Bridge wrote these words during July 1936. Three months later he suffered a very serious illness, and cessation of all strenuous activity, either physical or mental, was prescribed. It was not until July the following year that he managed to complete the first movement, and was thankful to have achieved even that:
I am the proud father of a completed first movement which I hope will soon be followed by three others.31 It is contrary to my usual habit of not counting chickens until they are hatched, but as I can scarcely believe the fact myself I feel I must try to make you share my joy at becoming alive again. Although I would have wished to say the the whole quartet were done ... you have no conception what a surprise it is to me to be able to concentrate at all.32
Immediately following the completion of the whole work four months later, Bridge asked (almost insisted) that Mrs Coolidge should arrange its first performance in America the following year, to which she agreed, and for this première he made his final visit to America, leaving England on board the Washington on 9 September (1938). In several ways this fifth visit was a nostalgic reminder of the first. Ethel, who had declined to join Bridge after the first visit because the sea-trips were such a strain for her, agreed to accompany him, and, on arrival, they embarked on the usual round of visits, punctuated by long motor trips and sessions at the cinema. They even returned to some of the beauty spots they had admired during the 1923 visit. However, there were new experiences too. Bridge enjoyed playing bingo on the ship, and, when in New York, the Bridges attended a highly successful performance of The Trials of Oscar Wilde with the actor Robert Morley, Marjorie Fass's nephew, taking the title role.
The first performance of the Fourth String Quartet was given by the Gordon String Quartet during the Berkshire Festival at Pittsfield on 23 September, but unluckily a severe storm prevented the New York press from attending. However, the performance was excellent:
For my part, the Gordon performances were as near 100% as any composer could wish and I am quite sure that repeated performances would make many more friends for No. 4. Some future occasion, and I sincerely hope there may be many, when you gave a 1st perf[ormance] of No. 5 for instance, I do wish you would try, in a festival for instance, to give the same audience an opportunity of hearing a work a second time, say at the end of a concert. Either the same concert or next day. I believe you would find it a really satisfying thing to do. For the players and audience, as well as for the composer. Even a nail goes into a wooden wall much further with the second strike of a hammer.33