"A musical mystery. Sir Edward Elgar's 'Enigma Variations' have confounded music scholars and music fans since its premiere. Elgar tells us that the theme is never actually played during the piece. So, just what is the theme and where did it come from?"
So begins series host David Hartman's introduction to the broadcast concert of the North Carolina Symphony for Monday August 19. The program airs on WUNC at 10 p.m. and will be available for on-line listening for the week following.
During the course of the broadcast conductor Grant Llewellyn presents some of the theories that try to get to the bottom of the Elgar enigma. The piece itself is a series of fourteen variations. The missing part is the theme. Generally, when a composer presents a series of variations, either the theme is a well known and obvious tune (like, say, "Yankee Doodle") or the theme is clearly stated at the beginning of the piece. In the "Enigma Variations" that foundation is missing.
For Elgar's own first performance of the piece the composer wrote: "The Enigma I will not explain - its 'dark saying' must be left unguessed, and I warn you that the connection between the Variations and the Theme is often of the slightest texture; further, through and over the whole set another and larger theme 'goes', but is not played." Additionally, Elgar dedicated the piece to "my friends pictured within" as each variation is presented as an affectionate portrayal of someone Elgar knew.
See if you can solve the heretofore unsolved musical mystery as you join Grant Llewellyn in search of the answer to Elgar's "Enigma Variations."
Next week, Grant Llewellyn leads the Symphony in an all Stravinsky program featuring "Fireworks" and "Rite of Spring."