In the South (Alassio)
The work is dedicated "To my friend Leo F. Schuster".
The subtitle "Alassio" is a town on the Italian Riviera where Elgar and his family stayed. He strolled around during the visit, while buildings, landscape and history of the town provided him the sources of inspiration. He later recalled:
- Then in a flash, it all came to me - streams, flowers, hills; the distant snow mountains in one direction and the blue Mediterranean in the other; the conflict of the armies on that very spot long ago, where I now stood - the contrast of the ruin and the shepherd - and then, all of a sudden, I came back to reality. In that time I had composed the overture - the rest was merely writing it down.
The première of the work was by the Hallé orchestra on 16 March 1904, the third day of an "Elgar Festival" at the Royal Opera House in Covent Garden. It was to have been conducted by Hans Richter, but as Elgar did not have the score ready in time for Richter to study it before the performance, Elgar conducted the orchestra himself. Frank Schuster was with the Elgars at the première.
Perhaps the best known part of the piece is the central serenade played by a solo viola. In July of the same year, Elgar took this section from the piece and fitted it to a poem by Shelley as a song under the title In Moonlight. Later he made several instrumental versions titled "Canto Popolare".
The piece is about 20 minutes long and does not have separate movements. The main descending theme is echoed throughout the sections of the orchestra all through the piece. The viola solo is of particular note due partly to its length, being on such an underused instrument, but also because of the contrast it creates with the rest of the piece which is very bold. There are large legato passages between the strings and horns, and the rest of the brass add tremendous excitement in the middle of the piece with loud chords separated by large intervals.
The work is written for a full symphony orchestra consisting of 3 flutes (3rd doubling piccolo), 2 oboes, cor anglais, 2 clarinets, bass clarinet, 2 bassoons, contrabassoon, 4 horns, 3 trumpets, 3 trombones, tuba, 3 timpani, percussion (bass drum, cymbals, side drum, triangle and glockenspiel), harp and the string section.
- Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra. Conductor Constantin Silvestri (1967)
- London Philharmonic Orchestra. Conductor Georg Solti (1979)
- Academy of St. Martin in the Fields. Conductor Neville Marriner (1990)
- BBC Symphony Orchestra. Conductor Andrew Davis (1992)
- Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra. Conductor George Hurst (1995)
- Wiener Philharmoniker. Conductor John Eliot Gardiner (1998)
- Hallé Orchestra. Conductor Mark Elder (2002)
- Faith Court Orchestra Subiaco, Perth, Australia, 2009
- Novello & Co., miniature score