On my main Enigma page, I have proposed a sequence of Wagner leitmotifs as the counterpoint to Elgar’s ‘Enigma’ theme, which are demonstrated with audio files. I have also highlighted an article from the Leeds Mercury which likened Elgar to the Wagnerian character Siegmund.
On this page I explore the idea that this sequence of leitmotifs is linked conceptually to the dialogue of a particular scene in Wagner’s Die Walküre. This scene involves a series of exchanges between Brünnhilde and Siegmund, and I believe that the scene hints at the nature of the ‘dark saying’.
If you are unfamiliar with Wagner’s Ring, I recommend that you familiarise yourself with the synopsis of Die Walküre Acts I and II, before reading further.
For the first 6 bars of the Enigma theme, the counterpoint I suggested is a leitmotif associated with the character Brünnhilde, heard in part 4 of the Ring Cycle (Götterdämmerung). Brünnhilde appears in parts 2, 3 and 4 of the Ring and is only absent in part 1 (Das Rheingold). Interestingly, the relevant bars of the Enigma theme all have a rest on the first beat, with music on beats 2, 3 and 4.
The sections of the Enigma theme which work with the Brünnhilde leitmotif are bars 1-6 then bars 11-16. These bars have a repeating 2-bar rhythmic pattern, which coincides with the Brünnhilde counterpoint theme, which can be repeated 3 times to create acceptable harmony.
Each 2 bar segment of enigma bars 1-6 has the same rhythmic pattern. The first beat of each bar is a rest. Beats 2, 3 and 4 of the second bar are a ‘reflection’ of the corresponding beats in the first bar.
I believe this ‘reflection’ references the moment in Die Walküre Act II where Sieglinde recognises the similarity of Siegmund’s face to the reflection of her own face that she has seen in a stream. This is relevant because it is the forbidden relationship between siblings Siegmund and Sieglinde, which prompts Wotan to punish Siegmund, and to send Brünnhilde to take him to Valhalla.
The relevance of Die Walküre Act II Scene IV.
The scene of Die Walküre that is most relevant to the Enigma is Act II Scene IV. I believe the Enigma theme plus the three proposed counterpoint leitmotifs can be mapped logically against the first part of the dialogue, involving a series of exchanges between Brünnhilde and Siegmund.
The first 6 bars of the Enigma theme correspond in a number of ways to the first six exchanges.
The first 2 exchanges in the scene are as follows:
Siegmund! Look on me!
I come to call thee hence.
(Siegmund raises his eyes to her.)
Who art thou, say,
who dost stand so beauteous and stern?
Death-doomed is he who looks upon me;
who meets my glance
must turn from the light of life.
On the war-field alone I come to heroes;
those whom I greet
with me needs must go hence!
(Siegmund looks long, firmly and searchingly into
her eyes, then bows his head in thought and at
length turns resolutely to her again.)
SiegmundDie Walküre, Act II Scene IV
If death be his,
whither lead’st thou the hero?
Bars 1-2 of the Enigma theme sound like questions, which I believe relate to Siegmund’s questions. The general shape of the opening two phrases match the stage directions relating to Siegmund:
The next two ‘exchanges’ are as follows:
To Wotan, who casteth the lot,
lead I thee: to Walhall wend with me.
On Walhall’s height,
Wotan alone shall I find?
The fallen heroes’ hallowed band
shall greet thee there
with high welcome and love.
SiegmundDie Walküre Act II Scene IV
Dwelleth in Walhall
Wälse, the Wälsung’s father?
Bars 3-4 of the Enigma theme again sound like questions, which correspond to Siegmund’s lines (above).
In Wagner’s Ring, Wälse was Wotan in disguise and therefore both Wotan and Wälse are Siegmund’s father. The two falls of the seventh in the Enigma theme relate to the mention of Wotan and Wälse respectively, each connecting to the word ‘father’.
The connection between the falling seventh and the word father is established in Elgar’s cantata Caractacus, written the year before the Enigma Variations. The character Eigen sings the word ‘father’ to a falling seventh eleven beats after the stage direction ‘Eigen Enters’. (Note, there are no other similar instances of a drop of a 7th in the Caractacus score). You will notice the similarity between the names ‘Eigen‘ and ‘Enigma‘. If the Enigma theme is transposed into E minor and mapped to begin at the stage direction ‘Eigen Enters’, then the first Enigma drop of the seventh exactly matches Eigen’s drop of the seventh:
To summarise this last point: bars 3-4 of the Enigma theme with the two drops of the seventh refer to Siegmund’s questions about his father.
In addition, the phrase ‘On Walhall’s height’ corresponds to Enigma bar 3 ascending to high G, the highest note in bars 1-6:
The next two exchanges between Brunhilde and Siegmund are as follows:
His father there will the Wälsung find!
Gladly will woman welcome
Wish-maidens wait on thee there:
Wotan’s daughter friendly there filleth thy cup!
SiegmundDie Walküre, Act II Scene IV
Fair art thou,
and holy before me stands Wotan’s child:
yet one thing tell me, immortal!
Go brother and sister to Walhall together?
shall there Siegmund Sieglinde find?
These exchanges suggest that Siegmund is now considering the prospect of a guaranteed afterlife in Valhalla and considering also whether Sieglinde could accompany him there. This corresponds to a brief change in mood from gloom to optimism, which is mirrored in the change of key in the Enigma theme from G minor to G major at the end of bar 6.
The mention of the two words ‘holy’ and ‘cup’ in the Walkure libretto connects logically with the counterpoint leitmotif that I have suggested for bars 7-10 of the Enigma theme: the ‘holy grail’ leitmotif from Wagner’s Parsifal:
The next six exchanges between Brünnhilde and Siegmund generally correspond to bars 11-16 of the Enigma theme, though the connections to the text are not as detailed. This section of the Enigma theme is similar to bars 1-6, but with different harmony and more emotion. For most of bars 11-12 the Enigma theme top line is doubled a sixth lower until the 2 melodic lines start to diverge, then for the next few bars the 2 melodic lines alternate between moving in opposite directions and being pulled together.
This corresponds to the dialogue considering the fate of Siegmund and Sieglinde, either together or apart, rather than just the fate of Siegmund alone.
Here on earth must she still linger:
Siegmund will find not Sieglinde there.
Then greet for me Walhall,
greet for me Wotan,
greet for me Wälse and all the heroes,
greet too the beauteous wish-maidens:
to them I follow thee not!
Thou sawest the Valkyrie’s withering glance;
with her must thou now fare!
Where Sieglinde lives in weal or woe,
there will Siegmund too linger:
thy withering glance served not to fright me,
nor shall it e’er force me hence.
While life is thine,
force were in vain;
but death shall vanquish thee, fool:
death-doom to bring thee I am here.
Whose hand, then, shall strike,
if I must fall?
Hunding striketh the blow.
Bring threats more dire
if thou wouldst daunt me.
Lurkest thou here lusting for strife,
choose thou him for thy prey:
methinks he will fall in the fight!
Thine Wälsung, hearken to me:
thine is the death decreed.
Know’st thou this sword?
From him it came who holds me safe:
through his sword thy threats I defy!
BrünnhildeDie Walküre, Act II Scene IV
He who bestowed it sends thee now death:
for the spell he takes from the sword!
The last part of this exchange mentions ‘the sword’, specifically the special sword ‘Nothung’, which Siegmund draws from the ash-tree in Die Walküre Act I. This corresponds to the end of bar 16 of the Enigma theme. At this point, according to my theory, the Sword leitmotif acts as a counterpoint to the Enigma theme taking us through the bridge section and to the end of bar 19.
The connections I have mentioned above link the first part of Die Walküre Act II Scene IV libretto with both the Enigma theme and the counterpoint leitmotifs that I have suggested. Aside from the Sword motif being breifly heard in the Walküre scene, the connections are conceptual not musical.
Click here if you wish to see and hear Die Walküre Act II Scene IV, starting at the point where Brünhilde first addresses Siegmund.
I believe Die Walküre Act II Scene IV is about confronting human mortality, with Valhalla acting as a metaphor for the after-life. I believe the ‘dark saying‘ of Elgar’s Enigma is related to one or both of these issues and this is why the Walküre scene is subtly referenced as described above. This is discussed further on my main Enigma page.