By far the best-known of all Elgar’s ‘Enigma Variations’ is ‘Nimrod’, frequently played at Remembrance services and funerals. But the story behind it suggests that it was intended as music not of loss or parting, but of enduring friendship, and new hope.
AFTER a long day teaching the violin, Elgar and his wife Alice joked about how their friends might develop a simple tune, given their distinctive personalities - from a memorable laugh to likeable pomposity and poor piano-playing, and even the organist of Hereford Cathedral’s bulldog, splashing about in the River Wye.
The result was the ‘Enigma Variations’, a suite of fourteen variations on an original theme, of which Variation IX, ‘Nimrod’ is by far the most well-known. ‘Nimrod’ is a figure in the Old Testament, ‘a mighty hunter before the Lord’, and was chosen to represent Elgar’s publisher Augustus J. Jaeger, whose surname means ‘hunter’ in German.
Elgar was subject to fits of depression, and on one such occasion it was Jaeger who talked him round, pointing to Beethoven’s courage in adversity and the superlative music that flowered amid it. Unlike the other variations, ‘Nimrod’ is not an affectionately teasing portrait: it is a tale of a true friendship’s beautiful victory.
‘Nimrod’ from the Enigma Variations
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