Edward Elgar's Enigma- Solution and Confirmation

25 posts / 0 new
Last post
Edward Elgar's Enigma- Solution and Confirmation

Recent research has uncovered what is probably the "real" solution.  What do you think?

The first four notes of the Enigma Variations are scale degree 3-1-4-2, a common decimal approximation of Pi.  Pi was in the news during the year before Elgar wrote his famous enigma.  The Indiana Pi Bill of 1897 attempted to legislate the value of Pi.  This futile effort was widely ridiculed and Elgar was always amused by such "japes" as he called them.  Elgar loved puzzles and he alone solved a famous riddle that was issued as an challenge to all of England by a master puzzler (who bragged that his riddle was impossible to solve.)   Elgar's six page solution is on display at his birthplace museum.  Elgar said that his work on the Enigma Variations was "begun in a spirit of humor."  Pi fits all of the clues given by Elgar in his 1899 program notes.  The dark saying could be "Four and twenty blackbirds (dark) baked in a pie (Pi)".  Elgar was fond of puns.  One of his earliest works was "Childhood Daze."  Pi is the theme in the literary sense.  It is the concept behind the work.  The word "Enigma" was handwritten on the score, centered over the first four bars, where we can find both decimal Pi (3.142) and fractional Pi (22/7) cleverly hidden.  

In 1929, when he wrote his pianola roll notes, Elgar was 72 years old, in ill health, and no one had solved his enigma for 30 years.  Elgar was determined not to give up the solution but he probably wanted to leave unmistakable clues to verify the correct solution in case it were solved after his death.  In the first sentence he refers to 2 quavers and 2 crotchets, a hint at 22 (of 22/7).  In the second sentence he states that "the drop of the seventh should be observed in bars 3 and 4."  These two sevenths follow exactly after the first eleven notes leaving us 2/7 x 11 = 22/7.   In the third sentence Elgar further confirms his intentional Pi by refering to bar 7, a hint at /7 (of 22/7).   At age 72, Elgar left us three sentences hinting at fractional Pi in music that begins with decimal Pi, scale degree 3-1-4-2.  Elgar either planned his Enigma Variations around Pi or we have a series of phenomenal coincidences.  What do you think?

 

 

C R Santa

RE: Edward Elgar's Enigma- Solution and Confirmation

dnlsanta wrote:
The dark saying could be "Four and twenty blackbirds (dark) baked in a pie (Pi)".

It could be, yes.  It could also be "Baa, baa, black (= dark) sheep", or "Old King Cole (= coal = dark) was a merry old soul". Or something else entirely :-)

 

Quote:
At age 72, Elgar left us three sentences hinting at fractional Pi in music that begins with decimal Pi

Age 72? Hmm... that could be 7/2, or 3.5, which is fairly close to pi.

Sorry if that seems flippant, but it's just to illustrate that's it easy to find things if you look, and it seems as "close" as the "Four and twenty blackbirds..." idea.

 

Quote:
What do you think?

It seems rather like the 'plot' of a Dan Brown novel.

Fwiw, a longer version of the explanation, apparently by Dick Santa who came up with it*, is at 'http://wiki.answers.com/Q/What_is_the_solution_to_Elgar's_Enigma_Variations (just scroll down a bit).

* see 'A New Solution to Elgar's Old Enigma' at http://minnesota.publicradio.org/collections/special/columns/comparing_notes/archive/2007/06/a_new_solution.shtml


 

"Louder! Louder! I can still hear the singers!"

- Richard Strauss to the orchestra, at a rehearsal.

RE: Edward Elgar's Enigma- Solution and Confirmation

dnlsanta wrote:
Besides the enigma solution does not depend on the dark saying...

The darkness is rather implied, certainly:

"The Enigma I will not explain - its 'dark saying' must be left unguessed..." (From the programme note to the first performance).

But all I was trying to indicate is that once you fix on a "solution", it's easy enough to find things that seem to fit, to some degree or other.

For example:

"Sir Edward wrote a dedication on the score, "To My Friends Pictured Within".  As the entire piece is about variations, he could have written, "To My Circle of Friends." This variation includes the word "circle," and in  math, characteristics of all circles are related by a universal constant, Pi. "

from "The solution is as easy as Pi"* by the chap who came up with the "Pi" theory, seems more than unduly contrived. Yes, Elgar could have written that - but he didn't.

* see http://wiki.answers.com/Q/What_is_the_solution_to_Elgar's_Enigma_Variations

 

 

 

"Louder! Louder! I can still hear the singers!"

- Richard Strauss to the orchestra, at a rehearsal.

RE: Edward Elgar's Enigma- Solution and Confirmation

Elgar did write scale degree 3-1-4-2 as the first four notes of the Enigma Variations.  Elgar did write in 1929 that the "drop of the seventh in the 3rd and 4th bar should be observed."  Those 2/7 do come exactly after the first 11 notes and 2/7 x 11 = 22/7.  Coincidence or plan?

C R Santa

RE: Edward Elgar's Enigma- Solution and Confirmation

dnlsanta wrote:
Coincidence or plan?

Well, that's the $64,000 question :-)

Fwiw, I'm personally much less persuaded by the "pi" explanation than by, say, the "Corinthians" theory, or even the "Rule Britannia" one.

But since the only person who really knows died 76 years ago, I suspect we will never truly know.

 

"Louder! Louder! I can still hear the singers!"

- Richard Strauss to the orchestra, at a rehearsal.

RE: Edward Elgar's Enigma- Solution and Confirmation

SpiderJon wrote:
But since the only person who really knows died 76 years ago, I suspect we will never truly know.

Even if Elgar told us, some would not believe him.  Dorabella repeatedly suggested to Elgar that "Auld Lang Syne" was the solution even though he denied it .  After Elgar died, she wrote a book and still suggested "Auld Lang Syne" was the solution. 

C R Santa

RE: Edward Elgar's Enigma- Solution and Confirmation

The 4 opening notes of the theme can be heard in the slow movement of Mozart's "Prague" Symphony, which was in fact played in the first part of the concert at which 'Enigma Variations' were premiered.

Adrian

RE: Edward Elgar's Enigma- Solution and Confirmation

There is also the possibly relevant point that the interval of the seventh appears in many Elgar scores: it suits his compositional style, giving his music a rather unsettling feel.

RE: Edward Elgar's Enigma- Solution and Confirmation

It may be helpful to see the first few measures of the Enigma Variations.  I copied and pasted from Wikipedia-Enigma Variations:

Theme (Andante)

The theme consists of two contrasting melodic fragments, the first one the main theme:

I hope this helps everyone to see the "Pi" within the music.  Also notice the Four and Twenty Black(notes) baked in the pie (Pi) first 6 measures.

C R Santa

RE: Edward Elgar's Enigma- Solution and Confirmation

The complete "Pi solution" is now available in the latest issue of Current Musicology published by Columbia University.

C R Santa

RE: Edward Elgar's Enigma- Solution and Confirmation

Sir Padgett wrote:
The unstated Principal Theme to Elgar's Enigma Variations has been discovered. It is "Ein feste Burg" (A Might Fortress) by Martin Luther as realized by J.S. Bach and Felix Mendelssohn. To learn more about this historic discovery, visit 
 http://enigmathemeunmasked.blogspot.com/p/elgars-enigmas-exposed.html[/q...

Has your "solution" been accepted/published by any recognized, peer-reviewed musicology journal?

The only mentions of it I can find anywhere are comments to various Elgar-related blogs or articles that you made yourself, promoting your solution, plus an increasingly heated discussion resulting from when you tried to add chunks of your blog to the Wikipedia Engima Variations page.  

That said, and on a cursory reading, your proposed solution certainly looks interesting, and you've obviously put a great deal of work into it - but it would need to be rigorously and independently reviewed before you could even begin to claim to have 'solved' the mystery.

"Louder! Louder! I can still hear the singers!"

- Richard Strauss to the orchestra, at a rehearsal.

RE: Edward Elgar's Enigma- Solution and Confirmation

Nothing is impossible, but what about the larger theme which 'goes' and is never played?   I would bet heavily that it can't be "Ein Feste Burg", simply because Elgar was a Catholic by upbringing, and the tune of "Ein Feste Burg" is inseparable from its words, by Martin Luther.   The chorale was almost a musical emblem of the Protestant Reformation, not least for Mendelssohn, only a quarter of a century or so before Elgar's birth, and Wagner, whose 'Kaisermarsch', which identifies the new Germany with Protestant Prussia, was written when Elgar was a teenager.  The Variations are full of references to other music - Northrop Moore, Elgar's biographer, once traced the slow movement of Mozart's Prague Symphony, "Dorabella'' 's variation offers 'E Amore un Ladroncello' from 'Cosi', all three movements of Beethoven's 'Pathetique' sonata are hinted at in both variations and Finale,  the dog falls into a Severn which has Wagner's Rhine as a tributary... even a close relation of the finale of Brahms's Fourth Symphony can be found underlying the theme - a Bach chorale too, but not "Ein Feste Burg".  And Lady Elgar's account of the origins of the composition suggests that the spirit of "fun" at least began by focussing on Elgar's friends, rather than a mathematical jape.   If "Enigma", the Theme, is built on a cryptic reference to 'pi', the 'enigma' must be coincidence, not construction.   But the variations which flow from it, a construction, certainly do represent a "circle".

Peter Street

RE: Edward Elgar's Enigma- Solution and Confirmation

I have read Mr Padgett's  arguments for supposing that Elgar concealed the identity of 'Ein Feste Burg" as the 'larger theme' of his Variations on the grounds that he couldn't admit to using such a famously anti-Catholic theme.  I haven't increased my putative bet against his solution, but I don't withdraw it.

Peter Street

RE: Edward Elgar's Enigma- Solution and Confirmation

Correction - Dan the bulldog falls into the Wye, not the Severn, in the variations.   Wagner's Rhine will have to be shifted a bit further west, too.

Peter Street

RE: Edward Elgar's Enigma- Solution and Confirmation

Sorry this has to be brief, and CR Santa will certainly not be satisfied.   First- the falling seventh is one of the key characteristics of Elgar's melodic style, especially for grand and public themes.   This does at first, superficially, make it rather odd he should draw attention to it here in his later note.   But it is a leading feature of his theme, which is going to be varied intensively, and any analyst would do the same.   Other characteristics are the inversions,  which might be argued to be constructivist, and, equally, improvisatory devices, and the rising scale in the cello part which is its root, and doesn't obviously relate to pi - or 24.  But the scale does suggest how the improvisation which Lady Elgar describes may have come about.  Both g minor and B flat tend to encourage composers to use melodies or themes constructed in thirds.   As for the numeric significance, if pi is the solution to the enigma, then only the first bar of the first six matters.   Now that falls well within the area in which chance and coincidence must be taken into account.  Six bars of 4/4 might well generate 24-note themes in any case.  Which might suggest the double bar has another, purely musical, significance.  Double bars occur in several of the variations and the finale, and none of these seem to relate to non-musical issues.  In at least one variation, the varied section of Elgar's theme following the double bar is repeated, representing, it would seem, a tricyclist.  I'm not going to suggest an enigmatic pun in that.

Is there any independent evidence at all that Elgar even knew about the Indiana Pi Bill?   Do he or his friends mention it in correspondence or memoirs?   

Peter Street

RE: Edward Elgar's Enigma- Solution and Confirmation

My line of thought is as follows.   If the role of pi is as you think it to be, the concept behind the work, then how did it get there?  The first bar of the theme, where the decimal value seems, either by accident or design, to be present, is the one that most needs explanation.   Your scenario would be more likely, I suggest, if Elgar had, when sketching what he had improvised, spotted what was probably a coincidence, and decided to work on it.   Though it's possible, I would suggest it's unlikely that he set out - even in a spirit of fun - to see if he could compose a theme, let alone an extended work, based on the decimal formula for pi followed by the fractional formula.   If Lady Elgar's account is right, he had almost immediately begun to treat his initial improvisation as a basis for musical character sketches of his friends.   But given his well known interest in ciphers, and puns, it might very well have amused him to find, if in fact he did, that his theme had twenty four notes and had arisen from a cell in which pi might have turned up.    However, he's not known for many musical ciphers, though, to be fair, his interest in ciphers as such seems not to have been a consistent theme throughout his life.   And most of the instances of it seem not to have been numerical.   I don't know the pianola roll notes, but presumably they don't consist just of three sentences, and what you quote is equally explicable in terms of musical analysis.   I could go further. The structure of the theme itself, I suggest, is against you. For example, the 2:2 pattern is present in his opening phrase, which is followed by a free mirror retrograde.  The first of the falling sevenths is on the octave, and it's a natural consequence and culmination of the rising scale underlying the opening four phrases.  The second seventh, a mirror phrase too, is on the next downward degree of the scale, and another two mirror phrases complete the first part of the theme, six bars long and constructed of three pairs.  The nature of song, which Samuel Langford apparently claimed was the only musical theory he had ever learned, is to go up and down. The key harmonic event, the B natural in the bass, does lie immediately after the sixth rising degree of the scale, but it occurs only once.  To suggest that this piece of composing is the result of a deliberate attempt to encode a complex mathematical reference might be seen as pushing it a bit.  Before Elgar, the best known musical ciphers are from his hero, Schumann.  Like BACH, they are alphabetical, and employ a single code.  If you are right, Elgar used not one but two code conventions inside six bars.  I'm not sure about the propriety of changing the code so soon in the message, but I'm not a cryptologist, and it may be quite OK.  But Elgar is said to have been quite convinced that the work's secrets would be decoded as soon as the Variations had been performed, and this was long before  computers.  You would have to be a pretty good listener to crack a numerical cipher from a twenty-eight second single exposure, (at the beginning of a new and brilliant half-hour work) of which half was coded in scale degrees and the other in intervals and numerical series.  On the other hand, he did once expect Dorabella to crack an Ogham-based message which hasn't yet been decoded in any plausible way.  (Did he ever decode it for her?) Some jape.  Some composer.   But my instinct is still that the solution, whatever it is, is musical.    Now if Elgar showed a documented interest in pi about this time, that might change things a bit.   Did he?

Peter Street

Pages

Log in or register to post comments
© MA Business and Leisure Ltd. 2014