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.