS”) within the context of other apposite words and phrases phonetically rendered in Latin, English, and what popular biblical commentaries then identified as Aramaic. This cunning combination of phonetically spelled words in four languages was obviously intended to stifle all attempts at decryption. A less apparent but marvelous explanation is that the first letters of those four languages are an acrostic anagram of Elgar
In a brilliant cryptographic coup, Elgar stealthily autographed his cipher via an acrostic anagram embedded within the languages divulged by the correct solution. The decoding of this cryptogram makes it possible to know with supreme confidence that Luther’s hymn Ein feste Burg is the absent melody to the Enigma Variations because it bears Elgar’s coded signature wrapped within another layer of encipherment.
When treated as a pure acrostic anagram, the first letters of these four cipher languages may be rearranged to spell “ELAG”. These four letters are a phonetic rendering of elegy. This construction mirrors the four-letter groupings unveiled by the decryption of the Enigma Theme Polybius Box Cipher. According to Merriam-Webster, an elegy is defined as “a song or poem expressing sorrow or lamentation especially for one who is dead,” and “a short pensive musical composition.” The first definition is fitting because the death of Elgar’s famous secret friend is memorialized in Variation XIII. The other definition is a suitable description of the Enigma Theme which consists of only nineteen measures. At the conclusion of the extended Finale completed in July 1899, Elgar cites a passage from stanza XIV of Longfellow's Elegiac Verse: "Great is the art of beginning, but greater the art is of ending." There is no greater or more permanent ending in life than death, an insight alluded to by Elgar’s Tasso paraphrase from the epic Christian poem Jerusalem Delivered that he dated incorrectly to the year of Tasso’s passing (1595).
The specter of death cast a long shadow over the Enigma Variations. The six-word dedication opens with a homonym of dead, “Dedicated to my Friends pictured within.” The silence of the principal Theme is evocative of a passage from Psalm 31:17 that mentions the silence of the grave. For Elgar, there was an indelible link between music and death because he studied musical scores as a boy at a local churchyard while resting on a tombstone. In Variation XIII, Elgar repeatedly quotes a fragment from Mendelssohn’s concert overture Calm Sea and Prosperous Voyage (Meeresstille und glückliche Fahrt) to portray a ship crossing the open sea. This sonic symbolism was inspired by the poetry of the famed German playwright Goethe whose seemingly benign image of a boat adrift on a windless sea actually depicts the stillness of death (Todestille). In the original program note for the 1899 premiere of the Enigma Variations, Elgar likens the absent principal Theme to the mysterious protagonist who never appears onstage in certain dramas by the Belgian playwright, Maeterlinck. That absent character is death, a central element in Maeterlinck's works described as "marionette" plays as the characters rarely move.
The phonetic words and phrases encoded in bars 1-6 of the Enigma Theme Polybius box cipher are an anagram of the 24-letter German title of the secretive melody: Ein feste Burg ist unser Gott. In the article from The Pall Mall Magazine that Elgar retained in his personal library, John Holt Schooling refers to the Polybius box as “The ‘Checker-board’ Cipher.” The list below shows the first cipher method (Checkerboard) followed by the languages of the full decryption in order of appearance from bars 1-6. This is capped off by the second cipher method (Anagram) needed to unscramble the first decryption (Elgar’s “dark saying”) to reveal the second (the title of the covert Theme):
The third through sixth sequence of initials (LEEA) stands out from that acrostic of nine terms. In March 1899, Elgar moved his family into a new home that he christened Craeg Lea. This move occurred shortly after he finished orchestrating the Enigma Variations the prior month on February 19. Elgar devised this unusual residential moniker by reversing the letters of his last name (Craeg Lea) and inserting the initials from the first names of his wife Alice (Craeg Lea), daughter Carice (Craeg Lea) and himself (Craeg Lea). The acrostic letter sequence “LEEA” from the above list suggests the last name of Elgar’s home from that very period. Remarkably, the first letters from that list of languages and encipherment techniques furnish all but one letter from these two unusual names, the r. Recall that the second letter in “Aramaic” was required to complete Elgar’s covert signature in the discrete list of cipher languages (English, Latin, German, Aramaic). That same condition applies again in this instance to complete the unique and novel title for Elgar’s residence.
The first letters of the cipher languages (English, Latin, English, English, Aramaic, English German) and cipher types (Checkerboard and Anagram) are an acrostic anagram of “EE CRAEG LEA.” This solution features the composer’s initials (EE) followed by the distinctive name for his residence (Craeg Lea). The discovery of this cryptogram affirms that Elgar conceived of this new name months if not years before moving into his new home in March 1899. Other cryptograms in the Enigma Variations are distinguished by Elgar’s dual initial Es. For instance, the performance directions in the Enigma Theme’s opening bar are an acrostic anagram of “EE’s Psalm.” This cryptogram is called the Enigma Psalms Cipher. Remarkably, there are exactly 46 characters in this cipher that implicates Psalm 46. The encoding of psalm in the Enigma Theme’s inaugural bar serves as a major clue because the title of the covert Theme originates from Psalm 46.
The Enigma Theme’s opening bars harbor other fascinating musical cryptograms such as the Pi Cipher, Locks Cipher, and Keys Cipher. A German sixth chord on the downbeat of bar 5 is noteworthy because the covert Theme's title is six German words. The title Enigma is spelled identically in English and German. It was written on the full score by Elgar’s only German friend portrayed in the Variations, August Jaeger. The first three letters of Enigma are also an anagram of Ein, the first word in the covert Theme’s title. There are undoubtedly other cryptograms yet to be discovered in Elgar's arresting homage to musical cryptography. To learn more about the secrets of the Enigma Variations, read my free eBook Elgar’s Enigmas Exposed.