The Enigma Variations
Sir Edward Elgar (1857-1934), Piano Reduction

I am greatly indebted to the talent and kindness of Robert Finley for allowing me to use this MIDI file on my page. The piece is perfect for this page as not only was Elgar living in the Malvern area of Worcestershire when he wrote it, but it also consists of musical pen portraits of people known to him, and finally of course Family History is itself an attempt to solve an "enigma". A further coincidence is that the house in which Elgar was living in 1879, Loretta Villa at 35 (now 12) Chestnut Walk, Worcester was in the 1890s occupied by a ROWBERRY!

Robert describes the piece as follows:
The Enigma Variations were written in 1899 and consist of a theme and 14 variations that describe Elgar, his wife, and some of his friends. There are at least two reasons why this music was called the "Enigma" Variations. He never revealed what the main theme was based on, even though he was asked about this many times. (One suggestion was a Chopin Ballade). He also never revealed who was described in variation 13 that was entitled "***". Most other variations were entitled by the initials of the person being described. The main theme is fairly slow, sad and contrapuntal, and is in G minor. It modulates to G major briefly and then returns to G minor.

The first variation "C.A.E" (Caroline Alice Elgar) follows immediately after the main theme and describes Alice, Elgar's wife. It is similar to the main theme but is played an octave higher with a more elaborate accompaniment.

The second variation "H.D.S.P." (Hew David Stewart Powell) describes a pianist friend who played chamber music at Elgar's house. Before the chamber music began he used to warm up by playing chromatic scales up and down the keyboard. The music describes this in a satirical way with fast and light staccato passages.

The third variation "R.B.T." (Richard Baxter Townshend) describes and eccentric old man who rode a tricycle and played golf with Elgar. It is a very humorous piece, and one can imagine him on his tricyle, honking the horn as he goes along!

The fourth variation "W.M.B." (William Baker Meath) is a fast and loud piece. Meath was a wealthy friend who had a country estate and had big parties. He had to arrange transportation carriages for all the guests. This piece describes him in an agitated mood, rushing from the music room, slamming the door behind him, and reading the list of guests who would be assigned to each carriage, to the amusement of everyone.

The fifth variation "R.P.A." (Richard P. Arnold) describes an amateur pianist friend who would have a serious conversation (described by the music in the minor key) and then suddenly make an extremely witty and amusing remark (described by the music in major key).

The sixth variation "Ysobel" describes Isabel Fitton, a tall lady who introduced Elgar to Alice, his wife.

The seventh variation "Troyte" is extremely energetic and loud, and describes Arthur Troyte Griffith, an architect and artist who was not a musician but enjoyed cycling, sports, and exploring the countryside with Elgar.

The eighth variation "W.N" (Winifred Norbury) describes this lady and her lovely home. She helped to arrange many musical events in Worcestershire. It is a happy and song-like variation.

The ninth variation, "Nimrod", is one of Elgar's most famous pieces. It describes August Johannes Jaeger, one of Elgar's closest friends. This variation follows the previous one without a pause.

The tenth variation "Dorabella" describes Dora Penny, a beautiful young woman who greatly admired his music and who stayed with the Elgars and went on holiday with them. It is a very graceful piece.

The eleventh variation "G.R.S." describes a bulldog owned by Dr George Sinclair (the initials of this variation) who is taken out for a walk and suddenly slips down a riverbank into the water, to be swept along by the current. The dog paddles frantically but eventually reaches land and safety.

The twelfth variation "B.G.N." (Basil Nevinson) describes an amateur cellist who played chamber music with Elgar.

Elgar never revealed to whom he dedicated the thirteenth variation "***". It was to some lady who was on a sea voyage. It begins in G major, but a couple of times it modulates to a minor key where Mendelssohn's "Calm Sea and Prosperous Voyage" overture is quoted.

The fourteenth variation "E.D.U." is the finale and carries Elgar's initials. "Edu" was the nickname Alice gave him. It is the longest of the variations. It begins quietly, and a big crescendo leads to the main, rather pompous theme. A very majestic theme follows which is typical Elgar, as found in the Pomp and Circumstance Marches. The original theme returns and then the music from the 2nd variation describing Alice returns in the minor key. This eventually modulates to G major and builds up to a tremendous climax. The piece finishes with the main chordal theme played in G major, ending with some tremolandos in the treble and bass.

I am sure that most people have never heard this arrangement of the Enigma Variations. My score does not indicate who the arranger was. Since it is a very good reduction of the orchestral version, I assume that it was done by Elgar himself.

Robert Finley, February 8th 1996.
Robert Finley's Classical Midi Page
MIDI sequence and notes:
© Robert S Finley 1998

MIDI sequence from the Classical MIDI Archives - by permission.

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To find out more about Sir Edward Elgar and the Enigma Variations visit the following pages:
The Home Page of the Elgar Society
His Life
Elgar's Family Tree (Tree redrawn by Polly!)
Gordon Lee's Elgar Page
More about the Enigma Variations (includes pictures of the people described by them).
Another Piece in the Jigsaw? A retrospective survey of past attempts at solving the 'Enigma' and some further thoughts on Elgar's XIIIth Variation.

Last revised: 8th November 2000
© Polly Rubery 1998