As many know, Sir John Barbirolli was a distinguished British conductor of the mid-twentieth century, whose many recordings bear witness to his great talents. He was a friend of Vaughan Williams and had led the Hallé Orchestra in premiere performances of the composer's Seventh (Sinfonia Antartica) and Eighth symphonies. To commemorate the 100th anniversary season of that British ensemble and its great conductor, Vaughan Williams decided to write this short, colorful work. The piece opened the first concert of the 1957 - 1958 season and, after the composer was called on stage to join Barbirolli, a second performance had to be given owing to the enthusiastic applause showered on them by the audience.
The piece begins with a brief brass-dominated fanfare-like theme, after which subdued winds -- and later strings -- deliver solemn music related to the opening material. But the festive, celebratory manner soon returns as the opening theme is proudly restated by the brass. The work then ends amid triumph and jubilation. This is a well-crafted short orchestral piece, whose title defines its modest intentions and artistic goals. It is one of those rare compositions whose place is always at the beginning of a festive event, serving to color and energize, rather than to appeal as an entity in itself.