A Conversation for The Enigma in Elgar's Variations

"Ein' feste Burg ist unser Gott" is THE solution

Post 1


Elgar’s Enigma Theme Unmasked

After careful research and analysis, Robert W. Padgett discovered that the missing melody to Elgar's 110 year old "Enigma Variations" is "Ein’ feste Burg ist unser Gott" by the Reformation Leader Martin Luther. Known as "A Mighty Fortress is our God," this hymn satisfies all three rules set forth by the composer:

1) It plays through and over the entire 17 bars of the "Enigma Theme."
2) It is famous.
3) Dora Penny was intimately familiar with this work.

The sound file of "Ein' feste Burg" played on flute "over and through" the "Enigma Theme" may be heard at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GnzosoCk5o0

The sound file of "Ein' feste Burg" played on trumpet "over and through" Variation IX "Nimrod" may be heard at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YT0Sd8ESXpk

The biblical name "Nimrod" means "A Mighty Hunter," and amazingly the title of the missing melody is “A Mighty Fortress." The link between the two could not be more apparent. Variation IX was dedicated to August Jaeger, Elgar’s dear friend from Germany who championed his music at Novello. Martin Luther was German, and many prominent German composers quoted “Ein’ feste Burg” in their music: J.S. Bach, Mendelssohn, and Raff and Wagner. Elgar venerated the music of Bach, Mendelssohn and Wagner, so it should come as no surprise that he would emulate these great masters in this way.

For Robert W. Padgett's full report of this amazing discovery go to http://enigmathemeunmasked.blogspot.com/

"Ein' feste Burg ist unser Gott" is THE solution

Post 2

Gnomon - time to move on

That's fairly convincing. I don't know how well-known that tune was in Elgar's day. Elgar's comments seemed to suggest the solution was very well known.

"Ein' feste Burg ist unser Gott" is THE solution

Post 3


The popularity of “A Mighty Fortress” is beyond question. Those who question its fame during Elgar’s era betray a profound ignorance of music history. Martin Luther composed “Ein’ feste Burg” around 1529, and it is his most famous choral work. Known as the “Battle Hymn of the Reformation,” it was quoted numerous times by the undisputed master of counterpoint, Johann Sebastian Bach (1685 – 1750). It is the cornerstone of his most famous Cantata — BWV 80 “Ein’ feste burg ist unser Gott” — and organ prelude BWV 720. Felix Mendelssohn (1809 – 1847) quotes the same theme in the fourth movement of his first major symphonic work — the “Reformation Symphony.” The same melody is also found in the grand opera “Les Huguenots” by Giacomo Meyerbeer (1791 – 1864). Meyerbeer was a distant cousin of Mendelssohn, and “Les Huguenots” is arguable his greatest work and the most performed opera of the 19th century. It was composed in 1836, a tantalizing coincidence since the opus number for the “Enigma Variations” is 36, and the tempo marking is the reverse — 63. Interestingly, the opera’s central theme revolves around the love between a Catholic and a Protestant. In a stunning parallel, Elgar was Catholic, and his wife Protestant. Joachim Raff (1822 – 1882) quoted “A Mighty Fortress” in one of his overtures (“Ein' fest Burg ist unser Gott, Op. 12), and Richard Wagner (1813 – 1883) does the same in his famous “Kaisermarsch.”

For those who still question the popularity of “Ein’ feste burg” when Elgar composed the “Enigma Variations” (e.g., Dr. McClelland at Leeds), they need look no further than the coronations of 1902 and 1911. To appreciate just how popular “Ein’ feste burg” was in those days, we turn to Jeffrey Richards’ book “Imperialism and music: Britain, 1876-1953.” In this well researched historical text we find the following description of the 1902 coronation of King Edward VII:

“Hymns were played and sung as various processions entered the Abbey. They included ‘Rejoice Today with One Accord’ (sung to the famous Lutheran hymn ‘Ein’ feste burg’) and, ‘O, God Our Help in Ages Past.’ During the many hours when the assembled guests in the Abbey had to wait for the arrival of the King and Queen they were entertained by a succession of marches: Wagner’s ‘Kaisermarsch’ (known in England as the ‘Imperial March’), Elgar’s ‘Pomp and Circumstance March No. 1,’ and the coronation marches by Tchaikovsky, Gounod, Saint-Saëns, Mackenzie and Godrey.”

Recall that Wagner’s “Kaisermarsch” also quotes "Ein’ feste burg." This famous hymn was also performed at the 1911 coronation of King George V and Queen Mary as Richards continues:

“Immediately following the Coronation came Sir Walter Parratt’s ‘Confortare’, ‘Be Strong and Play the Man’ (previously performed in 1902) and, after the benediction and enthronement, the homage anthem, newly composed by Sir Frederick Bridge and making liberal use of ‘Ein’ feste burg.’ The Musical Times called it ‘one of Sir Frederick Bridge’s most notable contributions to processional marches.’ The service continued with Elgar’s ‘Offertorium’ (‘O hearken Thou unto the voice of my calling, my King and my God’) ‘beautifully set for this occasion…in a short but intensely expressive composition’, the ‘Sanctus’ by Dr. Walter Alcock, Organist of the Chapel Royal, and the ‘Gloria in Excelsis’ by Stanford, both also specially written for the occasion.”

Elgar certainly heard if not performed “Ein' fest burg” on numerous occasions in the years preceding the genesis of the “Enigma Variations.” Bach's works were routinely performed at the Three Choirs Festival beginning in the early 1870's. In 1871 Bach's “St. Matthew's Passion” was first performed there. Performances of music by Bach and Mendelssohn were commonplace in England throughout the 1880's and 1890's. Elgar first played violin in the Festival orchestra in 1878. The Monthly Musical Record confirmed Bach’s Cantata “A Stronghold Sure” (Ein’ feste Burg) was performed at the Three Choirs Festival on September 10, 1890.



"Ein' feste Burg ist unser Gott" is THE solution

Post 4

Peter Street

Does Mr Padgett know that Elgar, though he composed for it and had been invited to, refused to attend the 1911 Coronation of King George V? And he seems to be wrong about Meyerbeer - the most performed of operas in the nineteenth century was probably not "Les Huguenots" but another of Meyerbeer's, "Robert le Diable". However, much more important is what "Ein Feste Burg" stood for. It was an anti-Catholic symbol, (which is its function in "Les Huguenots") and its use in Wagner's Kaisermarsch was - as Wagner knew - a celebration of the new, post 1871, Prussian and Protestant-dominated Germany. Elgar, as a man of Catholic upbringing, would have been well aware of the progress of the Kulturkampf promoted by Prussian ministers against traditional German catholic institutions in the 20 years or so after 1870. Though Elgar couldn't have known the poem, which wasn't published widely until after World War I, Gerard Manley Hopkins's "The Wreck of the Deutschland" documents one strand of English Catholic feeling about the Kulturkampf. The Enigma Variations are many things, but they are not a celebration of anything Elgar did not believe in. "Ein Feste Burg" must surely have represented that.

"Ein' feste Burg ist unser Gott" is THE solution

Post 5


Can anyone tell me why Elgar did refuse to attend the 1911 coronation?

"Ein' feste Burg ist unser Gott" is THE solution

Post 6


Hmm. No, I can't.

Try asking at www.bbc.uk.uk/dna/h2g2/A148907 - it's Ask h2g2, which is the busiest conversation forum. You might get an answer there.

Best wishes,

smiley - fairy

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