A musical cryptogram is a cryptogrammatic sequence of musical symbols, a sequence which can be taken to refer to an extra-musical text by some 'logical' relationship, usually between note names and letters. The most common and best known examples result from composers using ciphered versions of their own or their friends' names as themes or motifs in their compositions. Much rarer is the use of music notation to encode messages for reasons of espionage or personal security called steganography.
Because of the multitudinous ways in which notes and letters can be related, detecting hidden ciphers and proving accurate decipherment is difficult.
From the initial assignment by Western music theorists of letter names to notes in the 9th centuryit became possible to reverse the procedure and assign notes to the letters of names. However, this does not seem to have become a recognized technique until the Romantic period. From the mid-19th century it has become quite common. Sporadic earlier encipherments used solmization syllables.
It is believed that this method was first used by Josquin des Prez in his Missa Hercules Dux Ferrarie. It was named Soggetto cavato by the later theorist Zarlino. Under this scheme the vowel sounds in the text are matched to the vowel sounds of the solmization syllables of Guido of Arezzo (where 'ut' is the root, which we now call 'do'). Thus the Latin name of the dedicatee 'Hercules Dux Ferrarie' (Ercole d'Este, Duke of Ferrara) becomes re-ut-re-ut-re-fa-mi-re, which translates as D-C-D-C-D-F-E-D in modern notation with C as 'ut'. This is used as the cantus firmus of the mass setting. Josquin's method was imitated by several of his contemporaries and successors, including Adrian Willaert and Costanzo Festa.
Since the note names only cover letters A to G (reflecting the octave repetition of these names), the problem arises as to how to cipher the rest of the alphabet. Historically there have been two main solutions, which may be labelled for convenience the 'German' and the 'French' methods.
Because the development of note names took place within the framework of modes, in the German-speaking world B-flat was named 'B' and B-natural was named 'H'. The most common musical cryptogram is the B-A-C-H motif, which was used by Johann Sebastian Bach himself, by his contemporaries and by many later composers. Other note names were derived by sound, for example E-flat, 'Es' in German, could represent 'S' and A-flat the digraph 'As'.
Composers less fortunate than Bach usually seem to have chosen to ignore non-musical letters in generating their motifs. For example, Robert Schumann, an inveterate user of cryptograms, has just S-C-H-A (E-flat, C, B-natural, A) to represent himself in Carnaval . Sometimes phonetic substitution could be used, Schumann representing Bezeth by B-E-S-E-D-H. Johannes Brahms used B-A-H-S (B-flat, A, B-natural, E-flat) for his surname in the A-flat minor organ fugue, and the mixed language Gis-E-La (G-sharp, E, A) for Gisela von Arnim, among many examples.
The 'French' method of generating cryptograms arose late in the 19th century and was more akin to normal encipherment. The most popular version involved writing out the letters H-N, O-U and V-Z in lines under the original diatonic notes A-G, as follows:
so that A, H, O, and V are enciphered by note 'A', B, I, P and W by 'B' (flat or natural) and so on. This scheme was used by Jules Écorcheville, editor of the journal S.I.M., to solicit centenary commemorations of Joseph Haydn in 1909, except that he diverted the 'H' to B-natural, presumably to avoid too many repeated notes.Writing to Gabriel Fauré about the invitation, Camille Saint-Saëns said he was writing to Écorcheville asking him to prove that Y and N could signify D and G as "it would be annoying to get mixed up in a farcical business which would make us a laughing stock in the German musical world." The many-to-one mapping of this method makes it more difficult to extract possible motifs from the musical score than the one-to-one correspondence (apart from 'As') of the German system.
A French tradition of celebratory uses developed from the Haydn centenary, with tributes to Gabriel Fauré by Maurice Ravel, Florent Schmitt, Charles Koechlin and others in 1922 (added to later by Arnold Bax, 1949) and to Albert Roussel by Francis Poulenc, Arthur Honegger, Darius Milhaud and others (using various ciphering schemes) in 1929. Honegger's system involved placing the letters after 'H' under sharpened and flattened notes, an example of how chromatic cryptograms could be more easily accommodated in 20th-century music.
Olivier Messiaen developed his own full cipher, involving pitches and note lengths, for his organ work Méditations sur le mystère de la Sainte Trinité (1969).
Dmitri Shostakovich used the German scheme for his personal motto D-Es-C-H (D, E-flat, C, B-natural), representing D.SCH, which appears in many of his most characteristic works. Elliott Carter featured both a cryptogram for the last name "Boulez" in his piece Réflexions (2004) and a sonic symbol of the first name "Pierre".
Cryptograms were less common in England, but Edward Elgar, who was also interested in general cryptography and puzzles, wrote an early Allegretto for his pupils the Gedge sisters using G-E-D-G-Eand part of the 'enigma' in the Enigma Variations involves cryptograms.
In 1947 Friedrich Smend suggested that Bach enciphered significant numbers through methods including repetitions of a motif, word, or phrase; the notes played on the continuo; the use of sequence; and the notes played by the accompaniment. However, Ruth Tatlow has presented evidence questioning the plausibility of Smend's claims.
During the first quarter of the 20th century, American author and occultist Paul Foster Case established an esoteric musical cryptogram for the purposes of ceremonial magick. The system was a derivative of a cipher used by an affiliated magical order called the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn.Each note of the 12 tone system was assigned a set of correspondences including colors, planets, zodiacal signs, and Hebrew letters. The holy names of biblical characters were translated letter by letter into a linear sequence of musical notes, so that each letter could be sung by the congregation in unison.
Ezra Sandzer-Bell has written and published two books on this subject,describing how Paul Foster Case's system of musical cryptography could be applied to songwriting. Any word can be translated phonetically into Hebrew and converted using Case's cryptogram to generate a series of notes. Sandzer-Bell's project involves the conversion of the common and Latin names of plants, trees, and mushrooms into melodies. Each song was composed by consuming the plant in tea or tincture form, then using the physical effects of the plant to determine what kind of rhythm, harmony, instruments, and dynamics to use. A lengthy demonstration and proof concept is publicly available on the author's website.
The following list includes only motifs which are known to have been used in published works.
In music, a note is a symbol denoting a musical sound. In English usage, a note is also the sound itself.
Robert Schumann was a German composer, pianist, and influential music critic. He is widely regarded as one of the greatest composers of the Romantic era. Schumann left the study of law, intending to pursue a career as a virtuoso pianist. His teacher, Friedrich Wieck, a German pianist, had assured him that he could become the finest pianist in Europe, but a hand injury ended this dream. Schumann then focused his musical energies on composing.
The Vigenère cipher is a method of encrypting alphabetic text by using a series of interwoven Caesar ciphers, based on the letters of a keyword. It employs a form of polyalphabetic substitution.
A polyalphabetic cipher is any cipher based on substitution, using multiple substitution alphabets. The Vigenère cipher is probably the best-known example of a polyalphabetic cipher, though it is a simplified special case. The Enigma machine is more complex but is still fundamentally a polyalphabetic substitution cipher.
In music, the BACH motif is the motif, a succession of notes important or characteristic to a piece, B flat, A, C, B natural. In German musical nomenclature, in which the note B natural is named H and the B flat named B, it forms Johann Sebastian Bach's family name. One of the most frequently occurring examples of a musical cryptogram, the motif has been used by countless composers, especially after the Bach Revival in the first half of the 19th century.
The Dorabella Cipher is an enciphered letter written by composer Edward Elgar to Dora Penny, which was accompanied by another dated July 14, 1897. Penny never deciphered it and its meaning remains unknown.
B, also known as Si, Ti, or, in some European countries, H, is the seventh note of the fixed-Do solfège. Its enharmonic equivalents are C♭ (C-flat) and A.
The pigpen cipher is a geometric simple substitution cipher, which exchanges letters for symbols which are fragments of a grid. The example key shows one way the letters can be assigned to the grid.
The four-square cipher is a manual symmetric encryption technique. It was invented by the French cryptographer Felix Delastelle.
The Two-square cipher, also called double Playfair, is a manual symmetric encryption technique. It was developed to ease the cumbersome nature of the large encryption/decryption matrix used in the four-square cipher while still being slightly stronger than the single-square Playfair cipher.
Banburismus was a cryptanalytic process developed by Alan Turing at Bletchley Park in Britain during the Second World War. It was used by Bletchley Park's Hut 8 to help break German Kriegsmarine (naval) messages enciphered on Enigma machines. The process used sequential conditional probability to infer information about the likely settings of the Enigma machine. It gave rise to Turing's invention of the ban as a measure of the weight of evidence in favour of a hypothesis. This concept was later applied in Turingery and all the other methods used for breaking the Lorenz cipher.
Carnaval, Op. 9, is a work by Robert Schumann for piano solo, written in 1834–1835 and subtitled Scènes mignonnes sur quatre notes. It consists of 21 short pieces representing masked revelers at Carnival, a festival before Lent. Schumann gives musical expression to himself, his friends and colleagues, and characters from improvised Italian comedy. He dedicated the work to the violinist Karol Lipiński.
DSCH is a musical motif used by the composer Dmitri Shostakovich to represent himself. It is a musical cryptogram in the manner of the BACH motif, consisting of the notes D, E-flat, C, B natural, or in German musical notation D, Es, C, H, thus standing for the composer's initials in German transliteration: D. Sch..
The Variations on the name "Abegg" in F major is a piece for piano by Robert Schumann, composed between 1829 and 1830 and published as his Opus 1. The name is believed to refer to Schumann's fictitious friend, Meta Abegg, whose surname Schumann used through a musical cryptogram as the motivic basis for the piece. The name Meta is considered to be an anagram of the word "tema" (Latin).
The Alberti Cipher, created in 1467 by Italian architect Leon Battista Alberti, was one of the first polyalphabetic ciphers. In the opening pages of his treatise De componendis cifris he explained how his conversation with the papal secretary Leonardo Dati about a recently developed movable type printing press led to the development of his cipher wheel.
Giovan Battista Bellaso was an Italian cryptologist.
The Piano Quartet No. 3 in C minor, Op. 60, completed by Johannes Brahms in 1875, is scored for piano, violin, viola and cello. It is sometimes called the Werther Quartet after Goethe's The Sorrows of Young Werther.
The Clavier-Übung III, sometimes referred to as the German Organ Mass, is a collection of compositions for organ by Johann Sebastian Bach, started in 1735–36 and published in 1739. It is considered Bach's most significant and extensive work for organ, containing some of his most musically complex and technically demanding compositions for that instrument.
The C. F. E. BACH motif is a musical motif, consisting of the notes C, F, E, B♭, A, C, B♮. The motif is a musical cryptogram, which represents the name of Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach with the initials of his name – Carl Philipp (Filippo) Emanuel Bach. The motif is based on the German note names, in which the note B♮ is named H and B♭ is named B, just as in the BACH motif. However, the initials of the composer’s name appear in a mixture of German and Italian, with Philipp rendered as Filippo.