38:15 Edward Elgar’s Enigma Variations | BBC Symphony Orchestra, Leonard Bernstein
Above the Mists
Enigma Variations, Variations on an Original Theme for Orchestra Op. 36, “Enigma”, Sir Edward Elgar, 1898-1899:
00:00 Theme (Andante)
01:56 Variation I. (L’istesso tempo) “C.A.E.”
04:09 Variation II. (Allegro) “H.D.S.- P.”
04:56 Variation III. (Allegretto) “R.B.T.”
06:19 Variation IV. (Allegro di molto) “W.M.B.”
06:49 Variation V. (Moderato) “R.P.A.”
09:07 Variation VI. (Andantino) “Ysobel”
10:27 Variation VII. (Presto) “Troyte”
11:22 Variation VIII. (Allegretto) “W.N.”
13:29 Variation IX. (Adagio) “Nimrod” – http://youtu.be/iPlW4pAFMOM
19:05 Variation X. (Intermezzo : Allegretto) “Dorabella”
22:14 Variation XI. (Allegro di molto) “G.R.S.”
23:22 Variation XII. (Andante) “B.G.N.”
26:45 Variation XIII. (Romanza: Moderato) “* * *”
29:51 Variation XIV. (Finale: Allegro – Presto) “E.D.U.”
BBC Symphony Orchestra, Leonard Bernstein.
Live Broadcast, 1984
1. Variation IX. “Nimrod” http://youtu.be/iPlW4pAFMOM
2. Complete Enigma Variations https://youtu.be/6GbD20h8-_4
3. Variation IX. “Nimrod” piano transcription http://youtu.be/w9rUjPBNxpI
4. Variation IX. “Nimrod” piano transcription http://youtu.be/rFgiPh6rZRs
5. Enigma Variations transcription on Piano http://youtu.be/iEwr4qvNUeM
It was Elgar’s Enigma Variations that made his name as a composer, at the age of forty-two. Today, Enigma is widely seen as the first real musicial masterpiece to emerge in Britain since the dead of Henry Purcell two centuries earlier. In the manuscript score the word “Enigma” is written over the original theme, with its contrasted strains of major and minor. Elgar later said that this theme represented “the loneliness of the creative artist”, and one may assume that it therefore represents Elgar himself. He also said there was “another and larger theme” which “goes” through and over the whole set but is not played. Whether this second theme is a popular melody or a symbolic idea such as friendship has never been established and probably never will be.
First performed in London in June 1899 and conducted by Hans Richter, Elgar dedicated the Variations “to my friends pictured within,” and they form an irresistible sequence of character studies, culminating in the composer’s rousing, assured self-portrait – as though he were telling those friends, “See what you have made of me.”. But Elgar also confessed that the music contained a “dark saving”, adding that the theme itself expressed his enduring sense of the “loneliness of the artist”. So like many of Elgar’s finest works, Enigma reveals two very different personae: the robust, brimming confidence of the self-made English gentleman and the restless, melancholic introspection of the outsider. That Elgar gentleman and the restless, melancholic introspections of the outsider. That Elgar was truly both is one of the aspects of his music that makes him fascinating. That is not the whole story: Enigma is also about warmth of feeling, tunefulness, and lively humor, and even – an unashionable word today – Nobility.
At the end of an overlong day laden with teaching and other duties, Edward Elgar lit a cigar, sat at his piano and began idling over the keys. To amuse his wife, the composer began to improvise a tune and played it several times, turning each reprise into a caricature of the way one of their friends might have played it or of their personal characteristics. “I believe that you are doing something which has never been done before,” exclaimed Mrs. Elgar. Thus was born one of music’s great works of original conception, and Elgar’s greatest large-scale “hit”: the Enigma Variations. The enigma is twofold: each of the 14 variations refers to a friend of Elgar’s, who is depicted by the nature of the music, or by sonic imitation of laughs, vocal inflections, or quirks, or by more abstract allusions. The other enigma is the presence of a larger “unheard” theme which is never stated but which according to the composer is very well known. The identity of the phantom tune left the world with the composer, and guesses have ranged from “God Save the King” to a simple major scale.
This apparatus aside, the variations contain some of the most charming and deeply felt music Elgar ever penned, more than redeeming the work from the status of mere gimmickry. The main theme is hesitating, lean and haunting, and is reprised with the passionate first variation that represents Caroline, the composer’s wife, a constant source of encouragement and inspiration.