In this letter, dated 24 October 1898, Elgar mentions to his close friend and publisher August Jaeger (1860–1909) that he has started working on a set of variations for orchestra on an original theme (the ‘Enigma’ Variations). Each variation, Elgar explains, is labelled with the nickname of a particular friend and Jaeger (meaning ‘hunter’ in German) is portrayed as ‘Nimrod’ (Variation IX). The letter reads:
“My dear Jaeger,
Here is the “Grecian ghost which unburied remains inglorious on the plain” or on the hills.
I hope the house-hunting is over satisfactorily and that you have peaceful prospects. Let me know.
Our woods look lovely but decidedly damp and rheumaticky - unromantic just now.
Since I’ve been back I have sketched a set of Variations (orkestry) on an original theme: the Variations have amused me because I’ve labelled ’em with the nicknames of my particular friends – you are Nimrod. That is to say I’ve written the variations each one to represent the mood of the ‘party’ – I’ve liked to imagine the ‘party’ writing the var: him (or her) self & have written what I think they wd. have written – if they were asses enough to compose – it’s a quaint idee & the result is amusing to those behind the scenes & won’t affect the hearer who ‘nose nuffin’. What think you?
Much love & sunshine to you.
- Article by:
- Julian Rushton
- Performance and reception, Music and place, Musical style, Creative process
Julian Rushton discusses the early history of Elgar’s ‘Enigma’ Variations.