Manchester Symphony Orchestra and Chorale presents a musical puzzle

By Karen Greer
For the Journal Inquirer
April 11, 2013

MANCHESTER — Manchester Symphony Orchestra and Chorale’s next concert, on Saturday, April 13, at Manchester High School, includes one of the great puzzles of musical history: Edward Elgar’s Enigma Variations.

A single, haunting melody is the theme for a suite of 14 different variations. Each of the variations depicts someone in Elgar’s life: his wife, friends, and fellow musicians — even himself. They range from romantic to energetic to comic.

The best-known of the variations is the one inspired by his good friend and music publisher, August Jaeger. Jaeger is the German word for “hunter,” and the variation is named for the biblical hunter, Nimrod.

When Elgar was discouraged about his career, Jaeger urged him to continue composing. The theme builds in a stately progression to a triumphant climax in this profoundly moving work, often heard at memorial events.

During World War II, English cryptographers cracked a sophisticated code used by the Germans that they’d named the “Enigma” after Elgar’s variations. But nobody had figured out the puzzle of the variations themselves by the time Elgar died in 1934, more than 45 years after he’d composed the variations, leaving the mystery, and the music, to enjoy.

Some of the music from the Enigma Variations reappears in a later work for orchestra and chorus, “The Music Makers,” also on the program and featuring Julia Babcock as the contralto soloist. Elgar’s struggles to establish his musical career no doubt influenced his choice for the text of this work, Arthur O’Shaughnessy’s “Ode,” written in 1874.

Though the work of both O’Shaughnessy and Elgar has gone in and out of fashion over the years, just as they themselves predicted, they still have the power to challenge and inspire.

“To Music!” will be performed at 7:30 p.m. on Saturday at Bailey Auditorium, Manchester High School, 134 E. Middle Turnpike.

Tickets can be purchased at the door. Prices are $18, $15 for seniors and students, and free for those younger than 18.

For more information, call 860-646-0047, e-mail MusicSix [at], or visit the Manchester Symphony Orchestra and Chorale website: