A German clue to Elgar’s Enigma?

A German clue to Elgar’s Enigma?


norman lebrecht

September 26, 2021

You decide.

We’re just the whiteboard.



  • Sixtus says:

    I’m sure by now that others have commented that the linked YouTube video has nothing to do with the Enigma Variations, despite the clickbait headline. It concerns an letter-puzzle Elgar sent to ‘Dorabella,’ one of those persons depicted in the Variations. The solution presented to this puzzle is convincing. It is possible there that there is a musical connection between the puzzle and Variations (Elgar did say that of all people Dorabella should have figured it out) but such a connection is not explicitly claimed made in the (rather poorly executed) video.

  • Ed Walters says:

    The Enigma I’m convinced has been solved by a guy called Ed Newton-Rex, a Cambridge alum; it’s Pergolesi’s Stabat Mater. Classic FM made a thing of it a while back, works for me. https://amp.classicfm.com/composers/elgar/news/young-composer-solves-enigma/

  • The conjecture there could be a coded connection between the number of semicircles in the Dorabella Cipher with similar shaped cursive letters (M, m, U, u, W, and w) from the German lyrics to “Ein feste Burg” (A Mighty Fortress) is deeply flawed. The primary reason for this assessment is that such an approach overlooks other similarly shaped cursive letters such as C, c, E, and n. When those glyphs are factored into the analysis, it severs the alleged numeric link between the Dorabella ciphertext and semicircular letters from the lyrics of Martin Luther’s celebrated hymn. Such a tangential theory is the product of cherry-picking the data rather than conducting an objective analysis.

    Some entertain a link between the Dorabella Cipher and the Enigma Variations because Elgar dedicated Variation X to Dora Penny. The problem with this suspicion is that the timeline is out of sync. The Dorabella Cipher was produced on July 14, 1897. Elgar did not start work on the Enigma Variations until October 21, 1898. 465 days separate the genesis of the Dorabella Cipher and the Enigma Variations, a gap that cannot be bridged by a contrived connection with the famous hymn “Ein feste Burg.”

    The basis for contemplating “Ein feste Burg” as a prospective solution to the Dorabella Cipher is that four-note fragments of that famous hymn are quoted in Variation X. The following video documents this revealing clue that should have not escaped the notice of an Anglican Rector’s daughter:


    A detailed analysis of the contrapuntal mapping of “Ein feste Burg” through and over Variation X is available at:


    Elgar surreptitiously cites these melodic snippets in Variation X because “Ein feste Burg” is the covert principal Theme to the Enigma Variations. My formal paper “Evidence for ‘Ein feste Burg’ as the Covert Theme to Elgar’s Enigma Variations” is available at:


    Scores of cryptograms in the Enigma Variations authenticate “Ein feste Burg” as the secret melody. Elgar was an expert in cryptography. The discovery of so many ciphers is consistent with his expertise in that field. A list of these ciphers with links to explanatory articles is posted at:


    • La plus belle voix says:

      The closer you look at something the more you see what is not there to see. As in the wood and the trees, or conspiracy theorists, the 9/11 event and The Da Vinci Code. If one tries hard enough, anything can be made to fit anything else.

      • The old “conspiracy theorist” canard is brazenly unoriginal and intellectually slothful. To advance such a vacuous assertion is prima facie evidence of confirmation bias, the very infraction you so freely accuse others of committing.

        • La plus belle voix says:

          Then please explain why the b natural of Ein feste Burg does not fit the Dm 6/5 chord on the first beat of measure 6 of Enigma.

  • Corno di Caccia says:

    Oh no, not this old chestnut again?! If there is a real Enigma, something I very much doubt, then Elgar took the mystery to his grave. He loved japes and puzzles and knew the british public were suckers for a good old mystery and probably delighted in leading everyone up the garden path. As a devoted – and well-read – Elgarian, I left that path many years ago. Although, if pushed, I think Joseph Cooper’s 1990s Dorabella/Mozart explanation comes the closest to solving any possible musical mystery in that the notes of the ‘Enigma’ theme can be found in the slow movement (Andante) of Mozart’s Symphony No. 38 in D major, K. 504 (“Prague”) within bars 35 to 38 and, with more relevance, in bars 123 to 126 where the key is G major which shares the same G minor/major key of Elgar’s Variations.
    As for the ‘dark saying which must be left unguessed’, I rather think he meant death. Death of the dearly loved ‘friends pictured within’ who Elgar constantly relied on for support throughout his life must have been a thought in his mind as it is with us all; although, as has been pointed out elsewhere, the actual friends pictured – or more accurately caricatured, quite cruelly in some cases – within were mostly his wife’s friends.
    It is always worth remembering that Elgar’s original title for this work was merely ‘Variations on an Original Theme’. The word ‘Enigma’ was later added to the original manuscript by his publisher, August Jaeger, famously Nimrod of Variation 10, on Elgar’s instruction.
    We should let this rest with Elgar now and just love and appreciate this work for the masterpiece that it is.

  • Stweart says:

    Was Alan Turing a pupil of Elgar ?

  • Paul Brownsey says:

    The Nimrod tune is the never-never-shall-be bit of Rule, Britannia. Could someone with an ear for these things say whether the opening theme of Enigma is the same notes in the minor?

    • La plus belle voix says:

      The first six notes at “never, never, never” are b’, g’, c”, a’, d”, c” (pitches in Helmholtz); those of the Enigma theme itself are b flat’, g’, c”, a”, (rest), d”, b flat’. So only the first five notes fit, as the interval between the fifth and sixth pitches in “Rule, Britannia” forms a major second, and in Enigma a major third. As for Nimrod, the interval between the fifth and sixth pitches is a perfect fourth, so there is no real fit. Finally, yes, the Enigma theme is in G minor, and “Rule, Britannia” in G Major. Essentially, however, there is just a passing resemblance and “Rule, Britannia” is not the answer. Elgar did quote the tune in “The Music Makers”, along (interestingly but not tellingly) with Nimrod.

      • Paul Brownsey says:

        Thank you. I have been trying to find the source of bits of the Enigma Variations in Rule, Britannia ever since I read that he told Dora Penny that she, above all people, should have solved the puzzle–and the penny of those days had Britannia on the rear side.

        • La plus belle voix says:

          Glad you maintain such curiosity. Pity that “Rule, Britannia” does not fit the criterion of a “dark secret” to which Elgar alluded.

    • Elgar acknowledged that the silent Principal Theme to his Enigma Variations plays “through and over” each movement as a counterpoint. The following contrapuntal mapping of Mendelssohn’s version of “Ein feste Burg” above Variation IX (Nimrod) complies with this stipulation:


      In his video essay “The Mystery Behind Elgar’s Enigma”, composer Barnaby Martin acknowledges the efficacy of this contrapuntal mapping:


      This mapping was also presented at the BBC Proms by David Owen Norris and Dr. Kate Kennedy:


      No other alleged melodic solution has ever been successfully mapped as a counterpoint above Variation IX (Nimrod). The persuasive contrapuntal mapping of “Ein feste Burg” above Nimrod is unprecedented, placing Luther’s most famous hymn in a class of its own.

      • La plus belle voix says:

        Well, I guess if you mash together three famous versions of the tune “Ein feste Burg” (Luther, Bach and Mendelssohn), and play the latter backwards, then mangle the rhythmic values to force them to fit, as well as alternating between major and minor to make it harmonize, then of course it will fit, as would “Way down upon the Swanee River”, eventually.

      • La plus belle voix says:

        PS: The first beat of measure 6 in Nimrod is a chord of D minor. In this case it is the mediant of B flat Major (in turn the dominant of the home key E flat Major because Elgar has modulated there). You choose however to superimpose the b natural of Ein feste Burg on that chord, making a root position 6/5 in a minor key. Although the b natural anticipates the b natural in the inner voices (viola and cello) on the next beat , the actual harmony there is a second inversion, i.e. 6/4 chord, of G Major, which acts as the dominant to C minor, the relative minor of the home key E flat Major. Your solution patently does not fit for harmonic reasons. It is “cooked” so to speak.

  • SoCalFanThumbs says:

    Please see Video Description:
    In the Dorabella Cipher, “a small dot appears after the fifth character on the third line”….I believe that the “asterisk” (dot) refers to Martin Luther’s attributed statement “Here I stand”.
    The “dot” (“i” or “I”) corresponds to Strophe 4, (line one, between the fifth and sixth word) where the German word for “stand” is “stehn”, “stahn”, or “stehen”. “Ich stehen”, or “I stand”.

    • La plus belle voix says:

      Yes, pretty obvious really, as is my pet theory that the dot, or “Punkt” in German, is explained as crossing the /t/ of the later wave of Punk music predicated by Elgar himself.

  • La plus belle voix says:

    Still waiting for a response from Mr. Padget about that 6/5 chord on the mediant of the dominant of the tonic (III of V of I). An answer came there none.