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First Lessons

Morawetz' elder brother, Herbert, was the first to begin music lessons. Morawetz pestered his parents to let him take lessons as well. One day when Morawetz was 6 years old, his mother called him and said: "Oskar, come upstairs. There is a lady here who will show you how to play the piano." He went upstairs, believing that learning to play the piano would be like learning a card game; the teacher would show him how to play, and then he would be able to play the piano. Thus began his piano lessons...

Following in the footsteps of his elder brother Herbert, he started piano lessons with Mrs. Ambroz, the wife of the forester at the summer residence in Světlá. It was soon clear which of the two brothers had the musical talent in the family. Morawetz quickly progressed in his lessons, until one day Herbert threatened: "if Oskar surpasses me in his piano grade, then I will quit". Soon after Herbert dropped his musical studies.

There is an amusing anecdote from the time of those early lessons. Their mother had bought a music dictionary and a book of piano duets, titled Frčre et Soeur. Morawetz declared he was going to look up "Hanon" in the music dictionary. His elder brother scoffed: "You won't find him because he never wrote any real music - only all those stupid exercises." Nevertheless Morawetz found Hanon in the dictionary. Morawetz then decided he would look up "Frčre et Soeur", at which point Herbert laughed: "Don't be ridiculous! That won't be in the dictionary" to which the young Morawetz replied: "That's what you said about Hanon!"


Friedrich Ehrbar piano

There were two pianos in the castle in Světlá. Morawetz enjoyed making music mostly in the Great Hall where he played on a grand piano dating from 1885-1890 from the Friedrich Ehrbar Company in Vienna. After the war, Morawetz' father arranged for the Canadian ambassador to visit Světlá and see if there was anything left in the castle. Almost everything was gone, except for this piano, which the ambassador decided to buy for the Canadian Embassy in Czechoslovakia. It still resides today in Hadovka, the Canadian Embassy Residence in Prague.

Apart from practising for his lessons, Morawetz loved to sight-read. He would read any piano music he could get his hands on. This habit frustrated his piano teachers who complained to his parents that he should be working on his technique and perfecting his assigned pieces, rather than wasting time reading through music that was too difficult for him. At annual student recitals, the teachers wanted to be able to boast how well their students could play through a piece perfectly by memory, and were unimpressed that Morawetz had played through a literature of a hundred pieces, and was unable to perfect just one.

In the early 20th century, recording technology was still quite primitive. However Morawetz was delighted when, for his birthday one year, his parents gave him a complete opera on record - or rather, about 30 records. Morawetz would wind up the gramophone, listen to the 3 minutes of music that fit on one side of the record and then rush to wind it up again as the gramophone wound down, and the music got slower and slower. Years later, with the advent of 33rpm records, and then reel-to-reel tapes, cassettes and CDs, Morawetz laughed at the determination he had to listen to music performances in such a frustrating manner.

The way to learn the music repertoire in those days was to play it. Morawetz was thrilled when, in addition to original piano music, he received piano reductions of operas and symphonies. Such editions are no longer printed, as accessibility to music on CD or attending live performances has increased. However, by being forced to play through a piece, Morawetz gained a familiarity with the composition that is hard to achieve through a few listening sessions. In this manner, he became familiar with a vast amount of the musical literature.

His hunger to learn more of the music repertoire lead him to score reading. He became so proficient at it, that he could look at a score and hear the music in his head. Reading scores to Morawetz was like reading a book to most people. He would often take a score to school and read it under the desk when the teacher was not looking.

In his later years, as professor and composer, Morawetz was a walking musical dictionary. One could play the first two or three notes of a theme from any piece and he could identify the composition. He himself turned it into a game, and began a collection of musical excerpts printed in unusual places: a perfume advertisement, a piece of wrapping paper, a greeting card,... His only criteria was that the music had to be "real" music, and not some artist's rendition of musical notation. Here are some samples from Morawetz' "musical scrapbook", clippings from various printed articles containing music which he could identify:

His brother Herbert remembers an incident when they were talking, and a radio started playing some music. Morawetz abruptly interrupted the conversation with "Shhh! I want to listen." After a few seconds of listening to the music, Herbert asked his brother if he had ever heard the music before, whereupon Morawetz replied: "No. But I read the score some 10 years ago."