The first truly serial work of Elisabeth Lutyens' compositional career was her Chamber Concerto No. 1 for nine instruments (1939). She began the piece earlier but her work stalled due to an emotional depression that ensued after Neville Chamberlain made the official declaration of war against Nazi Germany. It is for this reason that it took longer than one might expect for Lutyens to complete this composition, which is rather short in length, lasting no more than nine minutes.
Lutyens dedicated this work to her love interest, Edward Clark, who was also the greatest influence on her life, emotionally and musically. He was the leading figure of the avant-garde movement in England, of which Lutyens desperately desired to become an important member. On the continent as a young composer, he had become familiar with Ravel and Debussy, Richard Strauss, and Mahler, composer who were not well-known in England at the time. Clark's most important connection was with Arnold Schoenberg. He would be present during the creation of some of Schoenberg's most important works, including Pierrot Lunaire (1912). It is not surprising that Lutyens would be swept off her feet by this man, who had personal contact with so many of the most important musical figures of the early twentieth century.
The First Chamber Concerto is written for the same nine instruments as Webern's Concerto for nine instruments (1934). It is unfair to claim that Lutyens merely copied this instrumentation, though, due to the fact that Webern's work was not published in England until 1942. The nine instruments required are oboe, clarinet, bassoon, horn, trumpet, trombone, violin, viola, and cello. Lutyens' work is the first of a series of six chamber concertos, the last of which was completed in 1948. The tone row first utilized in the First Chamber Concerto was later reused in other works, such as Requiem for the Living (1948), Rhadamanthus (1948), and The Pit (1947). The First Chamber Concerto was given its premiere in 1943, at a concert sponsored by the publisher Boosey and Hawkes. The conductor on this occasion was Constant Lambert.