KS3: Edward Elgar - ‘Enigma’ Variations – Theme (‘Enigma’), variations 11, 6 & 7

'Enigma’ Variations – Theme (Enigma), variations 11, 6 & 7 by Elgar: An exciting introduction by Naomi Wilkinson.

Elgar's variations show how music can convey personality, an event, a memory or a moment in time - but also how the same piece of music can be changed slightly and then take on a different character completely.

After creating a theme based on his own personality (Enigma), Elgar wrote short musical variations that reflected the people around him. One captured the quirks of a friend (6 - Ysobel), one represented the memory of another friend being caught in a thunderstorm (7 - Troyte), and one was the result of a friend's challenge to make music from the sound of his barking bulldog falling into a lake (11 - G.R.S.)!

Events from our lives, the way we speak, the way we move, the things we like to do – Elgar showed that all of these can be conveyed in music.

Listen out for: How Elgar created the sounds of Dan the bulldog in variation 11. Dan can be heard falling down the bank into the River Wye in bar 1, paddling upstream in bars 2 and 3, and then rejoicing at landing back on the bank with a bark in the second half of bar 5!

Watch the full performance of Elgar's music by the BBC Symphony Orchestra.

Edward Elgar

BORN: 1857 / DIED: 1934 / NATIONALITY: British

Edward Elgar was a truly great British composer but it took him many years to find fame. We often think of him as the creator of the ultimate English sound. He wrote lush romantic music at a time when the rest of the musical world was in turmoil. We now know however that Elgar was in just as much personal turmoil as everybody else. He felt like he didn't quite fit in; he was from a humble family of amateur musicians, he was self-taught, he was even the 'wrong' religion and so for much of his early adult life he felt that his face just didn’t fit the mould of 'great classical composer'.

Elgar tried everything; moving from the countryside to London, hanging out with orchestral players and conductors, entering competitions but no one seemed interested in his music and he often considered giving up completely. Then in 1899 encouraged by his wife Alice, he wrote a set of pieces based on a mysterious theme of his own and used each version to describe one of his friends. These Enigma Variations where an instant, huge success and within a couple of years he was made Master of the King's Music and was knighted. His wife had been right to stop him from quitting!

MP3: Listen to or download the music

Or download the theme and variations as separate files:

To save to your computer: PC - right-click and save, Mac - ctrl-click and save.

Edward Elgar

Lesson Plans

Six weeks of learning and activities Download lesson plans for six weeks of learning and activities for Elgar's music as Powerpoint presentations or PDFs. These lesson plans are ideal for music lessons, but you can of course use the Ten Pieces in many other subjects and activities. Take a look at our video masterclasses for inspiration.

To enable all images to work in the Powerpoint files please save the file to your computer. To save to your computer: PC - right-click and save, Mac - ctrl-click and save.

Secondary lesson plans:

Suitable for:
Key Stage 3 in England, Wales and Northern Ireland
Third and Fourth Level, S1-S3 in Scotland

Written by Rachel Leach.

Arrangements: Play the piece with simplified parts

All parts have been designed to work together to enable mixed-ability groups to perform together. See more information about the parts below.

Please note: The theme plus variations are on the same PDF for the instrument parts. Individual full scores for the variations are available below.

Notes from the arranger

By Iain Farrington

All parts have been designed to enable mixed-ability groups to perform together. A certain amount of simplification has been required to adapt the pieces for mixed-ability. Some pieces have been cut to allow a 3-5 minute general duration and to remove especially difficult passages of music. A successful rendering of each piece would require the essential melodic material and bass line which are often in the Grades 4/5 parts, especially in the piano.

There are scores for each difficulty level plus three other scores for each piece:

  1. Grouped according to ability
  2. Grouped according to instrument type
  3. 'Short score' in C, grouped according to ability

There are three ability levels – beginner, intermediate (Grades 1-3) and Grades 4-5.

  • Flute parts can be played by the violins
  • Oboe parts can be played by the flutes and violins
  • Trumpet parts (in Bb) can be played by the clarinets
  • Violin parts can be played by the flutes (except when in the lowest register)
  • The 'percussion' part is a beginner part and can be played on any drum. It adds a simple rhythm layer to each piece. Timpani and full percussion parts are for intermediate or Grades 4/5

Please note:

  • Variation 6 (Ysobel): Note values have been halved (3/4 rather 3/2) to allow counting in crotchets rather than minims.
  • Variation 7 (Troyte): Note values have been halved (4/4 rather than 2/2) to allow counting in crotchets rather than minims.