Despite his lifelong prolific creativity, Elgar always found time to enjoy the good life, and Bavaria was a favorite haunt. The quaintness and conviviality of the prewar German state drew from the composer, in collaboration with his spouse, this engaging choral set of six Scenes from the Bavarian Highlands in 1895. Each number was set to a different poem, written by Elgar's wife Alice, depicting a place they had visited on holiday in southern Germany. The work was premiered at a concert of the Worcester Festival Choral Society in April 1896 with the composer conducting.
The overall mood, despite a few pensive moments, can be described by that most formidable of German terms, "Gemütlicheit," roughly translatable as a combination of conviviality and relaxed ease. Indeed, the set is more aligned with the spiritual world of the Strauss waltz family rather with that of Richard. Appropriately, all but one of the numbers are in 3/4 time; the popular rhythms of the old Austro-German world are dominant.
The first number, "The Dance," in hearty, accelerating Ländler time, recalls Sonnenbichl, a mountain resort that greeted the visitors with excellent beer and irresistible dance. The second, "False Love," hails from Wamberg and depicts a sad idyll of faithlessness in young love. The first half of this song is in Elgar's serene pastoral idiom, the second half more poignant in its account of the unhappy discovery. The third number, "Lullaby," had its genesis in the village of Hammersbach. For alto voices, this poignant cradle song tells of a young mother who hears the strains of dance music from afar but resists it to see her child off to slumber. The following, the solemn and spiritual "Aspiration," is the sole exception in 4/4 time and likewise the Elgars' sole excursion from the earthly, the Baroque chapel of St. Anton being the impetus. Triple time and human experience return for the final two numbers. "On the Alm (True Love)" is for men's chorus and depicts an Alpine tryst, with a young suitor making a steep ascent to prove his love. The set closes with the hearty, jovial "The Marksmen." Herein, the hunters of Murnau return with the fruits of their labors to claim as reward the affections of the village maidens. Here then is an early example of Elgar's prowess at travelogue, showing a cosmopolitanism entirely compatible with his Englishness.