Why a String Quartet? What is it that has given it its exalted reputation and mystique? Why have so many composers regarded it as the perfect medium of expression, though it is perhaps the most demanding to write for? And why do distinguished artists often prefer to work as a team in a first class quartet rather than make bigger money as, say, orchestral leaders? Music means different things to different people: but for those to who music is an intellectual art, a balanced and reasoned statement of ideas, an impassioned argument, an intense but disciplined expression of emotion – the string quartet is perhaps the most satisfying medium of all.
These are the words of Elizabeth Maconchy (above) who was born one hundred years ago on March 19th 1907. She wrote a remarkable cycle of thirteen string quartets that were influenced by Berg, Bartok, Janacek and her teacher in Prague, Karel Jirak. But despite its obvious merit Elizabeth Maconchy’s music remains scandalously neglected. Which prompts On An Overgrown Path to ask, how important is a composer’s music?