Kenneth MacMillan created Quartet in several stages and did not wait until it was completed before staging its constituent parts. Quartet began life in February 1982 as Verdi Variations, a showpiece for Elisabetta Terabust and Peter Schaufuss, which they performed in a programme with the Italian company Aterballetto. MacMillan choreographed it to the first movement of Verdi’s String Quartet in E minor.
Next, MacMillan choreographed Quartet’s second movement; this time for Sadler’s Wells Ballet and arranged for string orchestra by Barry Wordsworth. It was now a double pas de deux and a late addition to the programme performed at Sadler’s Wells in March 1982. There it replaced a promised new MacMillan work, Noctuaries, to a commissioned score by Richard Rodney Bennett, with whom MacMillan had already collaborated on Isadora. But MacMillan, sensing that he was not making progress, abandoned Noctuaries and concentrated instead on Quartet.
John Percival of The Times had already praised the Terabust/Schaufuss duet as MacMillan’s “most successful creation for some time.” To this Mary Clarke, writing in The Guardian commented on the Sadler’s Wells performance that “MacMillan’s writing in his most fluent, easy classic style boded wonderfully well for the finished work.”
MacMillan completed Quartet a month later and it was performed at a gala in Bristol in aid of Wells Cathedral.