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Enigma Variations 2017

reimagined for symphony orchestra and chorus

Words by Arthur O’Shaughnessy

Written for the Devon Philharmonic Orchestra and first performed at Exeter Cathedral on the 3rd Nov 2018 by the orchestra, conducted by the composer.




2 (picc)., 2, 2, 2, c.bsn | 4,3,3,1. | timp, 3 perc. | organ | solo sop, solo ten., chorus | strings

Programme Note

The idea of incorporating a symphony chorus into this reimagined version of the Enigma Variations takes inspiration from the scoring of Elgar’s own piece The Music Makers. In this work, Elgar quotes the famous ‘Nimrod’ passage from the Enigma Variations, transformed by the addition of a chorus. It has been argued that Arthur O’Shaughnessy’s Ode, to which The Music Makers is set, was chosen by Elgar as an illustration of his own life as an ideal Romantic artist. This idealised image of himself seems also to be present in the Enigma Variations. After completing the initially titled ‘Variations on an Original Theme’, Elgar resolved to add the title ‘Enigma’, suggesting that there is some enigmatic secret hidden in the piece. During his lifetime he hinted at some clues to solve the implied puzzle, and though various solutions were proposed, Elgar accepted none and took the secret to the grave. Drawing on the commonly held belief that the opening phrase of the theme mirrors the rhythm of Elgar’s name (Ed-ward El-gar), in this re-imagining, we present Elgar himself as the ‘Enigma’, as an ideal artistic genius, personified in the text of O’Shaughnessy’s Ode. Therefore, to complete the Enigma Variations puzzle, the chorus act as the missing piece, singing the Ode to represent Elgar himself.


This music is available to hire. Please get in touch. The score may be purchased for £15.00 excluding postage.

Perusal Score

Please note that this music is in copyright and it is illegal to copy or perform from the perusal score. 

Performance History 

3rd Nov 2017 - Devon Philharmonic Orchestra 

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