When he saw one of his own works by the side of, say, the Fifth Symphony [by Beethoven], he felt as a tinker might do when he saw the Forth Bridge.
Ernest Newman in The Music of the Masters: Elgar
The British Romantic composer Edward Elgar excelled in cryptography, the discipline of coding and decoding secret messages. His obsession with that esoteric art merits an entire chapter in Craig P. Bauer’s treatise Unsolved! A decade of concerted analysis of the symphonic Enigma Variations has netted over eighty cryptograms in diverse formats. These ciphers encode a set of mutually consistent and complementary solutions that furnish definitive answers to the core questions posed by the Enigma Variations. What is the secret melody to which the Enigma Theme is a counterpoint and serves as the foundation of the ensuing movements? Answer: Ein feste Burg (A Mighty Fortress) by Martin Luther. What is Elgar’s “dark saying” ensconced within the Enigma Theme? Answer: A musical Polybius box cipher embedded 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 unexpected or unusual locations. For example, the Enigma Theme has an oddly placed double bar line at the end of measure 6. The presence of a double bar line so close to the beginning of a movement is decidedly anomalous. This condition also applies to the first bridge passage framed by an end bar line at the start of bar 18 and a double bar line at the end of bar 19. A section in classical music that smoothly transitions one movement into another is known as a bridge passage. The first bridge passage forms the concluding phrase of the iconic Enigma Theme. It begins at Rehearsal 2 and precedes Variation I (C. A. E.). It is highly unusual to observe two double bar lines and one end barline in less than twenty measures is highly unusual.
Some remarkable examples of cryptograms in the opening six bars of the Enigma Theme are the Pi Cipher, Locks Cipher, Keys Cipher, and Psalm Cipher. The presence of so many musical ciphers in these inaugural bars before the abrupt appearance of the first double barline supports the tantalizing prospect that other cryptograms are ensconced between the end and double bar lines of the Enigma Theme’s concluding bridge passage. This hypothesis precipitated an analysis of Enigma Variations’ three bridge passages individually and collectively with the goal of detecting and decrypting prospective ciphers. What follows is the second installment in a series of articles that will unveil key findings from this project.
The first bridge passage in bars 18 and 19 of the Enigma Variations constitutes the ending phrase of the Enigma Theme. It redirects the G major Picardy cadence carried over from bar 17 back to G minor to set the modal stage for Variation I unfurled in bar 20. The first bridge passage starts on the downbeat of measure 18 with a faint G major chord played by the second violins (D/B), first and second B-flat clarinets (concert pitch G/G an octave apart in written pitch as A/A) violas (G/D), cellos and basses (G/G two octaves apart). Above this vanishing tonic major triad, the first violins play a sequence of sixteen brooding eighth notes starting on B a major 7th above middle C. The first violins perform nine melodic notes soli before being joined by the violas on the tenth with a harmonic unison G a fifth above middle C. As the violins descend a diminished 5th (a tritone) to C-sharp, the violas drop a minor 7th from G to A and play the next four harmonic intervals a major third below the violins followed by three more harmonic minor thirds for a total of seven sequential harmonic thirds.
The first bridge passage starts in G major and ends in G minor. It is remarkable the accidentals of G major (F-sharp) and G minor (B-flat and E-flat) furnish the initials for the covert Theme (Ein feste Burg). This is the basis for the decryption of the Keys Cipher, a cryptogram that was only recognized after the discovery of the Locks Cipher. The Enigma Theme’s full score encodes a phonetic version of the word “locks” (LOQX) in bars 1-6 through the separate note totals for each active string part filtered through an elementary number-to-letter key. The realization that locks are opened by keys stimulated a fresh reassessment of the musical keys in which the Enigma Theme is played. Like the bridge passage, the Enigma Theme is also performed in the parallel major and minor modes of G. The first bridge passage is a modal microcosm of the Enigma Theme.
The melody line of the first bridge passage consists of eight pairs of slurred eighth notes. Just as there is no melodic E in the Enigma Theme’s opening six bars, there is no E in this first bridge passage. There is an intriguing commonality to the instrumentation for this first bridge passage. All of the string instruments that predominate in the bridge section possess a component that supports the strings known as a bridge. The clarinets are the only other instruments that perform briefly at the outset of the first bridge passage. Similar to the strings, a clarinet has a bridge key.
The Bridge Chord 4 and 6 Cipher
Ten written notes form the vanishing G major chord at the beginning of the Enigma Theme’s bridge passage. This chord has four unison Gs played a 4th below Middle C by the first B-flat clarinet (written a whole tone higher as A but sounding in concert pitch as G), violas, and cellos with divisi staves in tenor clef. The remaining six discrete pitches are performed by the first and second violins, second clarinet, and double bass. This is the first of the Enigma Theme Bridge Passage Ciphers because a chord of four identical notes with six other discrete pitches is a coded version of the numbers 4 and 6. The combination of those two numerals reproduces the chapter for Psalm 46, the passage from the Bible that inspired the title and lyrics of Martin Luther’s hymn Ein feste Burg.
A performance direction is a standardized word or acronym in music that instructs the performer on how to execute a particular passage. Remarkably, the performance directions in the Enigma Theme’s first bar encode the word “psalm” as part of the acrostic anagram “EE’s Psalm.”
This is revealing because the covert Theme’s title originates from Psalm 46. Incredibly, there are precisely 46 characters in the performance directions found in the Enigma Theme’s opening measure.
The numbers 4 and 6 are encoded together in a variety of ways throughout the Enigma Theme. Section A is in G minor and is comprised of six measures (bars 1-6). This is followed by Section B in G major which consists of four measures (bars 7-10). Each of the six bars in Section A has four melody notes, and each of the four bars in Section B has six melody notes. The unusual orchestration of the G major chord at the beginning of the first bridge passage is a continuation of this subtle yet unmistakable pattern. The encoding of the numbers 4 and 6 within this opening chord pinpoints the precise chapter from the Book of Psalms that unveils the title of the covert Theme. This numeric confluence further implies that the word psalm is enciphered in this bridge section.
There are nine performance directions in the first bridge passage. Those terms are listed below in order from the top of the score down to the bottom:
- L’istesso tempo.
- a tempo
- pianissimo indicated as pp
- con sordini
- forte indicated as f
- dim. molto
- forte indicated as f
- a tempo
These nine performance directions may be broken down into fourteen separate terms with 55 characters as listed below in alphabetical order:
The number 55 is a coded form of Elgar’s initials (EE) as E is the fifth letter of the alphabet. That number is linked to Variation XIII because it begins at Rehearsal 55. The letter e appears six times in those nine performance directions with two in L’istesso tempo, two in tempo shown twice, and two in forte represented by f. Coded allusions to Elgar’s initials occur in a variety of cryptograms within the Enigma Variations including the Psalm Cipher situated in measure 1 of the Enigma Theme.
Five performance directions in bar 18 are an acrostic anagram of psalm:
Four of those terms appear contiguously when the performance directions are listed in alphabetical order. This discovery is extraordinary because the performance directions in the first bar of the Enigma Theme also encipher psalm as an acrostic anagram. Elgar’s use of the same encoding technique at the beginning and end of the Enigma Theme authenticates both cryptograms and bolsters the identification of these bars as the full extent of that opening movement.
The encoding of psalm serves as a major clue because the title of the covert Theme originates from the first line of Psalm 46: A Mighty Fortress Is Our God. It was previously observed that the G major chord at the beginning of the first bridge passage encodes the numbers 4 and 6 through four unison notes and six discrete pitches. This chapter number is further intimated by the orchestration in the Enigma Theme bridge passage in which the first violins and violas perform a total of six four-note groupings of beamed notes. This article is the second in a series that identifies and decrypts an assortment of cryptograms embedded within the three bridge passages of the Enigma Variations. The reader is encouraged to check back periodically for the next installment. To learn more about the secrets of the Enigma Variations, read my free eBook Elgar's Enigmas Exposed.