November 10, 2015

Professor Emeritus Theodore Karp (1926-2015)

Theodore Karp

Musicologist and Northwestern professor emeritus Theodore “Ted” Cyrus Karp died peacefully at his home on November 5, 2015. He was 89 years old.

Karp was born in New York on July 17, 1926, to Charles Karp, a pianist and piano teacher, and Henrietta Karp, a homemaker and accountant. After receiving a piano diploma from the Juilliard School in 1946 and a bachelor’s degree from Queens College in 1947, Karp studied at Belgium’s Catholic University of Leuven from 1949 to 1950 on a Fulbright grant. He earned a PhD at New York University in 1960.

In 1963 Karp joined the faculty of the University of California, Davis, where he was named professor of music in 1971. In 1973 he married musicologist Judith L. Schwartz, whom he had met in California at an American Musicological Society meeting.

From 1973 until his retirement in 1996, Karp was professor of music at Northwestern’s School of Music. He chaired what was then the department of music history/musicology (now the musicology program) from 1973 to 1988.

A well-known scholar in the field of Gregorian chant, Karp amassed a formidable library of books, scores, and microfilms of medieval primary and secondary sources that more than sustained a half-century of productive scholarship. His publications include three major books on medieval polyphony and chant and a popular music dictionary as well as 55 articles on troubadours and trouvères for the New Grove Dictionary of Music, 45 scholarly articles in journals and essay collections, and various reviews.

Described by friends as witty, inspiring, and a walking encyclopedia, Karp is remembered fondly by his former students and colleagues.

“Ted was an inspiration to me as an undergraduate, the model of what a scholar could be, and a reason I have become a musicologist,” says Robert Fallon (91), assistant professor of musicology at Carnegie Mellon University. “The depth and dedication he delivered to music history are lessons that live on in all of his students.”

Kyle Gann (G81, G83), professor of music at Bard College, called Karp one of a handful of professors whose influence he carries with him into the classroom every day. “I regularly bring up Professor Karp in conversation with colleagues as one of the finest, most caring, and most dedicated professors I ever had—and someone who taught the old-fashioned way, with a dignity that made the students feel responsible for their education,” said Gann.

Chicago-based musicologist Susan M. Filler (G77) was the first Northwestern doctoral student to complete her dissertation with Karp; the process entailed years of weekly consultations. “In those days our relationship was like the proverbial cat and dog, but he cared very much about the long-term success of my work,” says Filler. “I made a close colleague and friend who watched every gain in our profession even after I left Northwestern with my doctoral degree.”

Ken Paoli (G75, G80), professor of music at the College of DuPage, adds, “Professor Karp was a tremendous influence on my academic thinking and writing, and I always have fond remembrances of my interactions with him. His was a life well lived, and he was a gift and blessing to so many.”

Karp is survived by his wife, Bienen School professor emerita Judith Schwartz Karp; daughter Shira and son-in-law Norman Eliaser; grandchildren Davita and Shoshana; and brother Gilbert Karp.

Funeral services were held in Wilmette on November 8.