In 1953 when Julia Trevelyan Oman, then a student at the Royal College of Art, was in hospital suffering from typhoid fever, the idea of a ballet based on Elgar's 'Enigma' Variations occurred to her. She completed some designs for costumes and scenery and showed them to her professor, Hugh Casson. He encouraged her to write to Ninette de Valois, then Director of The Royal Ballet, which she did, leaving the folder of drawings at the stage door of the Royal Opera House. After six months with no news, she requested the return of her drawings.
However, Frederick Ashton had seen her drawings and when, in 1967, he was searching for a subject for a ballet, he remembered them, and her covering note written in brown ink. He telephoned her to ask if she were the person who had left the drawings all those years before. When he was reassured, he asked to see them.
Ashton immediately decided that he would like to go ahead with the ballet - for the beginning of the 1968-69 season - with Oman as its designer. She agreed, as long as she could begin the project again: she did not wish to use designs she had created some dozen years earlier. Oman and Ashton decided that the ballet should be set in Elgar's Worcestershire at the time of the composition of the music (1898). In a programme note Ashton explained:
'Some time before the action of the ballet takes place, Elgar had sent the score of the 'Enigma' Variations to the famous conductor Richter in the hope of interesting him in the work. The characters, intimates and friends of the composer dance their individual variations, at the end of which a telegram arrives from Richter, addressed to their mutual friend Jaeger, agreeing to conduct the first performance.'