Elgar's other enigma

Like Pliable Elgar was a keen cyclist , here he is in
Malvern with his much-used Sunbeam tourer.

Jessica Duchen's classical music blog about Edward Elgar's birthplace at Broadheath, Worcestershire reminded of a link to him sitting on my bookshelf.

The score of Elgar's Violin Conerto contains an enigmatic dedication in the form of a mysterious Italian phrase - "Acqui esta encerrada el alma de" - followed by five dots; meaning that the identity of the dedicatee of this perenially popular work is unknown.

Some years ago I bought a second hand copy of the autobiography of Mrs Richard Powell, 'Dorabella' of the tenth of the Enigma Variations ('Edward Elgar - Memories of a Variation published by Methuen).

Stuck into the book are hand written letters and postcards sent to the original owner by Mrs Powell who was then living in East Grinstead.

A letter of 12th Feb 1950 from Mrs Powell in her own hand writing says the following ...

"What a curious fact it is that people seem to prefer a mystery to a fact. Having kept my promise to Lady Elgar for 40 years not to reveal the 'Secret of the 5 dots' - I find now that no one cares to know the truth, and I have even heard something about pricked bubble. A writer to the Times once alluded to the "excruciating boredom of pure fact....................Believe me, Yours sincerely Dorah M. Powell"

This seems to be a reference to the paragraph in the book (P.86) which was apparently added in 1946 (the first edition was published in 1937) where Mrs Powell reveals that Lady Elgar told her that the five dots referred to an American friend of the Elgars, Mrs Julia H. Worthington; contradicting the now commonly accepted interpretation that the enigmatic dedicatee of the Concerto is Mrs Alice Stuart-Wortley.

I can see no reason to disbelieve Mrs Powell, and if Lady Elgar's explanation is taken at face value there is no 'enigma' to the dedication - the dedicatee is Mrs Julia H. Worthington. But of course the mystery remains unsolved, as we will never know whether Lady Elgar's explanation was fact; or whether it was simply Edwardian expediency created by herself, or by her husband.

Maybe not a great revelation, but it is fascinating to have in front of me as I write that apparently factual explanation of the dedication in the hand of one of the famous 'friends pictured within'.

Such is the unique magic of second hand books. It appears that the owner of the book (who appears to have been a BBC journalist) was in the habit of sticking interesting memorabilia into his books. I bought from the same source books from his library on
Toscanini and Furtwangler, and both have many fascinating newpaper clippings and reviews neatly pasted into spaces between the text - but alas no letters. Oh to return to the days when cut and paste meant using scissors and Gloy gum from a glass bottle with a rubber spout!

So there is a very small piece of Elgar history sitting in my library, which may just be of interest to others. A scanned images of the correspondence can be made available to any genuine researchers who may be interested.

Sir Edward Elgar with Yehudi Menuhin before recording
the Violin Concerto in 1932
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Anonymous said…
I was most interested by your Elgar piece,particularly so as I am the author of a monograph 'Elgar the Cyclist' and several other Elgarian books. (I note that cycling is one of your interests).I was acquainted with Mrs Powell's son have photocopied much of her archive and hope to write about her. I would be most interested to see copies of the material attached to the copy of her book which you have. Regards,
Kevin Allen
I am not a linguist, nor am I skilled in many languages, but I should say that the enigmatic dedication written by Elgar resembles more a sort of misspelled Spanish, rather than Italian. I don't know much about Elgar's knowledge of Romance languages, so I can't say if he is writing in some Iberian dialect or archaic form of Spanish (or even Portuguese). But I would discard Italian, starting from the first word of the dedication.

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