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Maconchy, Elizabeth

Elizabeth Maconchy (1907 Hertfordshire/UK – 1994 Norwich/UK) grew up in Ireland and England. Throughout her career she was identified as an Irish composer, or as an English composer with 'Celtic' influences, by reviewers and commentators. At the age of 16, she enrolled at the Royal College of Music, London, where she studied under Charles Wood and Vaughan Williams and was deeply impressed by European composers, especially Bartók. The Blumenthal Scholarship and the Octavia Scholarship allowed her to continue her studies in Prague, where she made her debut as a composer with her Concerto for Piano, performed by the Prague Philharmonic Orchestra in 1930. A few months later her cantata The Land was premiered by Henry Wood at the BBC Proms.

Denied a scholarship from the Royal College of Music for being a woman who ‘will only get married and never write another note’, Elizabeth Maconchy defied gender prejudice and became one of the most substantial and respected composers of her time. 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 and to improve the conditions of composers.

A remarkably productive composer, Maconchy wrote over 200 works in her nearly sixty-year career. Her works always enshrined her conception of music as ‘an intellectual art, a balanced and reasoned statement of ideas, an impassioned argument, an intense but disciplined expression of emotion’.

Photo: Suzie Maeder