(Feb 3, 2019)

“A mighty hunter before the Lord…”

Edward Elgar June 2nd, 1857 – 23 February 23rd, 1934

Elgar was the exact opposite of the typical English aristocrat of his time. He was very largely self taught, although he did have musical instruction from his father. He played several instruments well – piano, violin and bassoon – but most of what he learned about conducting, orchestration and composition he acquired on his own. He struggled for many years for recognition but was unable to earn enough money to support himself without taking all sorts of odd musical jobs on the side.

Then almost overnight he was famous, and it was through his Enigma Variations (1899) , which quickly became popular throughout the world. These variations started out with a theme, and then he used this theme to create a musical portrait of close friends. The “enigma” part comes from his claim that there is another theme, uniting all the variations, that no one has been able to figure out.

The most famous variation is called “Nimrod”,  in honor of his close friend and publisher, Augustus J. Jaeger,  who had encouraged him  him to continue composing despite lack of fame and near bankruptcy.

(Nimrod is the name of an Old Testament patriarch described as “a mighty hunter before the Lord”.  Jäger is a german word for  “hunter”.)

Today there is no greater musical honor than hearing Nimrod played in memory of someone very famous and much loved. It is only about four minutes long, about the same length as may popular tunes written right now. Of course there is more, and here is the whole thing with a score for two pianos:




17 thoughts on “Nimrod

  1. I really like the soft tone of Nimrod, it sounds very nice and is relaxing. I also think its amazing the whole “enigma”. I think its really cool that no one has been able to figure out the uniting theme.

    1. Logan, the whole “enigma” thing fascinates me too. Even more amazing to me is that so many really famous composers almost never got any fame at all. They struggled, and struggled, then something they wrote caught fire round the world.

  2. Gloryanne wrote:

    The first one was very beautiful. The fact that its about friendship and loyalty, that makes it even better.

    For some reason her comment would not post. But this was my answer:

    Gary: I think the same thing, because to me there is nothing more important than friendship!

  3. The use of themes can be very sneaky. They can be upside down, backward, changed rhythm. Sometimes much slower or much faster. You really have to study the music to catch them.

    In fact, to this moment no one knows why the composer used the word “Enigma”. The idea is that there is something binding all the variations together, but no one knows what it is.

  4. Glad Edward Elgar had such a supportive friend or else we might have never been given Nimrod and Enigma Variations. Two very amazing pieces, but my favorite has to be Nimrod for it being made for a friend who supported Edward even with odds not being high.

  5. I find Nimrod very beautiful. It makes me feel peaceful inside. I’ve started listening to the whole thing and they are interesting because they are so different from each other. I would like to be better at hearing the theme that binds them together.

    1. It is very famous, so of course you might have heard it someplace without knowing what it is. This is how untrained people come to think of this or that piece of music as “classical”. Things are played in a lot of circumstances, and people become aware that it is something they think they know. They may like it, or even love it, but the don’t think someone wrote it recently so they put it in the “classical” box.

    1. Michael, the Enigma Variations is a composition that I could not live without. Next lesson I’ll try to show you the theme, how he used that theme for Nimrod and all the other variations. I did not add a link to the whole thing, because I was afraid most students would not even think about listening to the whole thing, but tonight I will.


Leave a Reply