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January 16, 2014
Edward Elgar's Ciphers
Elgar's cryptography puzzles from the late 1890s.
Posted on January 16, 2014 at 12:03 PM
• 10 Comments
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Elgar's Cello Concerto, performed by Jacqueline Du Pre, is one of my favorite works of music. I had no idea that Elgar was also a consummate cryptographer! Thanks for the link - it is very good.
Here is a link to Du Pre performing Elgar's Cello Concerto in 1967. My sister was a top-tier violist and principal violist with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra in England for almost 25 years. She was a good friend of Du Pre and Daniel Barenboim (who conducts the LSO in this performance) and when I mentioned to her that I had found this fabulous CD of Du Pre performing Elgar she only said, "Oh, Jacky and Danny!"... :-)
Watching the video and listening to the piece (I have it on my thumb drive and listen to it regularly), one can see, and hear, the subtlety of the mind that came up with such puzzles! This was the first time I have been able to watch Du Pre perform this - it brings tears to my eyes!
Ok, it wasn't the LSO, but who cares! :-)
At first glance, looking at the notebook diagram, the glyphs seem to be polar coordinates with a radius of 1-3 and an angle in increments of pi/4.
Interestingly, that's 24 possible characters, not quite a full english alphabet.
(The 'cello concerto is nowhere near Elgar's finest work, nor is DuPre's reading of it anywhere near the best performance, although that is not to single her out: most 'cellists try to "help" the piece by playing it in a mannered, exaggerated style that runs roughshod over the printed score. Check out the symphonies, as recorded by Colin Davis near the end of his life.)
So where did Elgar learn cryptography? Find the book(s) he learned from -- probably comparatively down-market, Victorian counterparts of "Cryptography for Dummies". To my eye, there is a similarity (at least in spirit) between Elgar's glyphs and those of the Voynich MS. None of the solutions proposed in the article have the slightest plausibility -- in particular, no one who knows anything about Elgar could imagine him using the word "effing".
Have just read the article...
Just a thought, but what if everyone's got it all wrong, in thinking that the glphys encode something in a natural language alphabet...?
What if, instead, it's a score? He was a composer, right?
For example, the first character is never repeated. It could be the key signature. The remaining characters could be some combination of intervals, rests, dynamic markings, or whatever else appears on a music scale.
Perhaps it is meant to be *played*, not spoken. Clues might be found by listening to his music. This might be a theme for something that he played with later, the main melody in a favorite piece that inspired him, or whatever.
Just thinking out loud. My wife is musical. We shall spend some time on it, when we have a chance.
Quick follow-up on prior post...
It could be, too, that if the glyphs encode a score, then the method for encoding is considered as significant as the message. it would seem to be very compact... maybe this is some kind of short-hand that Edgar developed to let him copy down music to which he was listening.
Ah, the beauty of mysteries...
Like Jason's comments. I was wondering that myself. I sent a copy of the article to my sister, the violist. I'll follow up and see if she has any thoughts about that, that the cipher is a musical short hand. Thanks.
@ Spaceman Spiff:
Turns out there's something on the relevant Wikipedia entry about this idea, so it's not new. However, it occurred to me that the number of lobes in a given glyph might indicate the length of the note -- e.g., eighth, quarter, and half notes. It's more interesting than assuming (as the Wiki reference does) that the lobes indicates accidentals (i.e., "accidentals", or sharps and flats on particular notes).
My wife wrote it out, then played it. (She also tried a "dotted rhythm".) It's a bit odd, but there could be something there.
We're friends with a couple, each of which has an advanced degree in Musicology. Hope to get together with them and see what they think.
Will post back here if we run across anything interesting.
Cool! I'm still waiting to hear from my sister - she is probably in Mexico City with her kids (and grandkids). Sometimes it takes awhile for her to answer my email. I think I'll call her and ask her to look at the link.
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