Libby Larsen

Libby Larsen


• Born 1950


Prolific and garlanded with honors, composer Libby Larsen writes music that is lively and innovative without losing a connection to general audiences. Larsen is particularly noted as a composer for voices and for orchestrations.

Elizabeth Brown Larsen was born in Dover, Delaware, on December 24, 1950. When she was three, the family moved to Minneapolis, Minnesota; her career has remained closely associated with Minnesota, and she still lives in her family's first house there. Her father was a Dixieland jazz clarinetist, and her mother enjoyed boogie-woogie piano; Larsen would continue to be influenced by popular styles. As her sister played a piece on the piano, she got up on the piano seat and created a piece of her own. She had music classes from nuns at Christ the King School in Minneapolis, and then at the University of Minnesota, where she earned bachelor's (1971), master's (1975, in which year she also married her husband, James Reece), and doctoral (1978) degrees. She studied composition with Dominick Argento, Paul Fetler, and Eric Stokes. In 1973, she and Stephen Paulus co-founded the Minnesota Composers' Forum; as the American Composers' Forum, it continues to be an important force in contemporary music.

In 1983, Larsen was named composer-in-residence at the Minnesota Orchestra, the first female composer to hold such a position with a major American orchestra, and she used the position to write her Symphony No. 1 ("Water Music"). She later held residencies at the Charlotte Symphony and the Colorado Symphony. Larsen's output has been notable for its diversity: she has written four symphonies, other orchestral music, several operas, choral works, and a variety of chamber music. Her music is rhythmically energetic but avoids barlines. Often her vocal music will derive its overall rhythm from its texts as they develop. Larsen has never held an academic position, earning a living from commissions and other activities, such as recording production. She won a Grammy Award in 1994 as the producer of The Art of Arleen Augér, which included a performance of her song cycle Sonnets from the Portuguese. In 2004, she wrote a work for carillon, Pealing Fire. Many of Larsen's later works include both acoustic and electronic elements. She has received many honors, including, in 2010, the George Peabody Medal for Outstanding Contributions to Music in America. She remained active into her senior citizen years, issuing the White Pieces, for piano, in 2018.