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Emil Reesen studied with private tutors such as the composer Vilhelm Rosenberg and the pianist Siegfried Langgaard (a pupil of Franz Liszt). He made his debut as a concert pianist in 1911 and was employed as a conductor for the Danish Radio Symphony Orchestra in 1927. In 1931 he also began working as a ballet conductor at the Royal Danish Theatre. Later in his life he conducted the Vienna Symphony and recorded with the Berlin Philharmonic. Emil Reesen was the father of the composer Morten Reesen (1928–1961) and the great-uncle of the composer Frederik Magle (his sister's grandson).