Mikhail Glinka left his native Russia for a European concert tour in the spring of 1844 after he was discouraged by the unfavorable reception of his opera, Ruslan and Lyudmila (1842), in St. Petersburg. Glinka intended to visit France and Spain and to become fully absorbed in each country's musical traditions. New orchestral compositions, which would be called fantasies pittoresques, would be written from the inspiration of folk melodies collected while away from Russia.
After spending nine months in France, Glinka arrived in Spain in the summer of 1845. He first settled in the village of Valladolid, where he quickly assumed a pleasant social life. The Spanish people and their customs greatly impressed Glinka, as was shown through his comments in a letter to his mother. He wrote, "Spaniards are honorable, straightforward in their speech, unaffected, and not full of ceremony like the French." While there, Glinka became acquainted with Felix Castilla, a local merchant who was also an adequate guitarist. Castilla played for Glinka a traditional folk tune, the Jota Aragonesa, along with its many variations. This melody would become the basis of the only work that Glinka managed to complete during his time in Spain, the Capriccio brillante on Jota Aragonesa (1845). The piece came to be known also as the First Spanish Overture. The composition of the work was not begun until Glinka relocated to Madrid, the Spanish capital. Here, Glinka's social life was not as active, so he had spare time to compose.
The Capriccio was modeled in the sonata form, as many of Glinka's earlier compositions had been. Yet, due to the tradition of the Jota Aragonesa and its variations, the Capriccio also had the sense of a free form, based on multiple variations. Glinka's later works would eventually stray away from sonata form in favor of freer, variational forms. Thus, this piece is often viewed as a transitional work in Glinka's catalog. The orchestration of the Capriccio is notable in its wide use of the multiple colors possible in an orchestral setting. Glinka does not resort to doubling parts excessively to produce a lush, full sound. The enormous amounts of instrumental combinations that Glinka goes through is quite amazing. Also of note is the use of harp and pizzicato strings to convey the sound of the acoustic guitar.
Glinka wished to hear the freshly composed orchestral work while he was still in Spain, but this was not possible. The primary orchestra of Madrid was busy at the time with a ballet. Glinka was also worried that the Spanish public would not appreciate his attempt to integrate the Spanish sound into the Western tradition of music. Glinka was finally able to hear his work performed in 1848 in Warsaw, due to the graciousness of the Governor of Warsaw. The Capriccio was later given its first public performance in 1850 in St. Petersburg, although Glinka was not present.