Shortly after the first performance of The
Apostles, the Elgars
took a holiday on the Italian Riviera, an area Elgar later came
to love. He was in good spirits and became inspired by the beauty
of the area and its sense of history to write this work. It is
a lively, cheerful piece, episodic in character with structural
similarities to Cockaigne.
It owes much of its appeal to rapid fluctuations in mood.
It begins with an exuberant, leaping theme not unlike the opening
of Richard Strauss' Don Juan, but the work soon moves on to its
first main episode : a somewhat strident, forbidding theme
reflecting the former Roman domination of the area (echoes of
Respighi's Pines of Rome here). The central section of the work
is dominated by a typically Elgarian theme, similar to the
lovers' theme in Cockaigne, suggesting the unbounded
joy of nature and wide open spaces. Shortly before the final
recapitulation comes the second main episode. Taking some
geographical liberties, Elgar imports a Neapolitan love song, a
tender melody played by solo viola, which is probably the best
known part of the work.
The work had its enthusiastically received premiere at a three-
day festival of Elgar's music staged at Covent Garden on 14-16
March 1904. It continues to be performed regularly if less
frequently than Cockaigne.