The work is in four movements:
This was the last piece that Bartók wrote in his native Hungary, and it is possible that it would have been his last of all, as he found it hard to compose in the United States, where he had fled to escape World War II. However, a commission from Serge Koussevitzky led to him writing his Concerto for Orchestra, and he wrote a small number of other pieces after that, as well as making a few sketches for a seventh, never completed, string quartet.
The work is dedicated to the Kolisch Quartet, and it was they that gave its premiere in New York City on January 20, 1941. The work was first published in the same year by Hawkes.