Born April 14, 1925; Died January 26, 2012.

Robert Crawford, who has died aged 86, became the resident voice of Edinburgh music, especially fine chamber music, in the 1950s when Scottish composers tended either to move to London or abroad if they desired international fame, or else to live in or around Glasgow if they were content to remain in a musically unproductive and unencouraging Scotland.

Characteristically, it was with a string quartet, rather than a symphony, that Crawford made his name at the age of 26. The work, his String Quartet No 1, Op 4, not only won the Scottish Arts Council's Festival of Britain prize in 1951, but – perhaps more importantly – was selected for performance by the Berlin Quartet at the ISCM (International Society of Contemporary Music) Festival in Frankfurt, Germany, in the same year.

Since those were the days when important festivals of new music were still few and far between, Crawford's achievement was considerable. The ISCM's was the principal event of its kind, and had been flourishing from 1922, when the cream of modern composers, including Bartok, Webern, and Hindemith, attended its inaugural programme in Salzburg.

Among such distinguished names, the young Crawford – educated in Edinburgh at Melville College, where he had felt cruelly hemmed in – looked like someone who was going places. After a five-year gap, his Quartet No 2 sustained this impression by winning the annual McEwen commission from Glasgow University along with a performance at the Edinburgh Festival.

Both works received critical acclaim, the first of them in the magazine Music and Letters for its "remarkable technique both in its construction and in its writing for the instruments", the second from Scotland's leading music critic of the time, Christopher Grier, for its "attractive astringency, sometimes of real beauty."

Other works also showed his strengths. John Ogdon and Ronald Stevenson added the Six Bagatelles to their repertoire of solo piano music, Wight Henderson played the Second Piano Sonata when, elsewhere in Europe, the Romanian Quartet was championing the Quartet No 2. Crawford, wrestling with further compositions behind the closed door of his music room in his family home in Fairmilehead, remained busy, or so it was said. But the outcome was – silence.

Like Sibelius in his Nordic stronghold near Helsinki, he kept pursuing perfection but nothing more emerged. His output, never large, appeared simply to have dried up. Years passed, during which he wrote freelance music criticism both for The Herald and the Scotsman and, from 1970 until 1985, worked for the BBC as a producer of radio concerts ranging from chamber music by other Scottish composers to brass band and piping programmes on Radio Scotland.

Then, just as suddenly as he had stopped composing, Crawford resumed 30 year later as if nothing had happened. By now in his sixties, he could be fairly described as a composer who had had no middle period of the sort which Beethoven and Verdi, for example, had enjoyed.

But his late works, more abundant than his early ones, proved similarly detailed products of a discerning and fastidious mind. His Octet, for the same instruments as Schubert's, was commissioned by Glasgow University in 1986 and completed the following year, confirming – as the Times Educational Supplement put it – that his "high craft and musical integrity" were thoroughly intact.

His Saltire Sonata, which had been left unfinished, was completed for pianist Peter Seivewright. His Sonata Breve, commissioned by the Scottish International Piano Competition, was chosen as a set-piece in 1992 when it was performed by 11 semi-finalists. His Clarinet Quintet, commissioned by the Edinburgh Quartet, was heard in Glasgow, and his Variations on a Ground, written in memory of his teacher Hans Gal, was played at the 1993 Cheltenham Festival.

Hammered Brass, written for John Wallace and his ensemble The Wallace Collection in 1995, had all the Crawford qualities of subtlety and succinctness, along with a new burnished beauty of tone, and his long-awaited Quartet No 3, premiered by the Edinburgh Quartet in 2009, made a special feature of the viola, Crawford's own instrument.

An enthralling mixture of light and darkness, it ended movingly with a sustained viola note trailing into silence and has now been recorded by the Edinburgh Quartet and other performers.

Crawford was delighted in his later years to find his music in increased demand, and much of it has now been recorded. But he reacted with dismay and sustained opposition to what he considered to be the BBC's dwindling interest in modern Scottish chamber music and the closure of its Edinburgh studios in Queen Street, where much of that music had been performed. Crawford, who married twice, is survived by his second wife, Alison, the daughter of the composer Robin Orr, and by Elliot and Judy, his son and daughter by his first wife, Stephanie..