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Variations on an Original Theme: "Enigma"

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Sir Edward Elgar

Sir Edward Elgar (trans. Merlin Patterson)


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This work bears the designation Opus 36.


General Info

Year: 1899 /
Duration: c. 30:15
Difficulty: (see Ratings for explanation)
Original Medium: Orchestra
Publisher: Merlin Patterson
Cost: Score and Parts (print) - $555.00


Movements

1. Theme & Variation I: C.A.E.
2. Variation II: H.D.S-P
3. Variation III: R.B.T.
4. Variation IV: W.M.B.
5. Variation V: R.P.A.
6. Variation VI: Ysobel
7. Variation VII: Troyte
8. Variation VIII: W.N.
9. Variation IX: Nimrod 10. Variation X: Dorabella (Intermezzo)
11. Variation XI: G.R.S.
12. Variation XII: B.G.N.
13. Variation XIII: *** (Romanza)
14. Variation XIV: E.D.U. Finale


Instrumentation

(Needed, please join the WRP if you can help.)


Errata

None discovered thus far.


Program Notes

The Enigma Variations were written for orchestra in 1899 and bore the dedication “To My Friends Pictured Within.” The theme and fourteen variations catapulted Elgar to international acclaim. The story is told of how Elgar, returning home after a long day of giving violin lessons, sat down to unwind at the piano and tinkered by improvising. His wife commented on one of the melodies that emerged, and out of that exchange was born the concept of fashioning the original melody ... as it might be played by some of their friends in their own style. In all, fourteen people and a dog are featured in the Variations.

- Program Note by Nikk Pilato


“To My Friends Pictured Within” was Elgar’s dedication for this work for orchestra written in 1899. As only initials or nicknames were given to the variations, the work remained an enigma of its own for many years to all but the subjects and Elgar’s own circle of friends.

The theme is notable for its use of a falling seventh (an Elgarian fingerprint) and for the fact that each phrase in the opening and closing sections begins on the second beat of the bar. Variation I is a portrait of the composer’s wife, Alice. W.M. Baker, the subject of Variation IV, “a country squire, gentleman, and scholar,” is parodied by Elgar for his habit of regimenting guests at country parties. Richard P. Arnold (Variation V) was the son of Matthew Arnold and played the piano “in a self-taught manner, evading difficulties but suggesting in a mysterious way the real feeling.” George Robertson Sinclair (Variation XI), organist of Hereford Cathedral, is depicted by an episode on the banks of the Wye, when his bulldog, Dan, fell down a steep bank into the river and found his way up again. The “Nimrod” of Variation IX was Elgar’s great friend and publisher A.J. Jaeger (the name means “hunter” in German). The variation “is the record of a long summer evening talk, when my friend discoursed eloquently on the slow movements of Beethoven.” The initials E.D.U., which head Variation X1V (Finale), are a paraphrase of “Edoo,” Alice Elgar’s pet name for her husband.

- Program Note by Roy Stahle for the Foothill Symphonic Winds concert program, 8 December 2013


Enigma Variations is a work that consists of a theme and its variations written for orchestra by Elgar in 1898-1899. It is Elgar’s best-known large-scale composition, for both the music itself and the enigmas behind it. Elgar dedicated the piece to “my friends pictured within”, each variation being an affectionate portrayal of one of his circle of close acquaintances.

Enigma Variations was first performed at St. James’s Hall, London, on June 19, 1899, conducted by Hans Richter. Critics were at first irritated by the layer of mystification, but most praised the substance, structure, and orchestration of the work. Elgar revised the final variation, adding 100 new bars and an organ part; the new version, the one usually played today, was premiered at the Worcester Three Choirs Festival on September 13, 1899, with Elgar himself conducting. Enigma Variations has been popular ever since. It quickly achieved many international performances, from Saint Petersburg, where it delighted Alexander Glazunov and Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov in 1904, to New York, where Gustav Mahler conducted it in 1910.

- Program Note from the West Texas A&M Wind Ensemble concert program, 11 February 2016


Commercial Discography

None discovered thus far.


Media Links


State Ratings

None discovered thus far.


Performances

To submit a performance please join The Wind Repertory Project

  • State University of New York, Potsdam, Symphonic Band (Brian K. Doyle, conductor) – 3 March 2020
  • University of Wisconsin – Eau Claire Wind Symphony (John R. Stewart, conductor) – 22 November 2019
  • University of Oklahoma (Norman) Wind Symphony (Shanti Simon, conductor) – 19 November 2018
  • University of Missouri, Kansas City, Wind Symphony (Steven D. Davis, conductor) – 24 April 2018
  • Cedar Park (Tx.) High School Honor Band (Steve Wessels, conductor) – 2017


Works for Winds by this Composer

Adaptable Music


All Wind Works


Resources

  • Elgar, E.; Patterson, M. Variations on an Original Theme : "Enigma" [score]. [s.n.]:[s.l.].
  • Enigma Variations, Wikipedia Accessed 24 April 2018