Elisabeth Lutyens (1906-1983), Elizabeth Maconchy (1907-1994) and Grace Williams (1906-1977) were contemporaries at the Royal College of Music. The three composers' careers were launched with performances in the Macnaghten-Lemare Concerts in the 1930s - a time when, in Britain, as Williams noted, a woman composer was considered 'very odd indeed'. Even so, by the early 1940s all three had made remarkable advances in their work: Lutyens had become the first British composer to use 12-note technique, in her Chamber Concerto No. 1 (1939-40); Maconchy had composed four string quartets of outstanding quality and was busy rethinking the genre; and Williams had won recognition as a composer with great flair for orchestral writing with her Fantasia on Welsh Nursery Tunes (1940) and Sea Sketches (1944). In the following years, Lutyens, Maconchy and Williams went on to compose music of striking quality and to attain prominent positions within the British music scene. Their respective achievements broke through the 'sound ceiling', challenging many of the traditional assumptions which accompanied music by female composers. Rhiannon Mathias traces the development of these three important composers through analysis of selected works. The book draws upon previously unexplored material as well as radio and television interviews with the composers themselves and with their contemporaries. The musical analysis and contextual material lead to a re-evaluation of the composers' positions in the context of twentieth-century British music history.
'Rhiannon Mathias [...] bring[s] expertise and enthusiasm to her task as she traces the progress of these three composers, embracing previously unavailable material as well as interviews with the composers themselves and their contemporaries... We have probably all heard something from each creator; but if a publication inspires us to go beyond the printed material, then a major test is passed. This book, about three women who stuck to their guns and made music their lives, succeeds in so doing.' Gramophone ’The book offers a full-some introduction to these composers, with a wealth of musical and background information. Overall, it deserves to be widely read; not least for its placing of Williams within a British as well as a Welsh context, for its focus on Lutyens’s music rather than her famously acid persona and for its challenging of the music-historical backwater in which all three, but Maconchy in particular, have languished unjustifiably for too long.’ Cyfansoddwyr Cymru / Composers of Wales Quarterly 'Wherever the book opens, one finds important aspects of one of the composers, often offering deep insights into the creations. The result is a most impressive array of information, both on Twentieth Century music in Britain and on the three composers themselves.' British Music Society News 'What Mathias has done so well is to provide a clear picture of a wide variety of all three women’s haunting and commanding music and to link it to the main events and concerns of their careers... This is without doubt a book which should prompt new generations of performers to discover this glorious music and bring it to the ears of new listeners. It may even be a book which inspires a new generation of women to believe in themselves and the possibilities of their own music.' Sophie Fuller in Brio