Composers Datebook®

Larsen's symphonies

Composers Datebook - Jan. 30, 2024


In 1985, the musical world was celebrating the 300th anniversary of the birth of Georg Frideric Handel. On today’s date that year, Minnesota-based composer Libby Larsen, then in her mid-30s, was celebrating the premiere performance of her Symphony No. 1.

Larsen titled her symphony Water Music and says its first movement was a deliberate homage to Handel’s famous Water Music. As a resident composer of a state with over 10,000 lakes, Larsen admits her love of sailing also had something to do with the symphony’s descriptive title.

Since 1985, Larsen has gone on to write a few more symphonies, each with its own particular title. And she frequently gives individual movements of each symphony a descriptive tag. For example, one movement from her Solo Symphony (No. 5), from 1999, is titled “The Cocktail Party Effect.”

Rather than the wallop of a stiff drink, Larsen says she means the ability of human hearing to pick out a single voice among the extraneous noise one encounters at a crowded cocktail party.

“It’s a kind of musical ‘Where’s Waldo?’” she says. “In this case, Waldo is a melody, introduced at the beginning … then hidden amid the other music.”

Music Played in Today's Program

Libby Larsen (b. 1950) Symphony: Water Music; Minnesota Orchestra; Neville Marriner, cond. Nonesuch 79147; and Solo Symphony; Colorado Symphony; Marin Alsop, cond. Koch 7520

On This Day


  • 1697 - German composer and flutist Johann Joachim Quantz, in Oberscheden, Hannover;

  • 1861 - French-born American composer Charles Martin Loeffler, in Alsace;

  • 1862 - German-born American composer and conductor, Walter Damrosch, in Breslau;


  • 1963 - French composer Francis Poulenc, age 64, in Paris;


  • 1724 - Bach: Sacred Cantata No. 81 ("Jesus schläft, was soll ich hoffen?") performed on the 4th Sunday after Epiphany as part of Bach's first annual Sacred Cantata cycle in Leipzig (1723/24);

  • 1735 - Bach: Sacred Cantata No. 14 ("Wär Gott nicht mit uns diese Zeit") performed in Leipzig on the 4th Sunday after Epiphany;

  • 1892 - Rachmaninoff: “Trio élégiaque” No. 1 in G minor (Gregorian date: Feb. 11);

  • 1893 - Brahms: Fantasies for piano Nos. 1-3, from Op. 117 and Intermezzo No. 2, from Op. 117, in Vienna;

  • 1917 - Zemlinsky: opera "A Floretine Tragedy," in Stuttgart at the Hoftheater;

  • 1920 - Frederick Converse: Symphony in c, by the Boston Symphony, Pierre Monteux conducting;

  • 1942 - Copland: Orchestral Suite from "Billy the Kid" ballet, by the Boston Symphony;

  • 1948 - Harold Shapero: "Symphony for Classical Orchestra," by the Boston Symphony conducted by Leonard Bernstein;

  • 1958 - Walton: "Partita" for orchestra, in Cleveland;

  • 1959 - Hindemith: "Pittsburgh Symphony," by the Pittsburgh Symphony, conducted by the composer;

  • 1970 - William Schuman: "In Praise of Shahn," in New York;

  • 1985 - Libby Larsen: Symphony ("Water Music"), by the Minnesota Orchestra, Sir Neville Marriner conducting.

Love the music?

Donate by phone

Show your support by making a gift to YourClassical.

Each day, we’re here for you with thoughtful streams that set the tone for your day – not to mention the stories and programs that inspire you to new discovery and help you explore the music you love.

YourClassical is available for free, because we are listener-supported public media. Take a moment to make your gift today.

More Ways to Give

Your Donation


Latest Composers Datebook® Episodes


Latest Composers Datebook® Episodes


About Composers Datebook®

Host John Birge presents a daily snapshot of composers past and present, with timely information, intriguing musical events and appropriate, accessible music related to each.

He has been hosting, producing and performing classical music for more than 25 years. Since 1997, he has been hosting on Minnesota Public Radio's Classical Music Service. He played French horn for the Cincinnati Symphony and Pops Orchestra and performed with them on their centennial tour of Europe in 1995. He was trained at the Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music, Eastman School of Music and Interlochen Arts Academy.

About Composers Datebook®