Sketches for Elgar’s ‘Enigma’ Variations


Elgar often created sketches for pieces that he would develop and rework before reaching the final version of a work.

In a letter to his friend August Jaeger from October 1898 Elgar mentioned that he had sketched the Variations on an Original Theme and the full score of the ‘Enigma’ Variations as they later became known was completed in February 1899. One can compare the sketches that Elgar made for the ‘Enigma’ Variations with the manuscript full score of this work (Add MS 58004) in order to study some of Elgar’s compositional processes and practices, and note resemblances and differences with the final score.

The pages reproduced here show sketches that Elgar made for Variation I, depicting Elgar’s wife, Caroline Alice Elgar, the Theme of the variations, and Variation XI, depicting George Robertson Sinclair’s bulldog Dan, whose name Elgar wrote in pencil on this sketch in bar 5. Elgar’s lighthearted side was well-known among his friends and this variation is a good example of it. According to Elgar himself the variation portrayed Dan ‘falling down the steep bank into the river Wye (bar 1); his paddling up stream to find a landing place (bars 2 and 3); and his rejoicing bark on landing (2nd half of bar 5)’, as seen in the sketches for this variation. Apparently Sinclair (G.R.S.) had asked Elgar to set that scene to music, which Elgar did!

Full title:
Variations on an Original Theme ('Enigma'), op.36. Sketches
Edward Elgar
Usage terms
Public Domain
Held by
British Library
Add MS 58003

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