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celebrating three hundred years of music by women

Elizabeth Maconchy (1907-1994)

Maconchy was regarded as one of the most individual composers of her generation. Her first big success was when Henry Wood conducted her orchestral Suite The Land at the 1930 Proms; she went on to establish her reputation, composing in various genres - chamber, orchestral and choral, and writing for many of the leading performers of the day. Her uniqueness is seen in the variety, quantity and quality of her music for strings. During half a century, Maconchy wrote a long series of (thirteen) string quartets that, in scope, succinctness and power, has no equal; they illustrate her ideas of music as impassioned argument. She had a cosmopolitan musical education, studying at the Royal College of Music, and later in European cities including Prague. She won many prizes for her work, and had her music performed at the London Promenade concerts; she was frequently commissioned by performers, institutions, Festivals, and the BBC. Her great contribution to 20th century music was recognised when she was made a CBE in 1977 and a DBE in 1987. All her manuscripts are in the Maconchy archive at St Hilda's College Oxford.

Important works include: Concertino for piano and chamber orchestra (1929). String Quartet no 5 (1948). Symphony for Double String Orchestra (1953). The Departure (chamber opera, 1961). Quintet for clarinet and strings (1963). 'Pied Beauty/Heaven Haven' - Hopkins settings for choir and brass (1975). 'My Dark Heart' for soprano and ensemble (1981). Music for Strings (1983).

Music info Music Sales;    Information from the web - Maconchy biography
Music, Life, and Changing Times, Selected correspondence between British Composers Elizabeth Maconchy and Grace Williams, edited by Sophie Fuller and Jenny Doctor, Routledge, 2019

Click on these works for more details below: You can download and hear the first minute of the String Quartet No 12 by clicking here.

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Theme & Variations for Strings, 1942-3
Theme: Andante. V1: Allegro. V2: Allegro moderato. V3: Moderato. V4: Lento espressivo. V5: Presto. V6: Allegro molto. V7: Allegro. V8: Allegro scherzando. V9: Lento moderato. Theme: Molto lento
This is one of the many works by Maconchy which illustrates Ethyl Smyth's view that music by women has a special quality: energy. While the theme itself is slowish, it is full of just the kind of tensions that composers of variations can exploit, and most of the nine variations are fast, with the exact tempo and pulse changing restlessly from one to the next. As in the famous variations of the classical period, the music has an underlying dramatic thrust which becomes explicit when the theme returns at the end: the often conflicting bass line finally settles its differences for two quiet final notes, just in the nick of time.
After we played this a friend said to me "Maconchy looks you straight in the eye."
Music on hire from Lengnicks Hire Library (via Chester Music)

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Concertino for Piano & Strings, 1948.
1. Allegro molto. 2. Lento serioso. 3. Allegro con brio. 14 mins.
This is a strong work, illustrating Maconchy's appreciation of the astringencies of East European musical language. The first movement is vigorous and rhythmic, centered round an argument on a syncopated pattern. The beautiful Lento expresses tradegy in various ways, including piano writing with similarities to a Chopin Nocturne gone wrong; this is followed by a dolourous recitative idea. Nodding to her origins, the final Allegro has associations with an Irish gigue, teasingly playing off 6/8 and 3/4 time. We gave the modern première in 2007. Several of the audience described it as a masterpiece.
Music on hire from Lengnicks Hire Library (via Chester Music)

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Music for Strings, 1983
1. Molto moderato - Allegro. 2. Scherzo: Vivo. 3. Mesto. 4. Allegro. 20 mins
This piece was commissioned by the BBC, first performed at a Promenade Concert in July 1983, and has her characteristic intensity.
Score and parts on hire from Chester Edition

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Variazioni Concertante for oboe, clarinet, horn, bassoon & strings, 1985
Theme: Lento. V1: Andante con moto. V2: Presto. V3: Molto moderato. V4: Allegro. V5 Andante, tempo libero.
V6 Allegro molto. V7: Andante con moto. V8: Allegro vivo. 18 mins
Score & parts from Chester Edition

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Romanza for Viola & Ensemble, 1979
Tranquillo. Solo viola; fl, ob, cl, bn, hn; 2 vn, va, vc, db. 10 mins
A beautifully romantic piece, with a highly expressive solo part.
Score and parts on hire from Chester Edition.

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Quintet for Oboe & Strings, 1932
1. Moderato. 2. Poco sostenuto. 3. Allegro non troppo. 18 mins
This piece won Maconchy the Daily Telegraph Prize in 1933. While the oboe part has its kinship with English pastoral styles, though with a strong keening character of its own, the ensemble as a whole is a very different matter. Each part maintains its independence, especially in rhythm, and the repetative features in the melodic lines echo parts of Europe somewhat farther east. There is a short cadenza in the second movement; overall, it is an intensely expressive work.
Published by Chester Music, Music Sales, UK

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Quartet for Oboe & Strings, 1972
1. Poco lento, tempo libero. 2. Scherzo. 3. Poco lento, dolento. 4. Allegro molto. 16 mins
This piece was written for the oboist Janet Craxton, and comes from the same period as Maconchy's powerful 10th String Quartet. The first movement includes some characteristic Maconchy linear counterpoint. The somewhat serious Scherzo could be seen as playful in its continual stopping and starting. While the dolente third movement expresses a good deal of impassioned anger, all is swept aside in the fast music to finish.
Published by Chester Music, Music Sales, UK

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Three Bagatelles for Oboe & Harpsichord or Piano, 1972
1. Allegro. 2. Poco lento, tempo libero. 3. Vivo. 10 mins
Written for Evelyn Barbirolli and Valda Aveling, these three pieces are a succinct set of miniatures, with a particularly expressive slow one in the middle.
Published by Oxford Wind Music, OUP, UK

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Orchestral Music
BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra
Conductor: Odaline de la Martinez. Piano: Clelia Iruzun
CD issued 2011 on Lorelt (Lontano Records Ltd)
The Land: A Suite for Orchestra (16 minutes) 1930
Concertino for Piano and Chamber Orchestra (14 minutes) 1928
Music for Wind and Brass (9 minutes) 1966
Symphony for Double String Orchestra (24 minutes) 1952/3

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