The Guardian


Elvis Costello on writing The Juliet Letters: ‘It initially caused panic’

Imogen Tilden: The Guardian: September 11th 2023 Photo By Paul Massey

When I wasn’t on the road I would go five or six days a week to
classical concerts. The Brodsky Quartet were playing the complete
Shostakovich quartets in London one season and I went to hear them all.
After one lunchtime concert, I met the group and we got on immediately.
They were down to earth and we discovered a shared love of football and
cake. We started talking about doing something together as a quintet –
something other than just attaching a string quartet to a pop song like
a varnish.

It was my then partner who pointed out the news story to me
in the Guardian, about letters sent to “Juliet Capulet” in Verona. It
caught my imagination – it seemed magical and fanciful, and that became
our starting point, songs that were all different types of letters. Most
of my listening was classical and jazz: music not driven so much by the
beat but by harmony and texture. We all contributed ideas, music, lyrics
and arrangements. Up to that point I had always composed by ear, so for
the first few weeks I would play something on the piano or sing the
parts and the quartet would transcribe it. I’m not that reliable a
pianist and I would often play things slightly differently each time.
They were incredibly patient.

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