The composer Richard Stoker wrote this brief pen-sketch about Elizabeth Maconchy – whom he had known for a number of years. Maconchy was one of the most important composers of her generation, writing a considerable corpus of music. Her major achievement is perhaps her 13 String Quartets. Richard writes:-
Elizabeth Maconchy was an elegant, kind, cheerful, helpful and extremely modest woman with a formidable personality. In many ways as a composer and person she reminded me of her near contemporary, Alan Rawsthorne – some two years her senior.
Each time I spoke with her I noticed that an understanding and helpful expression would cross her kind and characterful face –as Leonard Woolf has said of his meetings with the two Stephen sisters (Virginia Woolf and Vanessa Bell) that there was something “going on” at the back of the eyes as is noticeable with many highly intelligent people. Added to this there was often a worried, worn, tired look of regret or even perhaps hope in her eyes.
Could she be longing to return to her desk at the earliest possible opportunity to move on with her latest composition?
Elizabeth worked tirelessly for the Composer’s Guild and became a Vice President. She had been involved with the Macnaghten Concerts and the Society for the Promotion of New Music over many years and had a number of her own works performed - especially the String Quartets and other chamber pieces.
That look of hope and regret could explain the impression I got from her music and memories of her strong personality of the endless Ulysses theme.
She was definitely one of the few woman composers of real talent working throughout the most turbulent years of the last century. I can quite see why she is often said to have been RVW’s favourite pupil.
Elizabeth Maconchy would have been a dutiful student – unlike many of her contemporaries. And I should think a joy to teach. She was a well rounded extrinsically influential person quite unlike her near contemporaries – one who was totally reliable as a committee member.
At the Composer’s Guild she tried to support the AGM and the glorious luncheon afterwards! Elizabeth took part often -she was revered and loved by all her contemporaries.
Richard Stoker 26th March 2008