Cover

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Title Page, Copyright, Dedication

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pp. i-vi

Contents

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pp. vii-viii

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Preface: An Inauspicious Beginning

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pp. ix-xvi

I first met Libby Larsen in Kansas City, Missouri, in 1998 at the annual conference of the Society for American Music, where she had been named that year’s honorary member. By some set of coincidences, I was seated next to her at dinner. She was easy-going, lively, and engaging, interested in everyone and everything. She didn’t behave like others of her stature whom I’d met; she didn’t wear her celebrity like a badge or a shield. She blended in effortlessly. I was still thinking too much about the new faculty position I’d recently accepted and a paper on Charles Ives that I’d given earlier that day...

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Acknowledgments

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pp. xvii-xx

Scholarly acknowledgments often begin with a list of the institutions that provided time or financial assistance for the project. I’ll get to them, but I must start by thanking Libby Larsen. She has been a generous and courageous subject, enduring years of questions, requests for information, emails, telephone conversations, and personal interviews. She has shared photographs and sound files, supplied names of possible corroborators, and introduced me to family and friends. She enlisted her assistants, Grace Edgar, Toni Lindgren, and Jason Senchina, in the project and encouraged them to...

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Prologue: A Polyponic Life

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pp. xxi-xxii

Musicians use the term polyphony to describe a musical texture containing multiple independent lines of sound occurring simultaneously. A number of scholars have employed the word to suggest the range of considerations they weave together in their arguments. Jan La Rue referred to “the polyphonic thinking” of his analytical approach as “match[ing] the ambiguities of music”; Gustave Reese imagined a “polyphony in prose” to reconcile warring organizational schemes for his study of Renaissance music; and Michael Broyles envisioned “a polyphony of style” to capture what he heard in...

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1. Libby Larsen and the Cultural Moment

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pp. 1-9

During an open forum at Florida State University in May 2014, Libby Larsen identified the period from about 1948 to 1962 as “the most radical portion of [the twentieth] century.”1 Her remark puzzled many in the audience, twenties-something graduate students whose births in the late 1980s and early 1990s meant they had little knowledge of what she was referring to beyond secondhand accounts told to them by their parents, many of whom were born in the 1960s. Weren’t the sixties supposed to be the decade of radicalism and revolution, and the fifties the decade of stability and prosperity? But those...

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2. Larsen and Family: Needing to Be Heard

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pp. 10-32

Among the millions of transactions that occur within families, a small handful might stand out and become vivid memories: moments of extraordinary joy or sadness, or sudden enlightenment, or a particular encounter, or a heated exchange. At the time, these moments carry greater or lesser weight for the individuals involved; considered from a distance, however, they can provide insights into family dynamics beyond their immediate consequence. In the case of Libby Larsen an incident when she was a very young child was one such moment; it left a permanent mark; it has shaped...

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3. Larsen and Religion: The Tie That Binds

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pp. 33-66

When I asked the composer to identify the most powerful influences in her life, Larsen unhesitatingly named “religion” and, more specifically, “growing up Catholic” among the first. But many conversations later, it was clear that the word religion did not capture all she was thinking of; Spirituality, the composer suggested, might come closer.1 Religion for Larsen is larger than any single organized system of beliefs shared by a community of believers and practiced in a social setting. Better terms than religion or spirituality might be faith practices or belief system, but I’ll stick with the word...

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4. Larsen and Nature: Tutoring the Soul

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pp. 67-98

I first came to Libby Larsen’s music through her nature-related compositions. I was struck by the number of works whose titles claimed a connection to water in all its forms, the seasons, the earth, the atmosphere, gardens, animals, light, the upper Midwest and its particular cold climes, or that revealed a broad awareness of her place within a larger ecological endeavor. She was a perfect subject for a book that explored women’s responses to “nature” in musical composition. For that earlier project I wrote on her Symphony: Water Music, Missa Gaia, and Downwind of Roses in Maine. Over...

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5. Larsen and the Academy Years: “My Soul Was Shaking”

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pp. 99-144

Family, religion, nature, and place continued to influence Larsen during her undergraduate years. She may have stopped attending Sunday services, but she never expunged the lessons taught by the Catholic sisters: wonder, humility, spirituality, generosity, and grace shaped her core; they were overlaid with clear thinking, pragmatic efficiency, formidable tenacity, inexhaustible energy, and determination that brooks no opposition. She’ll be a “cradle Catholic,” even if a lapsed one, to the grave.

The natural environment of Larsen’s Minneapolis childhood remained when she enrolled at the University of Minnesota; it was...

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6. Larsen and Gender: Doing the Impossible

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pp. 145-192

Given the range of experiences within her family, the church, and the academy that seemed to turn on Larsen’s being female, the composer’s naming gender as one of the most important influences in her life follows logically. Although she never felt that gender was the immediate cause of her parents’ desire to silence her or the primary justification of various household practices, Larsen understands that the family system, a reflection of American society, was stacked against strong women of any age who acknowledged, pursued, or insisted upon their ambitions. In this structure the man was the...

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7. Larsen and Technology: Challenging the Concert Hall

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pp. 193-221

On February 16, 2014, the Fort Worth Opera announced that it would postpone indefinitely the long-awaited world premiere of Libby Larsen’s time-traveling opera A Wrinkle in Time, a greatly expanded update of the fifty-minute version that she had composed for the Delaware Opera in 1991. Referring to the original production, Larsen explains, “At that point the technology was crude compared to present day technology. I used an EMAX II to create tech sound and we amplified through traditional cluster speakers.”1 The 2014 opera would have “anchored the [Fort Worth] company’s 2015 festival.”2 Throughout...

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8. Larsen and the Collaborators, Larsen and the Critics

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pp. 222-254

In March 1979, at the ripe age of twenty-eight and just a year after receiving her doctorate, Libby Larsen was the subject of a thirty-minute film, part of the series Encounters with Minnesota Artists broadcast on KTCA, the Twin Cities public television station.1 It had to have been a heady experience for the young composer. In footage that captures Larsen composing, conversing, and attending rehearsals, viewers see her reflect on the act of “arranging sound in time.” They learn of her concerns regarding the “segmented” woman composer and hear her thoughts about living a balanced life.2 The collaborative...

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Conclusions: Reflections on a Life and the Process of Telling It

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pp. 255-268

In the same interview I referenced in the preface to this book, Leon Edel observed: “The subject of a biography has never had a chance to bring order to a life so constantly lived and involved in action. It is the biographer who finds the frame, sorts things out, and for better or worse tries to bring order into a life story—create a sense of sequence and coherence.”1 Not all of what Edel said applies to a biography of Libby Larsen—for instance, Larsen has brought some order to her life in a remarkably complete and well-organized personal archive—but enough does to make his observation ring...

Notes

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pp. 269-304

Bibliography

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pp. 305-316

Index

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pp. 317-336

About the Author

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pp. 337-346