A theme (Introduction) and fourteen variations for full orchestra by Sir Edward Elgar

Dedicated "To my friends pictured within"

The story is told of how Elgar, returning home after giving violin lessons, sat down at the piano. To unwind, he began improvising. His wife Alice complimented him on the tune that emerged and Elgar responded by suggesting how their friends might play it differently. From this came the Enigma Variations, the work that finally secured Elgar's reputation as a composer of national, even international, standing.

In all, fourteen people and a dog are featured in the variations:


First Variation - C.A.E.:
Elgar's wife, Alice, lovingly portrayed;

Second Variation - H.D.S-P.:
Hew David Steuart-Powell, a pianist with whom Elgar played in chamber ensembles;

Third Variation - R.B.T.:
Richard Baxter Townshend, a friend whose caricature of an old man in an amateur theatre production is captured in the variation;

Fourth Variation - W.M.B.:
William Meath Baker, 'country squire, gentleman and scholar', informing his guests of the day's arrangements;

Fifth Variation - R.P.A.:
Richard Arnold, son of the poet Matthew Arnold;

Sixth Variation - Ysobel:
Isabel Fitton, an amateur viola player from a musical family living in Malvern;

Seventh Variation - Troyte:
Arthur Troyte Griffith, a Malvern architect and close friend of Elgar throughout their lives - the variation focuses on Troyte's limited abilities as a pianist;

Eighth Variation - W.N.:
Winifred Norbury, known to Elgar through her association with the Worcestershire Philharmonic Society - the variation captures both her laugh and the atmosphere of her eighteenth century house;

Ninth Variation - Nimrod :
A J Jaeger, Elgar's great friend whose encouragement did much to keep Elgar going during the period when he was struggling to secure a lasting reputation - the variation allegedly captures a discussion between them on Beethoven's slow movements

Tenth Variation - Dorabella:
Dora Penney, daughter of the Rector of Wolverhampton and a close friend of the Elgars;

Eleventh Variation - G.R.S.:
George Sinclair, organist at Hereford Cathedral, although the variation allegedly portrays Sinclair's bulldog Dan paddling in the River Wye after falling in;

Twelfth Variation - B.G.N.:
Basil Nevinson, an amateur cellist who, with Elgar and Hew Steuart-Powell, completed the chamber music trio;

Thirteenth Variation - ***:
probably Lady Mary Lygon, a local noblewoman who sailed for Australia at about the time Elgar wrote the variation, which quotes from Mendelssohn's Calm Sea and Prosperous Voyage. The use of asterisks rather than initials has however invited speculation that they conceal the identity of Helen Weaver, Elgar's fiancée for eighteen months in 1883/84 before she emigrated, also to Australia;

Fourteenth Variation - E.D.U.:
Elgar himself, Edoo being Alice's pet name for him.

There are two enigmas underlying the variations. The first and more readily solved is the identity of each of the 'friends pictured within'. Only the thirteenth variation has given rise to speculation that Elgar's use of asterisks rather than initials or a pet name may hide the true identity of the subject.

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