There are few living American classical composers for whom an academic biography has been published, but Libby Larsen deserves this type of study. At...

There are few living American classical composers for whom an academic biography has been published, but Libby Larsen deserves this type of study. At the opening of her book, Libby Larsen: Composing an American Life (University of Illinois Press, 2017), Denise Von Glahn describes her subject’s life as a “polyphony”—made up of multiple strands of music, career, and family. In order to make sense of Larsen’s long and accomplished career (and her hundreds of pieces of music), Von Glahn divides the biography into a close examination of the factors that most influenced Larsen’s life and music: family, religion, nature, the academy, gender, technology, and her collaborations. In each chapter, Von Glahn weaves a consideration of Larsen’s life with analyses of some of her major compositions. Larsen grew up and still lives in Minneapolis, Minnesota, and has always considered herself something of an outsider in the world of classical music. She does not live in New York City (the epicenter of American classical music); she does not hold an academic appointment; she has never applied for some of the institutional grants that often support contemporary composers’ work; and she is a woman in a field still dominated by men. While she was in graduate school, Larsen helped found the American Composers Forum which has become one of the most important organizations that supports the work of new composers in the United States. Today, Larsen is one of America’s most successful composers having written for many of the best orchestras, opera companies, instrumental and vocal soloists in the country. Her music is eclectic, thoughtful, never pretentious, and always concerned with communicating with the listener.

Denise Von Glahn is the Curtis Mayes Orpheus Professor of Musicology at Florida State University where she is the Coordinator of the Musicology Area and Director of the Center for Music of the Americas. Her work centers on music and place, ecomusicology, gender studies, and biography. She has published three previous award-winning monographs: The Sounds of Place: Music and the American Cultural Landscape, Leo Ornstein: Modernist Dilemmas, Personal Choices (coauthored with Michael Broyles), and Music and the Skillful Listener: American Women Compose the Natural World. She has received multiple grants including from the National Endowment for the Humanities, the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, and the Henry and Edna Binkele Classical Music Fund. In addition to her scholarly work, Dr. Von Glahn has won university awards for her undergraduate and graduate teaching.


Kristen M. Turner, Ph.D. is a lecturer at North Carolina State University in the music department. Her work centers on American musical culture at the turn of the twentieth century and has been published in several journals and essay collections.

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