Sounds Real and Imagined:

Libby Larsen's Up Where the Air Gets Thin

  • Denise Ruth Von Glahn Florida State University


In a career spanning more than four decades, American composer Libby Larsen has turned to the natural world for inspiration on dozens of occasions: her piece Up Where the Air Gets Thin is just one of the results. Unlike many of her nature-based works which provide primarily aesthetic responses to the sights, sounds, feel, and smells of the natural environment, this 1985 duet for contrabass and cello comments on the limits of non-verbal communication and the impact of climate change. It is simultaneously reflective and didactic. “Sounds Real and Imagined” considers the ways Larsen marshals minimal musical materials and a sonic vocabulary that she associates with stillness and cold, in combination with her commitment to environmental awareness and advocacy. It situates the historic 1953 ascent of Mt. Everest by Sir Edmund Hillary and Tensing Norgay within the context of late-twentieth-century artistic responses and an early twenty-first century musicologist-listener’s consciousness.

How to Cite
Von Glahn, D. R. (2020). Sounds Real and Imagined:: Libby Larsen’s Up Where the Air Gets Thin. European Journal of Musicology, 18(1), 99–110.