Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Crossing References In Elgar's Enigma Variations

Nothing is more detestable than music without hidden meaning.

The concept of crossing is raised on at least two different occasions within the Enigma Variations by Edward Elgar. The first occurs in Variation VI, an Andantino dedicated to his viola pupil Isabel Fitton. Elgar characterized its opening motive as “an ‘exercise’ for crossing the strings—a difficulty for beginners.” The second appears in Variation XIII where repeated quotations of a four-note fragment from Felix Mendelssohn’s concert overture Calm Sea and Prosperous Voyage sonically portray a ship crossing the open sea. In both cases, the idea of crossing is imparted by particular musical motives cited and explicitly described by the composer.
What could be the significance of these “crossing references” in the Enigma Variations? The name Elgar bestowed on his viola pupil as the subtitle for her movement, Ysobel, originates from the Old Testament name for Aaron’s wife, Elisheba. Aaron was the brother of Moses and the first High Priest of Israel during the Exodus. The title for Variation IX, Nimrod, also heralds from the pages of Genesis. In consideration of these conspicuous Biblical references, a promising avenue of inquiry hinges on Elgar’s Roman Catholicism. In connection with the idea of crossing, it is instructive to realize that an integral and ubiquitous expression of that faith is the sign of the cross.

Sign of the cross

This tradition is decidedly ecumenical as it is practiced by Roman Catholics, Orthodox, Episcopalians, and even Lutherans. Martin Luther retained and fostered this practice as a vestige of his training as a Roman Catholic priest. Whether it is something as minute as crossing strings on a viola or as vast as a steamer crossing an ocean, these two conspicuous references to crossing in the Enigma Variations invite a careful search for covert allusions to this distinctly Christian idea.
A careful analysis of the Enigma Variations reveals numerous coded references to the cross. For instance, the Enigma Theme’s time signature is 4/4 which is also known as common time represented by a capital C. The word cross begins with the letter c, and that symbol has four endpoints. Like that number, there are four movements in the Enigma Variations set in common time.
Time Signature
Key Signature
Enigma Theme
G minor
1 through 19
I. C.A.E.
G minor
20 through 40
V. R. P. A.
12/8 (4/4)
C minor
165 through 188
G minor
466 through 493

It is remarkable that the pattern for conducting common time replicates the sign of the cross.
How to conduct common time

The symbol for common time is a capital C which represents a broken circle. In early music notation, a circle represented tempus perfectum or perfect time with three beats. A broken circle stood for tempus imperfectum or imperfect time with four beats. The word cross begins with the letter c, and a cross has four endpoints. The wafer of bread used in the Eucharist is traditionally circular, and it is broken during the ritual to symbolize the breaking of Christ’s body on the cross. There is another cryptographic link between the Enigma Theme and circles discovered by  Richard Santa. He made the critical discovery that Elgar encoded the mathematical constant Pi (3.142) in the first bar of the Enigma Theme using the scale degrees of the opening four melody notes (3-1-4-2). The number Pi is the ratio of a circle’s circumference to its diameter.

A priest holding up the circular communion bread

There are fourteen stations of the cross, and likewise, there are fourteen numbered variations. The Roman numerals for Variation XIII may be viewed as the Jesuit symbol of a cross and three nails.

Sign of the Jesuit Order

The application of an elementary number-to-letter cipher key to the Roman numerals XIII results in the decryption JC, the initials for Elgar’s not-so-secret friend, Jesus Christ. X represents the number ten, and the tenth letter of the alphabet is J. III stands for three, and the third letter is C. Jesus was crucified on a Roman cross, and Variation XIII has the subtitle Romanza which transparently provides a phonetic spelling of his executioners, the Romans.
In Variation XIII there are four Mendelssohn fragments. Two are performed in the keys of A flat major, and the remaining two are played in F minor and E flat major. The cross has four endpoints, and there are four Mendelssohn fragments in Variation XIII consisting of four notes each. The key letters (F. A. E.) of those fragments are not random, for they  are a well-known music cryptogram taken from violinist Joseph Joachim’s romantic motto, “Frei aber einsam.” Joachim’s motto means “Free but lonely,” and it may be directly linked to Elgar’s statement that the Enigma Theme captured his “sense of the loneliness of the artist.” Elgar’s encoding of the music cryptogram FAE in the Mendelssohn fragments is clearly deliberate, for it furnishes some remarkable parallels with the covert Theme. Like Joachim's three word motto, Ein feste Burg is three words in German. More significantly, the first three letters of einsam are the first word in the covert Theme’s title. The four Mendelssohn fragments are a major clue because Mendelssohn quotes Ein feste Burg in the fourth movement of his Reformation Symphony which is predominantly in common time.
The Roman numerals for the two movements (VI and XIII) with conspicuous references to crossing add up to nineteen. This is the precise number of measures for the complete Enigma Theme. This figure is significant because a detailed description of the crucifixion and burial of Christ is given in the nineteenth chapter of the book of John, the fourth Gospel. This numeric connection between the Enigma Theme’s bar length and John chapter 19 is remarkable because Elgar mentions that name in a letter to the editor of The Musical Times, F. G. Edwards. In a letter dated February 16, 1899, Elgar described how the Enigma Theme is “‘looked at’ through the personality (as it were) of another Johnny.” Like the names John and Joseph Joachim, the secret friend’s name begins with the letter J.
Like the four endpoints of the cross, four subtitles in the Enigma Variations form an acrostic of the word Frei. Elgar was an aficionado of wordplay who enjoyed crossword puzzles, puns, anagrams, acrostics, phonetic spellings, and ciphers. What makes this ordering of these four subtitles even more amazing is that it includes the Italian word for but (ma) followed by a phonetic version of einsam (eanzam). The configuration of eanzam outlines a cross with the horizontal beam symbolically placed on the subtitle Romanza. The encoding of Joachim’s motto in these four subtitles was made possibly only after the discovery of the F-A-E Cipher in the Mendelssohn fragments of Variation XIII. The discovery of one cipher facilitated the recognition and decoding of another more sophisticated anagram.

The languages of Elgar’s Frei Acrostic Cipher are German and Italian with two words spelled correctly and a third phonetically. This use of multiple languages with phonetic spellings are features of a Polybius Square Music cipher embedded in the opening six measures of the Enigma Theme. This is the Enigma Theme’s “dark saying” first mentioned in the 1899 program note for the premiere of the Variations. Elgar’s penchant for wordplay is on full display because another name for a Polybius Square is a Box cipher, so it may aptly be described as a Music Box cipher. Elgar read about the Polybius Square from a 1896 edition of The Pall Mall Gazette in the fourth installment of a series called “Secrets in Cipher.” A Polybius Square is decrypted by identifying the plaintext in a checkerboard grid resembling a chessboard. Each cell may contain a solution letter, and the decoding process involves the act of crossing because each solution letter is revealed by the intersection or crosspoint of a vertical column and horizontal row In his first biography published in 1905, Elgar bragged about solving a supposedly insoluble cipher presented at the end of that very article. That perplexing cryptogram was a Nihilist cipher, a variant of the Polybius Box cipher. Elgar’s personal copy of that article is now housed at the Elgar Birthplace Museum.
There is a particular melodic sequence in the Enigma Theme’s contrasting G major section (measures 7-11) known as a rosalia. The musical term rosalia is reminiscent of the word rosary, a beaded necklace with a cross worn by Catholics that is used during the recitations of various prayers. In German, this modulation technique is known as Schusterflecke, and was championed in the works Robert Schumann whom Elgar proudly proclaimed as “my ideal!” Schumann contributed an Intermezzo and a Finale to the four movement F-A-E Sonata for violin and piano. Elgar emulated his ideal by also including an Intermezzo (X) and Finale (XIV)  in the Enigma Variations. The sum of the Roman numerals for those movements is 24. This is the same number of letters in the complete six-word title of the covert Theme as well as the sum of the melody notes in the Enigma Theme’s opening G minor section (measures 1-6) and contrasting G major section (measures 7-11). This emphasis on the number 24 is not a coincidence, for it is encoded extensively throughout the Enigma Theme.
The cross is a symbol of mortality, and the specter of death looms over the Enigma Variations. The silence of the principal Theme is evocative of a passage from Psalm 37:17 that mentions the silence of the grave. For Elgar, there was an indelible link between music and death, for as a boy he studied musical scores at 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 (Todesstille). 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 on stage in various 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. Two distinct ciphers in Variation XIII encode references to the Turin Shroud and a “Dead God,” providing further cryptographic evidence for the brutal crucifixion of Elgar’s divine friend.
In the overt references to crossing in the Enigma Variations, the prevalence of the letter C is often subtle but unmistakable. In Variation VI the string crossing figure begins with the notes G, C and E introduced first by the viola section. These three notes outline the C major chord. A beginner would play this figure in the first position on the G, C and D strings, the lower three strings of the viola. The first two Mendelssohn fragments in Variation XIII are introduced on the note C by the clarinet, an instrument whose name begins with the letter C. The first two Mendelssohn fragments descend stepwise from C, B flat to A flat, covering an interval of a major third. These fragments are accompanied by the viola section playing alternating sixths which replicate the palindromic rhythm of the Enigma Theme above a pedal tone produced by a soft timpani roll on C.  The first letter from the English title of Mendelssohn’s concert overture (Calm Sea and Prosperous Voyage) is also C. Of course, the marine atmosphere of Variation XIII symbolizes the sea, a word that is the phonetic equivalent of the letter C. This is the first letter in the words Christ, cross, counterpoint and cipher.
There is also a coded emphasis on the number six in connection with the crossing references in the Enigma Variations. The string crossing figure is introduced by the violas in Variation VI, and alternating sixths are played by the violas in Variation XIII below the Mendelssohn fragments. Both the number six and the letter C receive a distinctive emphasis in these crossing references. One likely explanation is that this is an amusing Elgarian wordplay because the combination of C with the number six is phonetic for “Sea sicks.” Elgar was prone to this marine malady. On his first voyage to America aboard the SS Deutschland in June 1905, Elgar suffered from a bout of sea sickness.
The concept of crossing is openly conveyed by musical motives found in Variations VI and XIII of the Enigma Variations. Elgar’s Roman Catholicism invites interpreting these crossing references as allusions to the cross. Musical and cryptographic features of the Enigma Variations lend ample credence to the effectiveness of this analytical approach. One objective of this presentation is to make the case that Elgar’s use of cryptography and Christian symbolism in the Enigma Variations is far more sophisticated and extensive than popularly believed by secular scholars who are often ill equipped to identify and decode them. To learn more about the secrets behind one of Elgar’s most celebrated symphonic achievements, read my free eBook Elgar’s Enigmas Exposed.

Thursday, July 27, 2017

Cameos of Elgar’s Nimrod in Nolan’s Dunkirk

We must be very careful not to assign to this deliverance the attributes of a victory. Wars are not won by evacuations.

The most popular movement from Edward Elgar’s Enigma Variations is undoubtedly the ninth which is more commonly known by its unconventional title Nimrod. This movement is performed on Remembrance Sunday before the Cenotaph to commemorate “THE GLORIOUS DEAD,” those selfless soldiers who paid the supreme sacrifice for their sovereign and country. Considered a pejorative in modern usage, the nickname Nimrod was bestowed by Elgar on his only German friend portrayed in the Enigma Variations, August Jaeger. In the book of Genesis, Nimrod is described as “a mighty hunter,” and the German name Jäger (respelled in English as Jaeger) means “hunter.” Jaeger was on the hunt for masterpieces when he discovered Elgar, fast becoming a stalwart champion of his music at the London music publisher Novello. Elgar’s portrayal of his loyal friend and ally as Nimrod is profoundly elegiac and noble.
Yet another German, Hans Zimmer (in collaboration with Benjamin Wallfisch and Lorne Balfe) quotes fragments of Nimrod in his original film score for Christopher Nolan’s wartime epic Dunkirk. These melodic invocations, framed in contrasting modes a suspenseful augmented derivations, appear in six out of eleven sections of the soundtrack in three contrasting keys: C major, E major, and E flat major.

C major
Rehearsal 34, bars 1-2 followed by bars 5-6
C major
Rehearsal 34, bars 1-2 followed by bars 5-6
E major
Rehearsal 33, bars 1-2
E major
Rehearsal 33, bars 1-4
E flat major
Rehearsal 33, bars 1-3
Rehearsal 33, bars 5-8
Rehearsal 37, bars 1-3
E flat major
Partial 2 bar fragment 4 measures before Rehearsal 36

These recurring Nimrod motives in a major motion picture about the German route of the British Expeditionary Force at Dunkirk are noteworthy for a variety of reasons. During World War II the German military issued coded messages to its forces using the Enigma machine, an elaborate rotor cipher device named after Elgar’s impenetrable Enigma Variations. Jaeger’s name is associated with Dunkirk because special units of the German Army called Panzer Jäger Battalions took part in its encirclement and capture. The first two fragments from Nimrod are quoted in the key of C, a symbolic gesture as the bulk of the British army was evacuated by sea in Operation Dynamo. Dunkirk would not be another Yorktown. The number of days that the evacuation required presents an uncanny parallel with Variation IX, for it began March 26, 1940, and concluded nine days later on June 4.  Dunkirk in the original French (Dunkerque) has nine letters. There are sea fragments quoted in the Enigma Variations, and in Dunkirk’s film score there are fragments of the Enigma Variations quoted in C. In a surprising twist, the Nimrod fragments’ key letters (C major, E major, and E flat major) produce the phonetic equivalent of sea (CEE) with the c sounding like an s as in the word circle. Such an outcome is doubly remarkable because Elgar’s personal correspondence bristles with phonetic spellings, and he routinely signed his letters (pun intended) with his initials (EE).
The specter of death looms over the embattled shores of Nolan's Dunkirk, and so too with the Enigma Variations. The silence of the principal Theme is evocative of a passage from Psalm 37:17 that mentions the silence of the grave. For Elgar was an indelible link between music and death, for as a boy he studied musical scores at 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 on stage in various 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. In a sense, the soldiers stranded and surrounded on the beach at Dunkirk were like marionettes waiting for the waves of little ships to launch them on an epic exodus. For some, their final destination would be the watery depths as their vessels were strafed and bombed by the Luftwaffe or torpedoed by U-boats. Fortunately for the majority of Britain's beleaguered soldiers, their safe arrival in England heralded a rebirth of the home army that would eventually mount a triumphant return to the continent on D-Day in Operation Overlord.
Melodic snippets of Nimrod surface on six tracks of Nolan's Dunkirk in a torpid tempo of 6 beats per minute. This poses another remarkable parallel with the Enigma Variations because the number six serves as a numeric talisman throughout that symphonic tour de force. For example, the Opus number 36 is the product of six multiplied by itself. In Dunkirk’s score, the Nimrod fragments appear in three distinct keys over six tracks, encoding a deft reference to that opus number. The number 36 is linked to the nautical expression “deep six,” a term referring to a burial at sea at a depth of 6 fathoms or 36 feet. That opus number conveys another deathly allusion in the Enigma Variations. With overt melodic and poetic references to a ship crossing the open sea in Variation XIII, it is stunning no mainstream Elgar scholar every fathomed that numeric maritime reference. In his dedication that prefaces the Variations, Elgar wrote precisely six words, “Dedicated to my friends pictured within.” Notice the first syllable of that inscription (Dedicated) sounds like "dead," serving up yet another intimation at mortality. Elgar repeatedly hints at death in the Enigma Variations to serve as a subtle clue regarding the identity of the secret friend embodied in Variation XIII whose initials are hidden in plain view by the Roman numerals.
There are even more coded references to the number six in the Enigma Variations. Like the name Nimrod, the Theme's unconventional title Enigma consists of six letters. In all, there are six titles in the Enigma Variations comprised of six letters each. Six of the Enigma Variations are set in G minor, a key signature with two flats (B flat and E flat) with the accidental F sharp functioning as the leading tone. In the Enigma Theme’s fifth bar, Elgar uses a conspicuous augmented chord known as a German sixth. At the end of the original Finale, Elgar wrote  a six-word paraphrase of a passage from Tasso’s Gerusalemme Liberata, “Bramo assai, poco spero, nulla chieggio.” The literal translation of that Italian phrase is, “I desire much, I hope little, I ask nothing.” Goethe composed the play Torquato Tasso about that sixteenth-century Italian prince of poets. It is hardly coincidental that there is a special connection between Tasso and the secret friend portrayed in Variation XIII. Elgar draws unusual attention to the number six throughout the Enigma Variations to serve as an illuminating hint concerning the Enigma Theme's secret melody and “dark saying” cited in the original program note.
Like Jaeger whose nobility is enshrined in Nimrod, the lead composer for Dunkirk’s score, Hans Zimmer, is a German residing in a predominantly English speaking country. At first glance, it seems a tinge ironic that a German would lead the team that composed the music for a wartime epic memorializing the siege and evacuation of British and allied forces at Dunkirk, a colossal military disaster unleashed by the Wehrmacht. There is another deeper German connection to the Enigma Variations hinging on its secretive principal Theme. Elgar insisted the Enigma Theme was a counterpoint to a famous melody, and mounting evidence points to Ein feste Burg (A Mighty Fortress) by Martin Luther. That hymn was a patriotic paean of the German military sung before battle and following each victory. There is a distinct military nexus between Jaeger's last name and the German military for the word Jaeger was once used to refer to the light infantry of the German army. More significant for Elgar (an ardent disciple of the German school), Ein feste Burg is quoted in the music of such German luminaries as Buxtehude, Pachelbel, Telemann, Bach, Handel, Mendelssohn, Raff, and Wagner. To follow in the footsteps of these titans without openly offending his Roman Catholic sensibilities, Elgar opted to covertly quote Luther’s battle hymn of the Reformation relying on a curiously constructed countermelody. In the process, he produced a melodic cipher that baffled and befuddled laypersons and experts alike for over a century.
The recognition of Ein feste Burg as the covert Theme places a renewed significance on the number six throughout the Variations. The complete title of Luther’s hymn is six words in length: Ein feste Burg ist Unser Gott. The German augmented sixth chord in measure 5 of the Enigma Theme further hints at both the language and number of words in the covert Theme’s title. Moreover, the accidentals for the Enigma Theme’s G minor mode (B flat, E flat and F sharp) encode the initials for the shorter and more commonly used version of the title, Ein feste Burg. The Enigma Theme's key signature literally holds the key to unlocking Elgar’s melodic riddle. These same three letters turn up again in the score for the tuning of the timpani in Variation IX as E flat, B flat and F. The timpani’s prescribed tuning for Nimrod is a transparent anagram of the covert Theme’s initials.

Elgar openly hinted at the Germanic origin of the hidden Theme's title by sourcing his initials (E.D.U.) for Variation XIV from the German rendering of his first name (Eduard). To make this point emphatically clear, Elgar even had Jaeger (his only German friend represented in the Enigma Variations) pencil in the word "Enigma" on the original orchestral score. Like its English counterpart, the word enigma is spelled identically in German. The surprising reality is the titles of the first and last movements of the Enigma Variations (Enigma and Eduard) are both in German. There is yet another German connection with the Enigma Variations, for Hans Richter, the great German conductor and Wagner protégé, directed its premiere in June 1899. As a token of his gratitude to the great German maestro, Elgar gave Richter a copy of Longfellow's Hyperion. With that seemingly innocent gesture, Elgar literally gave away the answer.
It is remarkable the initials E.F.B. are encoded by the Mendelssohn fragments in Variation XIII. Within the opening six measures of the Enigma Theme, Elgar constructed an ingenious 6 by 6 Music Box Cipher that encodes the complete 24 letter title of the covert Theme. Contrary to the claims of mainstream scholars like Julian Rushton, Elgar left behind written confirmation of the correct melodic solution in the form of a music cipher embedded in the Enigma Theme's opening six measures. This would explain why Elgar said in the original 1899 program note that the solution to the Enigma Theme's "dark saying" must remain "unguessed." One cannot guess the solution to a cipher because it must be decrypted.
On closer inspection, Elgar's odd nickname for his German friend Jaeger turns out to be an exquisite wordplay on the German title Ein feste Burg.  Elgar was an avid aficionado of wordplay. The biblical description of Nimrod as “a mighty hunter” conveniently in order the first two words of that title (“a mighty”). According to the scriptural account, Nimrod was an architect and builder of fortified cities, more succinctly known as fortresses. It is not that much of an extrapolation to extract from Nimrod’s connotations the title A Mighty Fortress. Jaeger’s Germanic lineage further invites the translation of A Mighty Fortress to the original title Ein feste Burg. Elgar’s penchant for wordplay is on full but covert display with his careful selection of “Enigma” for the title of the iconic Theme, for its first three letters (Enigma) are an anagram of the absent Theme’s first word (Ein). There is yet another uncanny link between the fortuitous disaster at Dunkirk and Elgar’s phantom Theme. The initials for the British Expeditionary Force (BEF) are an anagram of the initials for Ein feste Burg (EFB). To learn more about the secrets behind one of Elgar’s most celebrated symphonic achievements, read my free eBook Elgar’s Enigmas Exposed.

About Mr. Padgett

My photo
Mr. Padgett studied violin with Michael Rosenker (a student of Leopold Auer), and Rosenker’s pupil, Owen Dunsford. Mr. Padgett studied piano with Sally Magee (a student of Emanuel Bay), and Blanca Uribe, a student of Rosina Lhévinne. He attended the Stevenson School in Pebble Beach, California, and Vassar College in Poughkeepsie, New York, where he graduated Phi Beta Kappa with a degree in psychology. At Vassar he studied music theory and composition with Richard Wilson. Mr. Padgett has performed for Joseph Silverstein, Van Cliburn, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Maria Shriver, Steve Jobs, Prince Charles, Lady Camilla, Marcia Davenport, William F. Buckley, Jr., and other prominent public figures. His original compositions have been performed by the Monterey Symphony, at the Bohemian Grove, the Bohemian Club, and other private and public venues. In 2008 Mr. Padgett won the Max Bragado-Darman Fanfare Competition with his entry "Fanfare for the Eagles." It was premiered by the Monterey Symphony under Maestro Bragado in May 2008. A member of the Elgar Society, Mr. Padgett is married with five children.