Howard Karp

Pianist and Musical Patriarch Howard Karp Passes Away

Thursday, July 10th, 2014

Accomplished pianist and musical patriarch Howard Karp who helped shape the UW-Madison School of Music, has died. He was 84.

Karp died of complications of cardiac arrest on June 30 in Loveland, Colorado.

Born in Chicago on Oct. 12, 1929, Karp did not consider himself a promising musician at first.

“I wasn’t very good as a child,” he said in a 1994 interview. “I really didn’t enjoy it. I had a teacher who was very strict, and he wouldn’t let me play any pieces, just technique.”

Studying at Oberlin, he struck up a romance with classmate Frances Reiche. The two married and spent the next 62 years as partners and musical collaborators.

The duo moved on to Juilliard where he studied under Rosina Lhevinne, and then to Vienna, and Positano, Italy, to study Beethoven with adviser Wilhelm Kempff.

Upon returning to the United States, he taught at the University of Kentucky before securing a full professorship at the Music School of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

As a performer, Karp won acclaim for solo and chamber music recitals in the United States and Europe, and performed frequently as a soloist with symphony orchestras.

In 1972, Karp gave up his prestigious position in a well-developed program at the University of Illinois and moved to Madison, where the “greater needs” of the smaller, still-growing UW School of Music posed an exciting challenge.

Though he was tremendously talented, Karp will remembered for his humility.

“After a concert in which he’s played a sublime Schubert sonata, he smiled, shrugged and said, ‘I’m just a plodding workman,’” said colleague Bill Lutes. “Though the self-deprecation was good humoured, the humility was genuine. And so was the message: To play this kind of music, at this level, one had to give and give and give to the work, with unswerving devotion.”

Karp is survived by his wife Frances; sister, Myrna Soled; sons Parry and Christopher; daughters-in-law Katrin Talbot and Marsha Wills-Karp; and grandchildren Ariana, Natasha, Isabel and David.


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