Author Topic: Elizabeth Maconchy (1907-1994)  (Read 3089 times)

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Offline calyptorhynchus

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Elizabeth Maconchy (1907-1994)
« on: November 19, 2012, 11:56:13 AM »
It’s time for thread on the music of Elizabeth Maconchy (1907-1994).

Born and brought up in Ireland, she studied with Vaughan Williams in the 30s and then had a long career as a composer, producing a steady, though not prolific, quantity of work. She wrote chamber and orchestral works, and vocal and operatic scores.

Unfortunately not much of her work has been recorded; fortunately the works that have been recorded have included her 13 string quartets by Unicorn (now out of the catalogue, but second hand copies are available from Amazon).

Also there is a fine Lyrita CD with orchestral music on it, but I don’t find this as distinctive as her quartets.

Chandos have recorded two of her one act operas, but they don’t look like my thing, and unless anyone tells me they’re a must listen I won’t.

Of her works I know the string quartets the best, these seem to be the backbone of her achievement and a very fine series to stand alongside other C20 string quartet series such as those by Bartok, Tippett, Simpson, Diamond, Holmboe, Norgaard or Sculthorpe.

In these works we find what I think is the central paradox of Maconchy’s work: these quartets are very satisfying and I listen to them again and again, as often as I listen to any C20 quartets, but I can’t find a reason why they are so satisfying. I can’t detect what makes them unities and gives them their wholeness. Undoubtedly there are tonal processes which guarantee this, ditto motivic processes, but I don’t find features of them memorable, ie I don’t remember particular moments or movements, and I can’t tell one quartet from the other (obviously I can tell early from late quartets, the first dates from the 30s, the last from the 80s—there is a twelve year gap between quartets 7 and 8, and 8 begins a more austere late style). These string quartets don’t seem to refer in any obvious way to standard musical forms, or to well known musical styles (her music sometimes seems to sound a little medieval, but it definitely doesn’t sound very English, or Irish). The composer she most reminds me of is Bartok, but her music is less driven, less percussive, and less flamboyant. It is a grey music, but one of great fascination, and which maintains one’s loyalty over the years.

I hope contributors here can enlighten me about her compositional techniques. I can hear that her music isn’t atonal, but what sort of tonal processes she uses are beyond me.

[As a footnote I should say that Elizabeth Maconchy had a daughter, Nicola LeFanu, who is also a composer. Some of her works are also available on CD, including a Naxos CD with four chamber/small ensemble works. Her style seems quite similar to her mother’s, though with perhaps more C20 avante garde influence.]

snyprrr

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Re: Elizabeth Maconchy (1907-1994)
« Reply #1 on: November 20, 2012, 09:57:30 AM »
Of her works I know the string quartets the best, these seem to be the backbone of her achievement and a very fine series to stand alongside other C20 string quartet series such as those by Bartok, Tippett, Simpson, Diamond, Holmboe, Norgaard or Sculthorpe.

In these works we find what I think is the central paradox of Maconchy’s work: these quartets are very satisfying and I listen to them again and again, as often as I listen to any C20 quartets, but I can’t find a reason why they are so satisfying. I can’t detect what makes them unities and gives them their wholeness. Undoubtedly there are tonal processes which guarantee this, ditto motivic processes, but I don’t find features of them memorable, ie I don’t remember particular moments or movements, and I can’t tell one quartet from the other (obviously I can tell early from late quartets, the first dates from the 30s, the last from the 80s—there is a twelve year gap between quartets 7 and 8, and 8 begins a more austere late style). These string quartets don’t seem to refer in any obvious way to standard musical forms, or to well known musical styles (her music sometimes seems to sound a little medieval, but it definitely doesn’t sound very English, or Irish). The composer she most reminds me of is Bartok, but her music is less driven, less percussive, and less flamboyant. It is a grey music, but one of great fascination, and which maintains one’s loyalty over the years.

Forgive me, but your description gave me a b****!! :o But seriously, I have YET to acquire that set of SQs! >:( Of course, they've been on the radar forever, but I guess the right price/time hasn't arrived? Your description reminds me of the Pijper SQs (on Olympia label). I have a serious love of the best mid-century 'grey' music: practically every early century Composer still writing between 1950-70+ had what we call a 'hardening' of their language, some pricklier (Malipiero), some more monochrome (Piston).

Hindemith, Bloch, Villa-Lobos, Malipiero, Milhaud,... more than I can think, they all tended towards a 'Universalization' in their post-UN music (Villa-Lobos, I think, might have been the most successful at this, acquiring quite a perfect anonymity in his later works). Surely you have noticed this? Furtwangler's music itself is like a vast grey wall of glory, wonderful stuff Schnabel?

Anyhow, great to have a Maconchy reminder. Surely, if there were any cheap SQs left on Amazon, they'll be gone by the weekend? ;) ;D

I hear Maconchy's SQ No.9 is the go-to. As you said, her style change occurred with No.8. I'd still be interested in here earlier work, though: consider Tippett's earlier SQs against his later, much thornier, works. I'd love to have a detailed overview,... hint ;)hint ;)!!


Offline Rinaldo

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Re: Elizabeth Maconchy (1907-1994)
« Reply #2 on: November 20, 2012, 11:20:28 AM »
The SQ's are truly something. I've discovered them before I got serious about SQ's in general but now that they form one of my favourite areas in the classical universe, I still return to Maconchy and I'm still amazed by her musicality.

Strangely enough, I've never heard anything else by her. Time to fix that?

snyprrr

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Re: Elizabeth Maconchy (1907-1994)
« Reply #3 on: November 20, 2012, 11:23:34 AM »
The SQ's are truly something. I've discovered them before I got serious about SQ's in general but now that they form one of my favourite areas in the classical universe, I still return to Maconchy and I'm still amazed by her musicality.

Strangely enough, I've never heard anything else by her. Time to fix that?

OP says the SQs are the cream of her crop. Beware of rabbit holes!! There is a Clarinet Quintet on a nice old Hyperion cd you might like.

Offline Rinaldo

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Re: Elizabeth Maconchy (1907-1994)
« Reply #4 on: November 20, 2012, 11:34:47 AM »
OP says the SQs are the cream of her crop. Beware of rabbit holes!! There is a Clarinet Quintet on a nice old Hyperion cd you might like.

Ha, now that you mention it, I actually remember hearing that quintet.. and not being impressed.

Offline calyptorhynchus

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Re: Elizabeth Maconchy (1907-1994)
« Reply #5 on: November 20, 2012, 06:22:40 PM »
This those who don’t have access to the Unicorn CDs here is a list


1   1932/3   Four traditional movements   
2   1936   Four traditional movements   
3   1938   Single movement   
4   1942/3   Four traditional movements   
5   1948   Four traditional movements   
6   1950   Four traditional movements   Passacaglia first movement, governs whole work thematically
7   1955   Five movements                    Two scherzos flanking central slow movement
8   1967   Four traditional movements   
9   1968   Four traditional movements   
10   1972   Single movement   
11   1976   Single movement   
12   1979   Four traditional movements   
13   1984   Three movements                    Quartetto Corto


It’s interesting how closely EM sticks to the traditional four movements in her works. On the Lyrita orchestral music disk three works (the Symphony for Double String Orchestra, Serenta Concertante for Violin and Orchestra and Music for Strings) are in this form, so too are many of her other chamber works, including the Clarinet Quintet.

What I find curious is how EM doesn’t label even her early String Quartets with key designations, they’re clearly tonal, so assume it’s either that she never wanted to, or that they don’t have a home key, but use a version of progressive tonality.

Anyway, the first four quartets are the most reminiscent of Bartok, with a few hints of Irish music in the scherzi, particularly. The first is more traditional and more melodic than the rest, but a very high quality beginning to the series, EM must have been proud of this work, and Vaughan Williams will have been delighted to hear it. Five, six and seven are quieter and more expansive. After the break in writing quartets she returns with her later, more austere style for quartets 8-13. None of the quartets is very long and some are really quite short.

As I said what I find fascinating is how I enjoy them so much when I can’t tell them apart (except for early, middle and late). With the Simpson quartets I know each one individually, with these I know them as eg  ‘an Elizabeth Maconchy string quartet (early/middle/late)’ and yet I love them.

Offline Cato

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Re: Elizabeth Maconchy (1907-1994)
« Reply #6 on: July 23, 2015, 05:08:09 AM »
Thanks to Karl Henning, I found this today:

<a href="https://www.youtube.com/v/74iCmFaMPQA" target="_blank" class="new_win">https://www.youtube.com/v/74iCmFaMPQA</a>

Also:

Quote
...Elizabeth Maconchy was born ten years after Korngold, in the wrong place. Her birthplace, Broxbourne in Hertfordshire, is one of the few towns in the world that doesn’t even merit a Wikipedia entry. She had the wrong teachers. Ralph Vaughan Williams, who remained a close friend but not a musical influence, is forever branded an English pastoralist, while her teacher in Prague, Karel Jirak (left), remains as neglected as his pupil. She had the wrong life changing event. TB claimed her sister and father, and she contracted and recovered from the illness herself. This experience contributed to the development of her individual musical voice, and her single minded and painstaking focus.

She also lived in the wrong place. Essex is a creative no-go area between the musical honey-pots of London and Aldeburgh. She didn’t network with musical movers and shakers, although she was the first woman to sit on the influential BBC music panel, and was also the first woman President of the Society for the Promotion for New Music. She was married to a historian for more than sixty years, and bore two daughters, one of whom, Nicola LeFanu, is a notable composer in her own right. And she wrote for the wrong genre. The string quartet stubbornly refuses to fit into the sound-byte culture of radio stations such as BBC Radio 3, where a single movement is rapidly becoming the largest acceptable single unit of musical currency...


See:

http://www.overgrownpath.com/2007/03/how-important-is-composers-music.html
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Offline calyptorhynchus

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Re: Elizabeth Maconchy (1907-1994)
« Reply #7 on: July 23, 2015, 03:32:49 PM »
Cato quoting "...The string quartet stubbornly refuses to fit into the sound-byte culture of radio stations such as BBC Radio 3, where a single movement is rapidly becoming the largest acceptable single unit of musical currency..."

Couldn't agree more, though it's not as if the single-movement Maconchy string quartets 3, 10 and 11 have been wearisomely repeated either.

 :)

Also agree about the other pronouncements in that passage.

cilgwyn

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Re: Elizabeth Maconchy (1907-1994)
« Reply #8 on: July 24, 2015, 12:43:56 AM »
I must make a note of these SQ's! I recently acquired the Continuum recordings of Frank Bridge's SQ's. I have to say,and I suppose it sounds wimpy,but I do find the last two pushes my tolerance boundaries a little. Interesting,but I can't say I really liked them. Now,this may be a silly question;but are Maconchy's SQ's going to be along those lines,or even more so? What can I expect?
By the way,my apologies for not responding,calyptorhyncus. Very rude of me! I had allot on my mind. Unfortunately,they were not accessible (you should/may know what I mean?). Either way,I am now the proud owner of the earlier cd set of the Bruckner/Karajan set......you know,the huge box,not the slimline reissue. It fills up more room,but it looks very imposing!! :)

Offline Luke

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Re: Elizabeth Maconchy (1907-1994)
« Reply #9 on: July 24, 2015, 01:01:03 AM »
Quote
She also lived in the wrong place. Essex is a creative no-go area between the musical honey-pots of London and Aldeburgh.

Ah. That explains everything. Looks like I have to move again!

Offline k a rl h e nn i ng

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Re: Elizabeth Maconchy (1907-1994)
« Reply #10 on: July 24, 2015, 01:55:50 AM »
Ah. That explains everything. Looks like I have to move again!

It's a good job you're not completely unpacked yet!
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Offline k a rl h e nn i ng

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Re: Elizabeth Maconchy (1907-1994)
« Reply #11 on: July 24, 2015, 01:57:34 AM »
Thanks to Karl Henning, I found this today:

<a href="https://www.youtube.com/v/74iCmFaMPQA" target="_blank" class="new_win">https://www.youtube.com/v/74iCmFaMPQA</a>

I started listening to that, and thought, If Mennin had been a lady in the UK . . . .
Karl Henning, Ph.D.
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http://www.karlhenning.com/
[Matisse] was interested neither in fending off opposition,
nor in competing for the favor of wayward friends.
His only competition was with himself. — Françoise Gilot

Offline calyptorhynchus

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Re: Elizabeth Maconchy (1907-1994)
« Reply #12 on: July 24, 2015, 12:29:59 PM »
I must make a note of these SQ's! I recently acquired the Continuum recordings of Frank Bridge's SQ's. I have to say,and I suppose it sounds wimpy,but I do find the last two pushes my tolerance boundaries a little. Interesting,but I can't say I really liked them. Now,this may be a silly question;but are Maconchy's SQ's going to be along those lines,or even more so? What can I expect?
By the way,my apologies for not responding,calyptorhyncus. Very rude of me! I had allot on my mind. Unfortunately,they were not accessible (you should/may know what I mean?). Either way,I am now the proud owner of the earlier cd set of the Bruckner/Karajan set......you know,the huge box,not the slimline reissue. It fills up more room,but it looks very imposing!! :)

Oh no, the last two Bridge SQs are full on atonal, Maconchy's are definitely tonal all the way to the end, the later ones a bit harsh in places, that's all.


Offline Scion7

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Re: Elizabeth Maconchy (1907-1994)
« Reply #13 on: February 01, 2016, 12:47:30 PM »
Born and brought up in Ireland,

Not accurate.  She was born in Broxbourne, Hertfordshire, 19 March 1907; and died in Norwich, 11 Nov 1994.
Her dad was an Irish lawyer, and Maconchy's family moved to Ireland around the end of World War I so that her father could take a job in Dublin.
She was raised in her early years in England and Ireland, but was back in England at age 16 to go to the RCM.


*************************************************************************************

I have only started getting into her music recently - she has been a gold nugget in the pan, definitely.

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snyprrr

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Re: Elizabeth Maconchy (1907-1994)
« Reply #14 on: February 03, 2016, 08:03:39 AM »
I have held off on her SQs... maybe it's time? Have only heard the samples...

cilgwyn

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Re: Elizabeth Maconchy (1907-1994)
« Reply #15 on: March 19, 2019, 11:29:26 AM »
Oh no, the last two Bridge SQs are full on atonal, Maconchy's are definitely tonal all the way to the end, the later ones a bit harsh in places, that's all.
Re: Maconchy String Quartets! They sound as if they might be interesting! By the way;does anyone here like any of her other music? Lyrita have some of it on cd. Is it worth my time?!

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Re: Elizabeth Maconchy (1907-1994)
« Reply #16 on: March 19, 2019, 01:08:04 PM »
Re: Maconchy String Quartets! They sound as if they might be interesting! By the way;does anyone here like any of her other music? Lyrita have some of it on cd. Is it worth my time?!
I have the Lyrita CD with 'Proud Thames' etc on. I haven't listened to it years but recall it as very enjoyable, although not essential listening. Maybe I should fish it out again.
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Ghost of Baron Scarpia

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Re: Elizabeth Maconchy (1907-1994)
« Reply #17 on: March 19, 2019, 01:14:12 PM »
Re: Maconchy String Quartets! They sound as if they might be interesting! By the way;does anyone here like any of her other music? Lyrita have some of it on cd. Is it worth my time?!

Might be interesting? Considering the stuff you admit to listening to all day, it should be a big step up! :)

I like most of the Maconchy I've heard. I particularly liked her clarinet quintet. I have the Lyrita CD and it is not my favorite releases of her works.
« Last Edit: March 19, 2019, 01:26:43 PM by Ghost of Baron Scarpia »

Offline Irons

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Re: Elizabeth Maconchy (1907-1994)
« Reply #18 on: March 19, 2019, 02:03:39 PM »
I have the Lyrita CD with 'Proud Thames' etc on. I haven't listened to it years but recall it as very enjoyable, although not essential listening. Maybe I should fish it out again.

Beat you to it! "Proud Thames" is a strong piece. You are right though not "essential". The problem for me is the recording it shares a LP side with, Geoffrey Bush "Music for Orchestra" is far more individual and interesting. A sort of home grown Bartok, Concerto for Orchestra.
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cilgwyn

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Re: Elizabeth Maconchy (1907-1994)
« Reply #19 on: March 19, 2019, 03:08:42 PM »
I was just wondering,since I was looking through a list of Lyrita offers from probably one of the only cd shops that still sends out a paper list! It's one of those names I've come across,over the years,and never really been tempted to try;for some reason or other. Having only limited resources,I have to pick out the ones that interest me the most. Also,I haven't seen much mention of her name on this forum,over the last few years. There's also the other Elisabeth (with an 's') who I,must admit,I only seem to know from films. Some of them horror films!!