Karen Ahlquist

Photo of Karen Ahlquist
Associate Professor of Music
Room B137
[email protected]


After a career in conducting, Karen Ahlquist joined the George Washington University faculty in 1992, where she teaches history of music in western countries. She writes on European musical traditions in the nineteenth century United States, music institutions, music and American immigration, musicians' education, music in cities, and music historiography. Prof. Ahlquist was a founding editor of the journal Women and Music, which was established at GW. She has mentored students (at GW and elsewhere) who now hold faculty positions in the United States and abroad and curated prizewinning articles as editor of the Journal of the Society for American Music. Her publications include letters on voting rights and the Library of Congress, both in the Washington Post.


Current Research

  • "Balance of Power: Music as Art and Social Class in the Gilded Age." In Rethinking American Music. Ed. Tara Browner and Thomas Riis: Under contract with the University of Illinois Press.
  • "Opera in New York, 1819-1910: A Multiplicity of Canons." In The Oxford Handbook of the Operatic Canon. Ed. William Weber and Cormac Newark: Oxford University Press, in preparation.
  • "'Thy Chords as Friendly Flags Unfurled': Underscoring the Nation at the Philadelphia Centennial Exposition of 1876.": Article in preparation.



  • Society for American Music Irving Lowens Article Award
  • American Musicological Society Ruth Solie Award (co-winner)
  • GW Service Excellence Award
  • U. S. State Department grant for attendance at the International Congress of the Gesellschaft für Musikforschung, Weimar
  • GW (Columbian College) Robert W. Kenney Award for Innovation in Undergraduate Teaching
  • Grant for language study, German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD)
  • National Endowment for the Humanities Summer Stipend
  • Horace H. Rackham Distinguished Dissertation Award, University of Michigan



  • "Washington, DC." Grove Dictionary of American Music, 2nd ed. Oxford University Press, 2013. With Kip Lornell
  • "Performances to 'Permanence': Orchestra-building in Late 19th-Century Cincinnati." In American Orchestras in the Nineteenth Century. Ed. John Spitzer. University of Chicago Press, 2012. Co-winner, Ruth Solie Award, American Musicological Society, 2013.
  • "'Thou shalt learn these things": American Musicians' Education and Dual Consciousness in the Early 20th Century." In Musik und kultureller Identitaet. Ed. Detlef Altenburg. Kassel: Baerenreiter, 2012.
  • "Musical Assimilation and 'the German Element' at the Cincinnati Sängerfest, 1879." The Musical Quarterly 94, no. 3 (fall 2011). Winner, Irving Lowens Article Award, Society for American Music, 2013.
  • "Playing for the Big Time: Musicians, Concerts, and Reputation-Building in Cincinnati, 1872-82." Journal of the Gilded Age and the Progressive Era 9 (2010): 26-48.
  • “A Matter of Faith: Intellectual History, Institutional Governance, and Musicians’ Education in the Early 20th Century USA.” In Music’s Intellectual History: Founders, Followers and Fads. New York: Répertoire international de littérature musicale (RILM), 2009.
  • “Men and Women of the Chorus: Music, Governance, and Opportunity in 19th-century Germany.” In Chorus and Community, ed. Karen Ahlquist. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2006.
  • “Masculinity and Legitimacy on the English Musical Stage: The Mature Male, 1800-45.” Women and Music 8 (2004): 1-22.
  • “Mrs. Potiphar at the Opera: Satire, Idealism, and Cultural Authority in Post-Civil War New York.” Music and Culture in America, 1861-1918. Ed. Michael Saffle. New York: Garland, 1998.
  • Democracy at the Opera: Music, Theater, and Culture in New York City, 1815-60. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1997. Named a Choice Outstanding Academic Book for 1998.



AB in Music, Mount Holyoke College
MM in Conducting, The Juilliard School
MA in Music Theory, University of Conneticut
PhD in Musicology, University of Michigan


Professional Organizations

  • Society for American Music
  • American Musicological Society
  • College Music Society
  • American Historical Association