Theodore Cyrus Karp
(b. New York, NY, July 17, 1926; d. Wilmette, IL, November 5, 2015)
By Judith S. Karp (Nov. 8, 2015)
My husband Ted Karp enjoyed a long and productive life as a musician, scholar and family man. Ted was the oldest son of pianist and piano teacher Charles Karp and Henrietta Karp, a homemaker and accountant. His father, who died when Ted was 16 years old (his brother, Gilbert, 8), left him with a love of piano playing that determined and fed his career in music. His family’s need developed his resourcefulness, as he took on his father’s teaching obligations to help support the family.
While working, he still managed to study piano and musicology at Juilliard, Queens College, and New York University. In 1949 Ted studied at the Catholic University of Leuven, Belgium as a Fulbright student in only the second year of the Fulbright Exchange program. For 10 years Ted taught piano in his pupils’ homes before finding a position in 1963 teaching music history at the University of California at Davis, where he was appointed professor of music in 1971. From 1973 until his retirement in 1996, Ted was a professor of music at Northwestern University, serving as chairman of the Department of Music History from 1973 to 1988. His scholarly writings ranged from trouvère music to various aspects of Medieval and Renaissance polyphony, and his last three books dealt with the history and technical features of Gregorian chant.
It was in California that Ted and I met at professional meetings of the American Musicological Society. We married in 1973, just as Ted accepted the chairmanship of the Music History Department at Northwestern University. We moved to Wilmette to the house on Chilton Lane where our daughter Shira later grew up, and where our two granddaughters Davita and Shoshana have been reliving some of their mother’s experiences with Grandpa Ted.
As a child of the depression, Ted was frugal to a fault, preferring to develop his own skill rather than rely upon others, or spend for services he felt himself capable of undertaking. Learning as he went, he built a basement office to house his extensive professional library and designed and built bookshelves and worktables for our Wilmette home.
He not only enjoyed but also craved working with his hands—perhaps as a counterweight to the intensive intellectual work that absorbed most of his time and effort. His lapidary hobby, cutting and polishing stones and turning them into bolo ties and jewelry, afforded him much pleasure and pride.
By imaginatively exploiting research support available through the university, Ted was able to travel frequently to foreign archives and conventions. He 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. Ted’s publications include three major books on medieval polyphony and chant and a popular dictionary of music, as well as 55 articles on troubadours and trouvères for the New Grove Dictionary of Music and 45 scholarly articles in journals and essay collections [Festschriften], plus various reviews.
As a scholar and teacher, Ted followed his curiosity boldly into unknown territory, whether devising theoretical definitions or mapping the boundaries and landscape of unexplored repertoire. In a one-of- a-kind Ph.D. seminar he offered on the Renaissance parody Mass, he worked in partnership with his students, poring over scores to question conventional definitions in favor of a more comprehensive and nuanced conception of the composers’ aims and techniques, and he presented their joint conclusions in a public lecture. His last book, published at the age of 81, on liturgical chants of the post-Tridentine Roman Catholic Mass, explored and inventoried neglected publications documenting the changing nature of Roman Catholic chant melodies during the 17th through the 19th centuries, and his work continues to serve as a guide and catalyst to all subsequent study in this field.
His ideas on interpretation of medieval notation were not without controversy, and he could be headstrong and stubborn in pursuing what he believed to be correct. While his idiosyncratic perspective, intense focus on technical questions, and sometimes overwhelming amount of detail irritated some readers, his books are nevertheless considered indispensable, not least for their wealth of information and quantity of musical transcriptions.
In his leadership of the Northwestern University’s Department of Music History and Literature (later the Musicology Program), Ted remained steadfast in upholding his own standards, while patiently hearing out the opinions of others in hope of earning leniency with regard to his own perceived deficiencies. He was never much concerned with either power or politics, preferring to cultivate attributes of kindness and cooperation in himself and his subordinates. He took pride in the professional accomplishments of his younger colleagues in the department, and to assure time for their professional progress he often assumed more than his share of the load in teaching and advising.
Meanwhile, Ted pursued an entirely independent career as mentor and father, devoting countless hours to nurturing his students and his family. The doors to his office and his study at home were always open, no childish plaint too trivial to deny distraction from work. Ted loved children and childhood. Cuddling and reading to his toddler daughter became his greatest joy, as he shared with her the books, stories, poems, and songs that formed his own childhood memories. Ted’s facility at the piano made him an invaluable contributor to youthful birthday celebrations and songfests.
Simultaneously, for more than 30 years he continued to serve as companion and primary caregiver to his mother, who lived with us for 17 years until her death in 1989. He shared her passion for gardening, lovingly cultivating flowers and vegetables in a happy medley that defied conventional order. From his parents, Ted acquired a commitment to kindness and honesty, an instinct for loyalty, and a drive to succeed, motivated by strong personal bonds. In personal matters, he was inclined to a certain humility that submits to the need of others as an act of love, rather than loss, humility that energizes duty to become spiritual investment, taking delight in the satisfaction and good fortune of others.
For Ted, life—with all its defects and incessant challenges—was a gift to be accepted in gratitude.