Programme notes

Nimrod, from The Enigma Variations, Edward Elgar (1857-1934)

The ‘enigma’ of the overall title of Elgar’s work is: what is the theme (Elgar was specific that it was not a ‘tune’) that the variations are based on? The endless speculation about what that theme is includes several very unlikely tunes, ranging from Beethoven’s piano sonata Pathétique to ‘Pop goes the weasel’, and most recently the suggestion that the theme is the mathematical constant Pi (3.142… ). Internet users with nothing else to do will find long discussions of the possibilities.

Elgar was not in the least enigmatic about the people the various variations were about. They are all named, and were good friends of his. Nimrod is Elgar’s close friend Augustus Jaeger, music editor for Novello & Co. Jaeger is German for ‘hunter’ and Nimrod was ‘a mighty hunter before the Lord’. The opening notes of the melody are yearning and elegiac, and the whole piece has become a significant part of British cultural life, played every year at the Cenotaph on Remembrance Sunday, and used at the opening ceremony of 2012 London Olympics.

Mike Torbe

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