"Enigma" Variations

THE ENIGMA VARIATIONS on a theme of his own were composed between October 1898 and February 1899, and after their premiere in June of that year under the batton of the celebrated Hans Richter at St James’s Hall in London, they gained such great popularity that they became a kind of emblem of Elgar’s music. Behind the marked initials and names of the individual variations are personalities from his inner circle, portrayed with gentle humour and warm sentiments. The exquisitely romantic Variation I is dedicated to his wife, Caroline Alice Lady Elgar; Variation II to the pianist Hew David Steuart-Powell, with whom the composer played chamber music; Variation III bears the name of the writer Richard Baxter Townshend, a relative of William Meath Baker, depicted in Variation IV. Richard Penrose Arnold (Variation V) is the son of the English poet Matthew Arnold; Variation VI depicts Isabel Fitton, a viola pupil of Elgar. Arthur Troyte Griffith (Variation VII), an architect and pianist, is one of the composer’s closest friends and when the two got caught in a thunderstorm during a walk, they found shelter in the home of Winifred Norbury (Variation VIII), secretary of the Worcester Philharmonic Society. Under the name of the biblical King Nimrod (Variation IX), another close friend of the composer, Augustus Johannes Jaeger, editor at the London publishers Novello & Co, is symbolically introduced. Variation X is dedicated to Dora Penny, a friend whose stutter is gently parodied, and Variation XI is not so much a portrait of George Robertson Sinclair, organist at Hereford Cathedral, but, in Elgar’s words, of his enormous bulldog Dan. The cellist Basil George Nevinson (Variation XII) was also Elgar’s chamber music partner, the mysteriously uninitialed Variation XIII was probably dedicated to a friend who was away at the time, and so here the composer has included a quotation from Mendelssohn’s famous overture ‘Calm Sea and Prosperous Voyage”. And the final Variation XIV is named after Edward Elgar himself, as his wife called him – Edu.

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