String Quartet No. 3


Program Note

Maconchy wrote tons of music for different ensembles but she kept coming back to the string quartet. She wrote 13 string quartets over a 50 year period. They act almost as benchmarks to the whole of the mid 20th century, from the 1st in 1932 to the last in 1984.

String quartet no 3 is her shortest quartet but it packs in the drama. Written in 1938 No 3 sees Maconchy really getting into the nitty gritty of complicated family relationships. The piece is a 10 minute psychological thriller, seeing the four instruments engaging in a tense disagreement.

The only recording of this so far breaks the piece into 5 broad sections. The first section is a Lento, slow and full of unspoken tension, expertly paced and drawn out to heighten the drama. This leads into a Presto – frenetic and passionate. There’s a brief respite with a seductive Andante, sweet and manipulative before moving into another anguished Presto. This is succeeded by a calmer Poco Largamente which brings the piece to a close.

The interactions between the strings really seem like a story unfolding, the chords come together but never quite resolve themselves, just bouncing off onto another phrase, another sentence.

The four voices are constantly intertwining, breaking into canons then merging again only to separate completely once more going all the way through until coming to a final uneasy conclusion.

Elizabeth de Brito


About Elizabeth Maconchy

Elizabeth Maconchy was a composer of great versatility and unfailing integrity, amply deserving of a British critic’s description of her as ‘one of the most substantial composers these islands have…