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Sylvia Kahan


Sylvia Kahan teaches courses in music history, music theory, and keyboard musicianship, as well as giving private instruction in piano and chamber music. In her teaching, she foregrounds the interconnections of the historical and cultural forces that shape music composition, music analysis, and performance practice. Many of her courses include the teaching of skills that enable students to write about music more clearly and confidently. 

Sylvia Kahan is Professor of Music at the Graduate Center and College of Staten Island, CUNY, where she is a member of both the Piano and Musicology faculties. As a pianist, she has performed as concerto soloist, recitalist, and chamber musician in all of New York City’s major concert halls and throughout North America and Europe. Her recitals have been broadcast on WQXR, WNYC, and National Public Radio. She has participated in the Tanglewood, Aspen, Waterloo, Delta, and Nancy (France) summer festivals. She has collaborated with the English Chamber Orchestra, sopranos Dame Felicity Lott, Roberta Peters and Shirley Verrett, and members of the New York Philharmonic, Metropolitan Opera Orchestra, and San Francisco Symphony.

As a musicologist, Sylvia Kahan specializes in late 19th-century and 20th-century French music and culture. She has written on women's music patronage in Paris and New York, Proust and music, 19th-century music criticism, Nadia Boulanger, Claude Debussy, Gabriel Fauré, Edgard Varèse, French mélodie and opera, and the history of octatonicism. Her two books, Music's Modern Muse (2003) and In Search of New Scales (2009), both published by University of Rochester Press, have received outstanding reviews. Music's Modern Muse served as the inspiration for a lecture and concert produced by the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center, and for a segment on Winnaretta Singer-Polignac on the Smithsonian Channel. Recently been published in 2nd edition and French translation as Winnaretta Singer-Polignac: Princesse, mécène et musicienne, it has been hailed by French critics and audiences.

Sylvia Kahan served two terms as President of the New York Chapter of the American Musicological Society.



B.F.A., Oberlin Conservatory of Music

M.M., Michigan State University

D.M.A., CUNY Graduate Center

Scholarship and Publications


Winnaretta Singer-Polignac: Princesse, mécène et musicienne. Dijon, France: Les Presses du réel, 2018. 808 pp. ISBN: 978-2-84066-2686-6, EAN: 9782840662686

In Search of New Scales: Prince Edmond de Polignac, Octatonic Explorer. Rochester, NY: University of Rochester Press, 2009. 389 pp. ISBN 15-8046-133-6

Music’s Modern Muse: A Life of Winnaretta Singer, Princesse de Polignac. Rochester, NY: University of Rochester Press, 2003, 2nd printing, 2006, paperback 2009. 576 pp. ISBN 978-15-8046-305-8 


"Patrons and Society: Gabriel Fauré's 'Career' in the Paris and London Music Salons," in Fauré Studies, ed. Carlo Caballero and Stephen Rumph. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press. Forthcoming, 2019.

"A Critic's Progress: Émile-Mathieu de Monter's Musical Reporting of the Paris 1867 and 1878 Expositions Universelles for the Revue et Gazette musicale de Paris," in Nineteenth-Century Music Criticism (Music, Criticism & Politics, 3), ed. Teresa Cascudo Garcia-Villaraco. Turnhout, Belgium: Brepols, 2017, 33-58.

"'Bent Scales and Stained Glass Attitudes': La réception critique de la musique de Debussy aux États-Unis (1884-1918)," in  Regards sur Debussy , eds. Myriam Chimènes andd Alexandra Laederich. Paris: Fayard, 2013, 449-62.

“Quelque chose de très raffiné et de très musical´: la collaboration entre Nadia Boulander et Marie-Blanche de Polignac,” in Nadia Boulander et Lili Boulanger, témoignages et etudes, ed. Alexandra Laederich. Lyon: Symétrie, 2007, 85-98.

“The Whitney Connection: Varèse and His New York Patrons,” in Edgard Varèse: Composer, Sound Sculptor, Visionary, Felix Meyer and Heidy Zimmerman, eds. Woodbridge, Suffolk, UK: Boydell & Brewer, 2006, 92-100.  Published in German as “’Mit freundlicher Unterstützung von Mrs. Gertrude Whtney’: Varèse und seine New Yorker Mäzeninnen,” trans: Felix Meyer, in Edgard Varèse: Komponist, Klangforscher, Visionär, Felix Meyer and Heidy Zimmerman, eds., Mainz: Schott, 2006, 92-100.

“Fauré's Prelude to La Passion (1890): A Re-examination of a Forgotten Score,” in Regarding Fauré,” Newark, NJ: Gordon and Breach, Newark, 1999, 239-72.


"'Rien de la tonalité usuelle': Edmond de Polignac and the Octatonic Scale in Nineteenth-Century France," 19th-Century Music 29.2 (Fall 2005), 97-120.

"Prokofiev and the Princesse de Polignac," Three Oranges Journal 7 (May 2004), 5-9.

Kahan, Sylvia and Nathalie Mauriac-Dyer. "Quatre Lettres inédites de Proust au Prince de Polignac," Bulletin Marcel Proust 53 (December 2003), 9-21.


François LeRoux and Romain Raynaldy, Le chant intime. Translation by Sylvia Kahan for Oxford University Press, New York. Forthcoming, 2019. 

Pascal Terrien, ed. A History of the Saxophone Through the Pedagogical Methods Published in France: 1846-1942. Translated by Sylvia Kahan. Sampzon, France: Éditions Delatour, 2015. 273 pp. ISBN 978-2-7521-0262-1.


Chamber music recital, College of Staten Island Chamber Players, DiMenna Center, NYC

Pianist for Tania Leon's opera, Little Rock Nine (excerpts), Capitale, NYC

World premiere of Steve Cohen's Toccata Veronese, commissioned by Sylvia Kahan. Composers Now Festival, Fashion Institute of Technology, NYC.

Concerto soloist, Mozart: Piano Concerto in F major, K. 459, Staten Island Symphony, Jose Alejandro Guzmán, cond., Springer Concert Hall, College of Staten Island, NY.

Recital with Dame Felicity Lott, soprano, François Le Roux, baritone, Graham Johnson, piano, Palazzo Contarini-Polignac, Venice, Italy.


Sylvia Kahan photo

Contact Information

Office: Building 1P Room 203C