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Page 1

Elgar: 'Enigma' Variations

Elgar's Variations for Orchestra, commonly known as the 'Enigma'
Variations, marked an epoch both in his career and in the renaissance of
English music at the turn of the century. First performed in 1899 under
Hans Richter, the work became his passport to national fame and
international success. From the first, listeners have been intrigued by the
'enigma' of the title and the identity of the 'friends pictured within', to
whom the work was dedicated. Appearing in the centenary year of the
work's completion, this book elucidates what is known and what has been
said about the work and the enigma, and directs future listeners to what
matters most: the inspired qualities of the music.

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Friends pictured within

instrument; perhaps it reflects more the soul of the cello, an instrument
beloved of Elgar, than of Basil Nevinson, a fellow Conservative whose
'very dear' friendship may have been helped by an absence of profes-
sional involvement (unlike his brother, a solicitor, and his cousin, an
architect). He himself was a non-practising barrister 'whose scientific
and artistic attainments, and the whole-hearted way they were put at the
disposal of his friends, particularly endeared him to the writer'
(MFPW).21

XIII (***) (Romanza)

G major, Moderato, 3/4, J=76

A ternary design with a coda based on the B section is simple enough; but
this variation is characterised by frustration. Its ten-bar A section
follows the pattern of some earlier variations ('Nimrod', G.R.S.) in its
early return to the opening (55:6; the cadence with echappe echoes
'YsobeP, 19:4—5). But instead of renewing this idea and letting it
blossom, as is normal in Variations^ the wind repeat the opening descent
more slowly (see Ex. 3.4), regularising the initially syncopated pattern
and falling off without returning to the more expansive music of bars
3-5. Instead, the harmony moves via C to A\> (comparable to the G-E!>
move from W.N. to 'Nimrod').22 At cue 59 (A') these ten bars meet a
similar fate, using E!>, the submediant of G minor, not G major.

After so much ingenious integration of A and B sections ('Nimrod',

Ex. 3.4 XIII, the opening

Clarinet

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Elgar: 'Enigma' Variations

G.R.S., B.G.N.), they are here disconnected in every way. Lilting grace
is spiritually crushed by the very quiet, obstinate repetitions, a B section
unmistakably driving home the rhythm of A. Apart from a confirmatory
cadence (to cue 57), this viola ostinato endures for sixteen bars, backed
by a barely audible solo cello C; side-drum sticks do nothing to clarify the
pitch of the timpani (nominally C).23 Above this the clarinet twice
intones 'a phrase from Mendelssohn's "Calm Sea and Prosperous
Voyage"' (MFPW) - the three-note motive is in quotation marks - at a
far slower tempo than the original, and with an elegantly curving exten-
sion. The clarinet leads the harmony to F minor where the noise element
('the distant throb of the engines of a liner') is moved to the bass drum
and a vast musical space is covered by the ostinato; the trombones (not in
quotes) intone Mendelssohn's motive in the minor mode. A sixth (d)
added to F minor adroitly restores G major, but lyricism is still not
allowed its head in the A' section. In the coda the ostinato, transposed
down a fourth, is turned by the ending of the clarinet phrase back to a G
chord, which is major, but only just.

Newman noted, as with 'Dorabella', that there is hardly any reference
to the theme, so that the Romanza is another intermezzo; Tovey calls it 'a
free episode... the most romantic thing in the work', but Shera detected
theme B in the opening phrases (he does not explain how).24 This pattern
of falling fourths a third apart occurs in at least two earlier works, an
E major epiphany in the Serenade for strings (finale, bar 60) and the
G major organ sonata, composed as recently as 1895.25 In preparing the
piano arrangement, Elgar hesitated, eliminating the Mendelssohn refer-
ence by changing the clarinet's c" to a' (with equivalent adjustments
later): the melody would thus match the opening of the variation, in
elongated rhythm.26

Musical shapes, however, are the lesser enigma attached to this varia-
tion than the question: who is (***)? When proposing to eliminate the
Mendelssohn quotation, Elgar commented: 'The pretty Lady is on the
sea & far away & I meant this (originally) as a little quotation from
Mendelssohn's Meerestille u. Gliickliche Fahrt. - but I did not acknowl-
edge it as the critics - if one mentions anything of the kind - talk of
nothing else.'27 Later he wrote that 'the asterisks take the place of the
name of a lady who was, at the time of the composition, on a sea voyage'
(MFPW). Memory played him false; Lady Mary Lygon visited the

52

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Index

Jaeger, A. J. ('Nimrod'), 1, 8, 12-13, 15,
45-6, 57, 62, 69, 70,74,75,79, 82,
84

advice on finale, 16, 56

Kennedy, Michael, 4, 34, 75, 83, 99 n. 15,
100 n. 23

Kilburn, Nicholas, 7
not a variation, 10, 14

Kingdon, Ben, 103 n. 18

Lee, Gordon, 102 n. 11, 107 n. 64
Leicester, Hubert, 9-10
Lygon, Lady Mary, 2, 8-9, 44, 52-3,

75-6

Maine, Basil, 4, 65
McVeagh, Diana, 4, 72
Mendelssohn, Felix, Calm Sea and

Prosperous Voyage, 52, 58, 71, 75—6,
85

Moore, Jerrold Northrop, 4
and the Enigma, 68-9, 74—5, 94 n. 7

Mozart, W. A., 12
Cost fan tutte, 48, 56
'Prague' Symphony, 68-9, 75, 78, 89

Nevinson, Basil, 2, 9-11, 51, 62
Newbould, Brian, 107 n. 69
Newman, Ernest

on separate variations, 33—1, 36, 38-9,
41-1, 46, 48-50, 52, 53, 57

on (***), 73, 75-6
Norbury, Winifred, 2, 8, 42, 44, 62, 102

n. 8
Novello's, 1,3,7-8, 15,79

Ormandy, Eugene, 80, 83

Parrott, Ian, 70, 73, 75, 77
Parry, Hubert, 3, 6, 10, 15, 17

Symphonic Variations, 18, 19, 20-1
Philip, Robert, 83
Poole, Geoffrey, 70, 72, 84, 102 n. 10,

105 n. 40
Portnoy, Marshall A., 70

Potter, Cipriani, 3, 22, 64
Powell, Mrs Richard ('Dorabella'), 2, 4,

8-11,15,48
on separate variations, 33-4, 38—9,

41-4, 46, 49, 50, 52, 53, 57
on the Enigma, 64, 66, 68-71, 73, 77

Powell, Richard, 4, 8, 64, 72-3, 77

Reed, Nicholas, 107 n. 65
Reed, W. H., 4, 34, 49, 84, 98 n. 8
Richter, Hans, 3, 15, 16, 43, 56, 80
Rimsky-Korsakov, Nikolai, 79
Rollett, J. M., 67, 71, 74, 77, 102 n. 11
Ross, Charles, 105 n. 37

Sams, Eric, 55, 70-2, 77, 87
Schumann, Robert, 12, 21-2, 54,

69-70
Shera, P. H., 3, 52, 97 n. 5
Sinclair, George Robertson and his dog,

2,9,49,75
Skouenborg, Ulrik, 68, 105 n. 46,

106 n. 52
Stanford, Charles Villiers, 3, 6, 19, 68
Steuart-Powell, Hew David, 2, 9-10, 37
Strauss, Richard, Don Quixote, 22
Sullivan, Arthur, 3, 10, 80

Tchaikovsky, Pyotr IPyich, 12, 18, 72
Toscanini, Arturo, 48, 80
Tovey, Donald, 73

on separate variations, 33-4, 38-9, 41,
43,52

Townshend, Richard Baxter, 2, 15, 38
Trowell, Brian, 67, 69, 71, 74, 77

Van Houten, Theodore, 68, 70, 73, 77,
102 n. 5

Variations Op. 36 ('Enigma')
as a whole, 58-63, 84-5
composition, 6-17
sketches, 13-15, 57
the theme, 22-6
individual variations I (C.A.E.),

14-15, 33-6, 41, 55-6, 76, 81-2,
84,87

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Index

Variations Op. 36 ('Enigma') (cont.)

II (H.D.S-R), 26, 36-7, 38-9,41-2,
45, 54, 81

III (R.B.T.), 14-15, 22, 37-8, 39,
70,82

IV (W.M.B.), 12,14—15, 38-9, 54,
81

V (R.P.A.), 12, 39-41, 81
VI ('Ysobel'), 26,40,41-2
VII ('Troyte'), 26, 42-3, 60-1

IX('Nimrod'),26,44-7,55-6
X ('Dorabella'), 14, 19, 22, 26,

47-8, 54,79-81, 84
XI (G.R.S.), 14-15, 22, 48-9, 51,

52, 54, 75, 77-8, 81
XII (B.G.N.), 12, 14, 42, 46, 50-1,

52,54
XIII (***), 8-9,14,19, 26,48, 50,

51-3, 54, 56,65,71,72, 75-6,
85

XIV (E.D.U), 10,19, 54-8,74

The enigma, 64-78, 84-8
Auld lang syne, 64, 70-3, 77, 78, 86,

89
Bach, J. S., St Matthew Passion, 68
Brahms, Johannes, Vier ernste

Gesdnge, 68
ciphers, 70, 71, 86
Dies Irae, plainchant, 68
God Save the King, 66, 72, 90
Heart of Oak, 71
Home, Sweet Home, 90, 103 n. 18
Loch Lomond, 70, 90
Rule, Britannia, 68, 74, 77
Stanford, Benedictus, 68

Weaver, Helen, 10, 75-6
Westrup,Jack,68,72,74-5

Young, Percy ML, 4, 33, 38, 4 1 ^ , 48-9,
67,73

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