3. Music using cryptographic and related concepts


No doubt the idea of using the elements of music to convey extra-musical semantic significance (whether audible or inaudible, overt or covert) is as old as music itself. Some devices depend on written notation. Words can be sung, for added emphasis, to their corresponding solmization names (e.g. “re” for “king”, “sol” for “sun”). Examples are found from Josquin to Schutz (Wessely, 1973. Eye Music, adding visual meaning to written scores, is found as late as Bach, some of whose music may also contain the idea of a ritual symbolism of gesture, motion or number (Krause, 1964). Numbers can be signified by intervals or instruments, voices or entries, from the 14th century (Wessely, 1973) to Bach (Krause, 1964; Geiringer, 1956). The numbers thus conveyed may then be used according to strict cryptographic principles to encipher letters of the alphabet, according to the system already described above. This device was used in the early 18th century by J.C. Faber, whoseNeu-erfundene obligate Composition (MS, D-W) enciphers the name “Ludovicus” by the number of notes allotted to the solo trumpet in each of the nine movements. Using the Latin milesian alphabet (A=1, B=2, C=3 to I=9, K=10 to S=90, T=100 to Z=500), which Faber stated was taken from Tabourot (1584), the solo trumpet plays 20 notes in the first movement, at the head of which is written “L=20”, 200 notes in the second, at the head of which is written “U=200” and so on (see also NUMBERS AND MUSIC). The same determined encipherer also used a Porta system analogous to ex.3 as a means of incorporating messages, for instance in the viola part of a quartet.

   The most common of all such devices however was the use of the letter-names of notes to create themes from words or (more usually) names of people. This idea too no doubt dates back to the beginning of letter nomencla­ture. It is particularly associated with the name of Bach, which in German usage can be written as in ex.6.



Bach himself and his contemporaries incorporated that phrase in many works (as did Beethoven, Schumann, Liszt, Rimsky-Korsakov, Busoni and several others; see B-A-C­-H). Bach showed further ingenuity in his seven-part canon over a ground of F–A–B–E, headed “FABERepetatur” – possibly a suitably cryptic allusion to J.C. Faber himself or a kinsman. Such ideas flourished especially in the common ground between music and literature that was increasingly cultivated in the 18th and 19th centuries; they are, for example, typical of Jean Paul and occur in his novel Flegeljahre (1804-5). As a consequence, more letters and ideas were found musical equivalents than the standard A to G (and H, the German Bb). For example, “S” can be considered as the equivalent of the note Eb, because the German name of the latter is “Es”; this enabled Friedrich Fesca to begin a string quartet with F–E–EbC­A, literally his own signature tune. It helped Spohr sportively to render his own name as in ex.7 (po stands for portamento; the old-style crotchet rest looks like “r”).



At one extreme, ideas of this kind could be used in grave commemoration of the death of Schubert, as in the fugues written on the musical letters of his name by Stadler and Sechter; at the other, they could inspire such jeux d'esprit as John Field's tribute to his hostess Mme Cramer (MS, 1832) in the form of two grateful melodies on B–E–E–F and C-A-B-B-A-G–E.

   The greatest and most prolific exponent of such notions, whether serious or genial, was Schumann. The musical letters of his own name, S–C–H–A, form a main theme of Carnaval, where they are also found as A–S–C–H, the name of his friend Ernestine von Fricken's home town, and anagrammatized as A–S–H–C. The A–S component is enciphered variously as two notes (A, Fb) or as one (As = Ab in German). Schumann also used, in published music, A–B–E–G–G and G–A–D–E (names of friends); F­A–E (standing for “frei aber einsam”, free but lonely, a device also used in music by Joachim); and H (the answer to a riddle on the letter H). His other overt music–ciphers used in extant letters or manuscripts include A–C–H, A­D–E, B–E–D–A (a pet name for Clara Wieck), B–E–S­E–D–H (the nearest equivalent to the name of a friend, Bezeth), E–H–E (“marriage”) and, no doubt the longest example on record, (L)–A–S–S D–A–S F–A–D–E, F–A–S­S D–A–S A–E–C–H–D(T)–E, or “leave what is trite, hold fast to the right”, in a musical rebus.

   It has been suggested that Schumann used a three-line, eight-note cipher (on a system derived from Kliiber, 1809, with whose work he has been shown to be familiar; see Sams, “A Schumann Primer”, 1970) much as in ex.9 below, especially for the purpose of making themes with the covert significance of “Clara” (Schumann, née Wieck); and that Brahms also used such themes with the same meaning (Sams, 1971 and forthcoming). Brahms was also much given to the meaningful use of musical letters. He seems to have used his own, B–A–H–S, in his Ab minor organ fugue. He modified the F–A–E idea to F–A–F, standing for “frei aber froh”, free but happy, which was used in many works from the Serenade no.1 to Symphony no.3. The notes A–G–A–(T)–H–E, A–D–E are used as a valediction to Agathe von Siebold in the Sextet op.36 and arguably in other works (Sams, “Brahms and his Musical Love-Letters”, 1971). In correspondence Brahms referred to Adele Strauss as the notes A–Eb (A.S.) and to Gisela von Arnim as the notes G#–E–A (Gis-e-la). This ingenious combination of German note-names with solmization names, the typical French usage, recurs in the use of Bb–A–F (B-la-F) in a string quartet written for Belyayev by Borodin, Glazunov, Lyadov and Rimsky-Korsakov. It has been suggested that Tchaikovsky made analogous use of a friend's name, D–E(s)–Si–re–E (Brown, 1978). Glazunov composed on the theme of his own pet name, S–A–C–H–A; César Cui linked the musical letters B–A–B­E–G in his wife's maiden name (Bamberg) with his own initials, C–C. Smetana not only composed with his own monogram B–S and the musical letters F–E–D–A in the name Froejeda, but also enciphered the year 1862 as the first, eighth, sixth and second degrees of the scale.

   In England, Elgar was a skilled cryptologist. He successfully solved a well-known challenge cipher, to which eminent experts later thought it worthwhile to publish their own solutions; he constructed a difficult if not impossible cryptogram; he made cipher entries in diaries and notebooks. One of his earliest works was an Allegretto for violin and piano on G–E–D–G–E, the name of a friend. It seems reasonable on the facts to conjecture that he used private ciphers in some of his compositions, and that suggestion has often been made in respect of the “Enigma” Variations. The theme of Granville Bantock's Helena Variations is fashioned from his wife's initials, H­F–B.

   The first major composer to make serious and acknowl­edged use of a detailed and coherent cipher system was Ravel, who in 1909 used ex.8 (except that, presumably to avoid repetition, H was given its German equivalent, Bb) to encipher the name Haydn in a commemorative Menuet for piano.



Similar pieces were written on the same system at the same time by Debussy, Dukas, Hahn and d'Indy. The same 7 x 4 system was used again in 1922 by Ravel and others (Schmitt, Enescu, Aubert, Koechlin, Ladmi­rault and Roger-Ducasse) in tribute to Fauré. The idea seems to have appealed to Ravel who (alone, apart from Schmitt) elected to encipher the whole name of Gabriel Fauré. In 1929 another group of composers (Poulenc, Honegger, Milhaud, Ibert and others) used cipher in celebration of Albert Roussel; this time no uniform system was adopted. Some are unspecified, Poulenc's for example; but it can be inferred from the score of his Pièce brève sur le nom d'Albert Roussel to be an 8 x 3 arrangement as in ex.9.



The name “Albert” is also enciphered backwards to make an additional theme. Of especial interest is Honegger's encipherment system, ex.10,



which is worth comparing with Michael Haydn's (see ex.5). Honegger's actual compositional procedure is shown in exx.11 and 12.






The simpler model of ex.8 was used by Arnold Bax in his Variations on the Name Gabriel Fauré in 1949. Otherwise outside France the German letter-name tradi­tion continued in the 20th century as in the 19th. In Berg's Chamber Concerto the musical letters in the names Schoenberg, Webern and Berg (S  CHBE G, E B  E, B–E–G) are incorporated in the music as personal symbols. Thea Musgrave made a similar use of the names of the first Viennese school in her Chamber Concerto no.3. Dmitry Shostakovich, in his Eighth String Quartet and elsewhere, used his monogram D–S–C–H as a theme, which Ronald Stevenson also used, in homage, in his Passacaglia; while Everett Helm has signed more than one composition with the musical initials E–H. In Bussotti's contemporary theatre-piece La passion selon Sade, D–Es–A–D–E is interlocked with B–A–C–H. But the most striking developments of the 1960s came from what might be called the French tradition, in the form of Olivier Messiaen's “communicable language” (ex.13)



and complementary leitmotifs (ex.14)



which together make the complete cipher and code system used in the organ workMéditations sur le mystère de la Sainte Trinité (Halbreich, 1972). Ex.13 is used to encipher extended quotations (in French) from the Summa theologica of St Thomas Aquinas; ex.14 and other leitmotifs symbolize spiritual entities or basic concepts such as “to be” or “to have”.   

   It seems entirely fitting that such a system should have evolved in the only milieu ever to have produced real music on themes overtly derived from cipher, and the only milieu ever to have produced a complete artificial language with musical elements. There is an evident affinity between ex.13 and ex.10 (most clearly in the first eight notes of each). Although the “theme of God” means the same in its retrograde form, unlike Francois Sudre's “domisol”, the relation between his “language” and Messiaen's is also manifest, especially when we learn that the latter's ascending “to be” is counterbalanced by the descending theme “to have”.