Maconchy was born in Broxbourne, Hertfordshire, and grew up in the English and Irish countryside. She enrolled at the Royal College of Music in London at the age of sixteen studying under Charles Wood and Ralph Vaughan Williams.
In 1930, Maconchy married William LeFanu with whom she later had two daughters. Her first daughter, Elizabeth Anna LeFanu, was born in 1939, and her second daughter, Nicola LeFanu, was born in 1947.
Maconchy's cycle of thirteen string quartets, which span the years 1932 to 1984, are regarded by many as the peak of her musical achievements.
In 1933, Maconchy's quintet for oboe and strings won a prize in the London Daily Telegraph Chamber Music Competition, and was recorded by Helen Gaskel with the Griller Quartet soon afterwards on HMV Records.
- String Quartet No. 1 (1932/33) (13")
- String Quartet No. 2 (1936) (20")
- String Quartet No. 3 (1938) (12")
- String Quartet No. 4 (1942/43) (15")
- String Quartet No. 5 (1948) ()
- String Quartet No. 6 (1950) ()
- String Quartet No. 7 (1955) ()
- String Quartet No. 8 (1967) ()
- String Quartet No. 9 (1968) (16")
- String Quartet No. 10 (1972) (13")
- String Quartet No. 11 (1976) (14")
- String Quartet No. 12 (1979) (13")
- String Quartet No. 13 Quartetto Corto (1984) (8")
- Suite in E minor for string orchestra (1924)
- Fantasy for flute, harp and string orchestra (1926, lost)
- Elegy for flute, horn and string orchestra (1926, lost)
- Fantasy for Children for small orchestra (1927-28)
- Theme and Variations for orchestra (1928)
- The Land, symphonic suite after V. Sackville-West's poem, for orchestra (1929)
- Symphony (No. 1), for orchestra (1929-30, withdrawn)
- Suite for chamber orchestra (1930, withdrawn)
- Comedy Overture for orchestra (1932-33)
- Two Dances from the ballet Puck Fair, for orchestra (1940)
- Variations on a Well-Known Theme, for orchestra (1942)
- Theme and Variations for string orchestra (1942-43)
- Suite from the ballet Puck Fair, for orchestra (1943)
- Symphony (No. 2), for orchestra (1945-48, withdrawn)
- Nocturne for orchestra (1950-51)
- Proud Thames : Coronation Overture, for orchestra (1952-53)
- Symphony for double string orchestra (1952-53)
- Suite on Irish Airs, for small orchestra (1953 ; arr. for full orch, 1954)
- Suite on Irish Airs, version for full orchestra (1955)
- A Country Town, 6 short pieces for orchestra (c. 1956) [arr. of piano pieces from 1939]
- Music for Woodwinds and Brass (1965-66)
- An Essex Overture, for orchestra (1966)
- Three Cloudscapes for orchestra (1968, withdrawn)
- Genesis for chamber orchestra (1972-73)
- Sinfonietta, for orchestra (1976)
- Little Symphony, for orchestra (1980-81)
- Music for Strings (1981-82)
- Life Story, for string orchestra (1985)
- Andante and Allegro, for flute and string orchestra (1926-27)
- Concertino (No. 1) for piano and chamber orchestra (1928 ; rev. 1929-30)
- Viola Concerto (1937, withdrawn)
- Dialogue for piano and orchestra (1940-41)
- Concertino (No. 1) for clarinet and string orchestra (1945)
- Concertino (No. 2) for piano and string orchestra (1949)
- Concertino for bassoon and string orchestra (1952)
- Toombeola, for violin and string orchestra (1954, withdrawn)
- Concerto for oboe, bassoon and string orchestra (1955-56)
- Suite for oboe and string orchestra (1955-56)
- Serenata concertante for violin and orchestra (1962)
- Variazioni concertante, for oboe, clarinet, basson, horn and string orchestra (1964-65)
- Epyllion, for solo cello and 15 strings (1973-75)
- Romanza for viola, woodwind quintet and string quintet (1979)
- Tribute, for violin and woodwind octet (1982)
- Concertino (No. 2) for clarinet and small orchestra (1984)
In 1959, Maconchy chaired the Composers' Guild of Great Britain, the first woman to do so. In 1960, she was awarded the Cobbett Medal for chamber music. She was made a Commander of the Order of the British Empire (CBE) in 1977, and made Dame Commander (DBE) in 1987.
- Doctor, Jennifer (2004). "Maconchy, Dame Elizabeth Violet (1907–1994)". Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (online (Jan 2008) ed.). Oxford University Press. doi:10.1093/ref:odnb/55123.
- Greene, David Mason (1985). Petrak, Albert M., ed. Green's Biographical Encyclopedia of Composers 1. p. 1366. ISBN 9780385142786. Retrieved 2012-12-17.
- "Maconchy, Dame Elizabeth (Dame Elizabeth LeFanu)". Who Was Who (online (December 2012), Oxford University Press ed.). A & C Black. November 2012. Retrieved 2012-12-27.
- Staines, Joe (2010). "Elizabeth Maconchy". The Rough Guide to Classical Music. Penguin. pp. 320–321. ISBN 9781405383219. Retrieved 2012-12-17.
- Uglow, Jennifer S. & Maggy Hendry (1999). "Maconchy, Elizabeth". The Northeastern Dictionary of Women's Biography (3rd ed.). UPNE. pp. 347–348. ISBN 9781555534219. Retrieved 2012-12-17.
- Darrell, R.D., ed. (1936). The Gramophone Shop Encyclopedia of Recorded Music. New York. p. 278. OCLC 598224.
- "Announcement of the Order of the British Empire (Civil Division): DBE". Supplement to the London Gazette (50848). 13 June 1987. p. 6. Retrieved 2012-12-27.
- "Announcement of the Order of the British Empire (Civil Division): CBE". Supplement to the London Gazette (47102). 31 December 1976. p. 9. Retrieved 2012-12-27.
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