Elgar was 21 in January 1897, struggling to develop a career. He was offered a part-time job at the Worcester County and City Lunatic Asylum, where his duties as Bandmaster were to conduct an ensemble of staff. Psychiatric practice was relatively primitive, therapies designed to contain and restrain, rather than heal. Perhaps music soothed the inmates and gave them a glimpse of better things. Powick was a warren of maze-like buildings, a factory for the sick and outcast. Victorian asylums were authoritarian places, where doctors and benefactors were on a different social level to their patients. Perhaps it was assumed that patients could be "improved" by finer things like music and parklands.
Over six years, Elgar composed four sets of Quadrilles, a set of Lancers and five polkas for the Asylum band. Also included on the new SOMM CD are several first recordings. The Minuetto in G, which Elgar wrote as an audition piece through which he obtained the job, and thus connected to the Powick group. There's also a Singing Quadrille where Elgar mainly uses well-known nursery rhymes. The work remains only in sketch score but the performance version was specially prepared for SOMM by Andrew Lyle who edited all the music for Powick, for the Elgar Complete Edition.
Three other short works included here are the Fugue in D minor for oboe and violin, written for his oboe-playing brother Frank and a friend. Duett, another miniature fugue, was a wedding present for a friend who played the double bass and Elgar himself most probably played the trombone part. The Andante & Allegro for Oboe & String Trio was composed when Elgar was still in his teens. The disc concludes with the last of the pieces in the Powick music, the wistful, poignant polka Blumine, written in May 1884, one month after Elgar's engagement to Helen Weaver had been broken off.
For more details, please see the SOMM website