Secret Messages and Ciphers: The Phenomenon of Crypto Quotation in Musical Art

Original article   .

Author: Andrei V. Denisov

Saint Petersburg Rimsky-Korsakov State Conservatory, St. Petersburg, Russia, denisow_,


The paper examines a specific kind of quotation, the meaning of which, by the author's will, is accessible to a limited number of listeners, to a specific addressee, or only to himself. Thus, the decoding of this meaning is possible only based on letters, diaries, comments in drafts of works, and in some cases does not allow an adequate interpretation at all. There are cases when such quotes were destroyed in later versions of the opus, since the author was afraid that they would be too recognizable (J. Brahms). The reasons for the composers to appeal to crypto-quotes include censorship (R. Schumann), desire to embody personal memories and experiences (L. Beethoven), presentation of autobiographical situations in the work (R. Schumann), the author's penchant for maximum uniqueness of style and, accordingly, the inadmissibility of explicit quotes (E. Elgar). In any case, cryptoquotes complicate the structure of the artistic text and, as a rule, increases ambiguity of its interpretation. These properties partly explain special significance of the crypto quotation phenomenon in the musical art of the XIX–XX centuries.

Keywords: crypto quotation, cipher, biography, censorship, Johannes Brahms, Alban Berg, Pyotr I. Tchaikovsky, Robert Schumann, Edward Elgar

For citation: Denisov A. V. Secret messages and ciphers: the phenomenon of crypto quotation in musical art. Opera musicologica. 2022. Vol. 14, no. 2. Р. 8–21. (In Russ.). https://

The article was submitted 18.02.2022; approved after reviewing 01.03.2022; accepted for publication 15.03.2022.


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