Edward Elgar’s Other Enigmas

This blog is intended to be a repository containing evidence, information, sensible speculation and hopefully a few logical deductions (or inferences) about aspects of the symbol cipher attributed to Sir Edward Elgar.

Evidence of Elgar’s cipher in use has been very sparse. A snippet or two here and there (in no special order: jottings on a concert programme[1], probable encrypted prices on a piece of brown wrapping paper[2], seemingly revelationary notes on a couple of pages in a notebook[3], and markings on a card in a small box[4]) and one relatively large chunk that is probably the most well-known[5] are all we have to work with – so far (writing in May 2019).

And still we appear to be a long way from a generally-accepted solution (notwithstanding claims from some sources to have solved the puzzle – since the claimed solutions are not generally accepted as such, they don’t meet the criterion for inclusion here. My blog, my rules – inconsistencies and all).

Some even claim that the entire thing is a hoax (although to be fair that accusation is usually leveled at the message apparently sent to Dora Penny in 1897 and published by her as more of an aside in a work that memorializes her relationship with Elgar, his family and his friends).

In order to stand any chance of making progress, certain assumptions must be made about the nature of the beast. We don’t want to make a huge number of them, but it seems prudent to have a few at the outset so that we don’t get bogged down with avenues of investigation that are not likely to be fruitful. This list is not exhaustive and from time to time may be updated:

1All occurrences of the cipher are genuine and correctly attributed to Elgar.

If we admit that the probability is that it’s a hoax, then we’re stopped dead in our tracks – what’s the point of debating the nature of something that is not real? So the first assumption has to be that the cipher is genuine and that it was used by Elgar to mask information, for reasons that are presently unclear and may never be known fully. Technically that makes two assumptions but like space-time, the one goes logically with the other.

2The symbol set is based on rotated multiples of the letter C.

At least one writer claimed that the symbols were based on the letter E (for Edward and Elgar) but that’s evidently not the case. C also seems a logical candidate since it has significance in Western music and serendipitously begins the words “cipher” and “cryptography” (among others, obviously).

Elgar did provide a few examples of squared-off symbols on the pages of a notebook from 1928 onwards (exact date unknown, I understand, and since at that time he lived in Tiddington House, Stratford-upon-Avon, future references here will be to the Tiddington House notebook pages), but the only examples we have seen “in use” are based on the curvilinear C form.

3The underlying content masked by the symbols is highly unlikely to be salacious or laden with expletives.

I think it is safe to assume that Elgar used the cipher when he didn’t want his notes (in whatever form) to be obvious to the casual observer. We can speculate that the contents of some of the notes might be embarrassing (in that they might reveal private thoughts or information) but even that’s something of a stretch.

4There are two examples of the deliberate use of a non-symbol mark sometimes referred to as a dot. The dot almost certainly has some significance.

The dot appears on the Liszt concert programme and on the note sent to Dora Penny. It is clearly not an accidental mark – there is only one instance in each example and it appears nowhere else (among the samples that we have to date). It is most likely to be a separator between two different sets of data.

Work in progress…

[1] The Liszt Fragment (after April 10, 1886, but not confirmed)
[2] The Sotheby’s Fragment (before December 24, 1891, but not confirmed)
[3] The Tiddington House Notebook Pages (Easter 1928 et seq, but not confirmed)
[4] Card #1 of the Courage Sequence (after April 1896, but not confirmed)
[5] The Dorabella Cipher (dated July 14, 1897, but not confirmed)