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In Leestip, door Ionica

Dorabella geheimschrift

Dit is een brief die  Edward Elgar schreef in 1897. Niemand heeft het geheimschrift nog gebroken. De scan komt uit het boek Geheimtalen, dat ik deze week recenseerde voor Delta. Hierbij twee stukjes uit de recensie:

Het boek staat vol met dingen die je aan je vrienden kunt vertellen op feestjes. Bijvoorbeeld dat in de ‘Kama Sutra’ staat dat vrouwen zich moeten bekwamen in de Mlecchita vikalpa ‘de kunst van het begrijpen van geheimschrift en het uitschrijven van woorden op een speciale manier’. Het is zelfs nummer 41 op de lijst van essentiële technieken.


Achterin staan zeven - ook Engelstalige - puzzels die met de technieken uit de verschillende hoofdstukken zijn op te lossen.Maar eigenlijk nodigen de intermezzi over ongebroken codes als het Dorabella-geheimschrift nog meer uit om zelf te gaan puzzelen. De Engelse componist Edward Elgar schreef in 1897 een brief in geheimschrift aan een vriendin, Dora. Zij kon de boodschap niet ontcijferen en Elgar gaf geen uitleg. Elgar zette ook cryptische aantekeningen in het programma bij de première van zijn ‘Variations on an original theme’, beter bekend als de ‘Enigmavariaties’. Nog steeds weet niemand wat de brief of de aantekeningen betekenen.

Lees de complete recensie hier.

3 reacties op “Geheimtalen”

  1. tony gaffney:


    On the 14th July 1897 Edward Elgar sent the following note to Miss Dora Penny, Elgar’s wife Alice being a friend of Dora’s stepmother who had recently married Alfred Penny Rector of St Peter’s, at Wolverhampton.

    40 years later Dora now Mrs. Richard Powell enclosed the cipher in an appendix to her book ‘Edward Elgar’ with the following comment –

    ‘It is well known that Elgar was always interested in puzzles, ciphers, cryptograms, and the like. The cipher here reproduced – the third letter I had from him, if indeed it is one – came to me enclosed in a letter from the Lady (Elgar’s wife) to my mother. On the back of it is written ‘Miss Penny’. It followed upon their visit to us at Wolverhampton in July 1897.
    I have never had the slightest idea what message it conveys; he never explained it and all attempts to solve it have failed. Should any reader of this book succeed in arriving at a solution it would interest me very much to hear of it.’

    In the following edition, 10 years later – ‘Since the first edition of this book appeared, the cipher has, I know, been examined by a good few people skilled in such matters. Nobody, so far as I am aware, has yet succeeded in reading it.’

    A 110 years after Elgar sent the message it still remains one of cryptography’s most enduring puzzles.

    I offer the following solution -

    Figures 1, 2, 3 & 4 are copies of diagrams found in one of Elgar’s note books dating from the 1920’s were he appears to be trying to recall his system. Fig. 5 is what I believe he was trying to remember, fig. 6 how the symbols would have been arranged and fig. 7 the allocation of the alphabet.

    Using the above ingenious ‘clock dial’ as a mnemonic aid I believe he wrote the message straight of without any prior composition.

    Substituting the proposed alphabet for the message gives the following;-


    This appears to be gibberish until we remember Elgar had a love of word play & word puzzles, often using phoneticised spellings i.e. ‘My Dear Dorabellllla – How many ells long is that…..’; ‘gorjus’ for gorgeous; ‘flopsikon’; ‘warbling wigorously in Worcester wunce a week’; ‘bung yirds’ for young birds; ‘xqqq’ for excuse; ‘ckor’ for score; etc. etc.

    Looking at the end of lines one & two we have the letters YDUO & YUO, the most common word used in personal messages is YOU occurring twice as often as AND & three times as often as THE; in the middle of line three appears TNEH – it soon becomes apparent that Elgar has used or invented a variation of ‘backslang’ e.g. CIPHER would become CREHPI. (In another letter to Dora dated 26th Feb 1899 Elgar writes are you living backwards like the Queen in Alice’)
    Reversing the words in ‘backslang’ and inserting the word divisions (assuming I’ve found the right ones), what he actually wrote was:-


    If Dora was still with us I am sure she would have easily read and understood this message despite it’s few errors – either Elgar intended to give her the key at some later time or it just didn’t occur to him that combining the simple substitution with his phoneticised spellings, backslang and omitting word divisions made it virtually impossible for Dora to solve.

    As Dora is no longer with us to give the explanation – changing the phoneticised spellings and correcting a few minor errors (the orientation of a few symbols being unclear) the message sent was, as best as I can make it out, meant to read:-

    B (Bella) hellcat i.e. war using ?? hens shells is why your
    antiquarian net diminishes, am sorry you
    theo O ‘tis God then me so la do E (Elgar) Adieu

    The first line didn’t make much sense to me until I remembered seeing the following in a letter from Elgar to Dora Penny dated Sept. 24th 1898
    ‘…. and then some Sunday at Wolverhampton you can give us tea and fire eggs at me as of yore.’

    The middle line – ‘antiquarian net’ – would seem to mean circle of elderly friends.

    The last line – On Elgar’s visits Dora would often sit turning the pages, or sing, for Elgar at the piano – I assume there must have been occasions when asked to do this she had declined (her father being a Rector) and religious duties taking priority.

    The following are 2 contemporaneous messages the reader may wish to unravel – it was by considering how difficult the second of these would be to solve if the word divisions were removed and the whole encipherd using Elgar’s symbols, that led to the above solution.

    DAAER oter Ditheer ndaer Elenher. Ewer iveler taer Utneyper. Idneyser sier taer Radfleldber Ollegecer. Erceyper taer heter Ospitalher. Evening Standard, Thu 1st Aug 1889

    MA petite Marie, nod efto raur hsuf nke swoton gnihb tae. 8. 10. 9. 1. 21. 15. 7. seutno yadta 9.8. 7. - 22 – 13 niaw tidal orsei amo dneb ius eriw onll tliaf. – J’en suis. Evening Standard, Mon 11th Nov 1872

    Solution by - Jean Palmer author of ‘The Agony Column Codes & Ciphers’

  2. Jelle:

    Nog een leuke puzzel over Elgars 'Variations on an original theme:’ Wat is dat originele thema? Elgar heeft altijd beweerd dat het makkelijk eruit te halen was en dat iedereen het wel zou kennen, maar het is nog steeds niet zeker welke het was.

  3. Esther:

    Kom allemaal luisteren op woensdag 12 december in de Pieterskerk in Leiden. L.S.K.O. Collegium Musicum voert dan de Enigma Variaties van Elgar uit!!
    (en daarnaast het vioolconcert vna Brahms en het Te Deum van Dvorak)
    Aanvang is 20.15 uur.
    meer info op http://www.collegiummusicum.nl
    Ondergetekende neemt de 1e fluitpartij voor haar rekening.

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