In late 1903, Edward Elgar took his family away from the cold and damp of an English winter to Alassio, a town on the Italian Riviera. The composer loved strolling among the nearby flowery hills and the seashore where, even in winter, the sea was a bright, sparkling blue. The beauty of this lovely spot provided Elgar the sources of inspiration for this concert overture. He later recalled:
"The shepherd with his flock and his home-made music: the massive bridge and road still useful, and to a reflective mind awe-inspiring: the music developed to paint the relentless and domineering onward force of the ancient day and give a sound-picture of the strife and wars ( 'the drums and tramplings') of a later time: streams, flowers, hills; the distant snow mountains in one direction and the blue Mediterranean in the other.
In a flash it all came to me - the conflict of the armies on that very spot long ago, where now I 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 work was premiered by the Hallé Orchestra on March 16, 1904, during the third day of an Elgar Festival at the Royal Opera House in London's Covent Garden.