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Sylvia Kahan
Position: Professor, College of Staten Island
Campus Affiliation: College of Staten Island
Phone: (718) 982-2556
Degrees/Diplomas: D.M.A., CUNY
Research Interests: 19th-century and 20th-century French music

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, Dr. Kahan has performed as concerto soloist, recitalist, and chamber musician in all of New York’s major halls and in concert venues 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, and has collaborated with the English Chamber Orchestra, sopranos Roberta Peters and Shirley Verrett, and members of the New York Philharmonic and Metropolitan Opera Orchestra.

As a musicologist, Sylvia Kahan specializes in late 19th-century and 20th-century French music and culture. She has written on women’s roles as music patrons in Paris and New York, Proust and music, Nadia Boulanger, French opera, and the history of octatonicism. Her book, Music’s Modern Muse: A Life of Winnaretta Singer, Princesse de Polignac (University of Rochester Press), was hailed by the Times Literary Supplement as an “important new study”; it will appear in French translation as Une Muse de la musique moderne in 2010. A second book, In Search of New Scales: Prince Edmond de Polignac, Octatonic Explorer has just been published by University of Rochester Press.  Sylvia Kahan is a regular lecturer on French opera at New York City Opera. She served two terms as Chair of the New York Chapter of the American Musicological Society.



Music’s Modern Muse: A Life of Winnaretta Singer, Princesse de Polignac.Rochester, NY: University of Rochester, 2003, 2nd printing, 2006, paperback 2009. 576 pp.

In Search of New Scales: Prince Edmond de Polignac, Octatonic Explorer. Rochester, NY: University of Rochester Press, 2009. 389 pp.

Une muse de la musique moderne - Une vie de Winnaretta Singer, princesse de Polignac.Dijon: Les Presses du réel, forthcoming 2010.


Chapters in books

"'Quelque chose de très raffiné et de très musical': la collaboration entre Nadia Boulanger et Marie-Blanche de Polignac," in Nadia Boulanger et Lili Boulanger, témoignages et études, 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 Whitney': 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 7 (May 2004), 5-9.

“Quatre Lettres inédites de Proust au Prince de Polignac,” with Nathalie Mauriac-Dyer. Bulletin Marcel Proust 53 (December 2003), 9-21.

Program notes

Playbill program essay on Emmanuel Chabrier for New York City Opera (March 2010). "As Sparkling as the Stars," program essay on Chabrier's L'Etoile in the Cincinnati Opera 2006 Summer Festival program.

"The Sorcerer's Accomplice," in New York City Opera 2005-2006 Souvenir Program, 14-16. Playbill program notes for Paul Dukas's Ariane et Barbe-bleue, New York City Opera, Lincoln Center (October 2005).

"Brahms the Progressive: A Retrospective Appreciation," program essay for Miller Theater’s “Brahms the Progressive” concert series (Columbia University, 2005).


4/3 - Trio for violin, cello, and piano with Mia Wu, violin and Lutz Rath, cello, on Works of James Dashow, Pro Nova (1992), ISPV 177 CD.

Recent Performances

A Celebration of Two Centenaries: Chamber Music by Elliott Carter (b. 1908) and Olivier Messiaen (1908-1992),  Elebash Recital Hall, CUNY Graduate Center, 10 September 2008.

The Music Salon of Winnaretta Singer, Princesse Edmond de Polignac, Elebash Recital Hall, CUNY Graduate Center, 4 October 2007.

Concerto soloist, Beethoven's Piano Concerto No. 3 in C minor, Op. 37, Staten Island Philharmonic, Jose Alejandro Guzman, conductor, 22 April 2006.

Music director and pianist of chamber music series for the United Nations Consular Corps, 1986-present.