Elizabeth Maconchy (1907-1994) was born in Hertfordshire but grew up in rural Ireland, playing the piano and writing music from the age of six. Her composition studies at the Royal College of Music, London, where she delighted in exploring Bartók, Berg, and Janáček, were under Charles Wood and Vaughan Williams, who, together with Holst, was impressed by her originality. Under a Blumenthal traveling scholarship to Prague, she made her debut as a composer when her Concerto for Piano was performed by the Prague Philharmonic Orchestra in 1930. A few months later her cantata The Land was premiered by Henry Wood at the Promenade Concerts with brilliant success.
Despite a long bout with tuberculosis and persistent prejudice against a female composers, the compositions continued to flow and her works were played often in Britain and abroad. She received many awards, including a Daily Telegraph award for chamber music in 1933 and a medal from the Worshipful Company of Musicians for services to chamber music in 1970. She also received Edwin Evans prizes in 1948 and 1969 and many other awards. She was created a Dame in 1987. Maconchy was Vice-President of the Composers' Guild and its chairlady, President of the SPNM, and Vice-President of the Society of Woman Musicians and of the Workers' Music Association, working tirelessly throughout her life to promote new music.
Maconchy’s compositions include concertos and symphonies, many chamber pieces, a large body of vocal music, three ballets, five operas, and an operetta. She is particularly well known for her thirteen string quartets, which are available on CD from Unicorn Kanchana. The music is characterised by a passion which gives vitality to the more formal arguments. It has wit, economy and intellectual control, in a richly expressive harmonic idiom.