Morawetz in Edward Johnson Building, Faculty of Music,
University of Toronto, 1971
Photo: Ted Grout
Morawetz began his teaching career in 1946 at the Royal Conservatory of Music,
and joined the University of Toronto's faculty of music as professor in 1952
where he taught until his retirement in 1982.
Morawetz was the perfect picture
of an absent-minded professor. He could be completely oblivious that he was
teaching a class with his shirt untucked, or that he had forgotten to comb his
hair that morning. However this made him all the more endearing to his students
who regarded Morawetz as one of the more inspiring faculty members.
His wealth of knowledge of the standard music repertoire enabled him to demonstrate
any musical concept by pulling relevant examples from works of the great
composers. In 1982 he was senior adjudicator at the Okanagan Music Festival for
Composers. At a master class he presented to the participants, one of the
student composers asked: “How can there be any new melodies left to write? With
only 12 tones in a scale, every combination of notes must have already been used
up”. Morawetz' answer was that by changing the rhythms, the harmonies, the
tempo, the same combination of notes can create a totally different melody. To
demonstrate his point, he sat at the piano and improvised a version of O
Canada with completely different rhythms and harmonies, and
no-one recognized what he was playing. Another time, he invented a musical quiz
whereby the challenge was to find as many compositions as possible that began
with the same four notes.
Click here to read the quiz.
To his composition students, Morawetz provided encouragement to persevere
even if their first attempts seemed trite. As he relates in the April
1974 issue of Canadian Composer:
The greatest misconception that people have about composers is they think the great geniuses were just
born and wrote great music. It's not true! I wish somebody had told me this when I was younger, I could have
gone ahead much sooner. I was too critical to know that no matter how much you have inside you'll never get
anywhere unless you work, work, work, work! I tell this to my students, and I play them Beethoven's
rejected sketches for the 5th Symphony or works of Schoenberg or Berg written at the age of 20, 21,
the same age as my students. This Schoenberg piece, for example, sounds like second-rate Schubert. It's
very encouraging for a young person to
feel that these composers whom you think are gods have not always been gods.
He could transform an ordinarily dull harmony lesson on a certain chord
progression into a stimulating exposition of its use in the works of the
masters. Yet, when a student once protested that he was faithfully following the
rules of harmony in his last exam, Morawetz replied: "Exams are written by
people who have never composed." He then played a few bars of Mozart to show
exactly how he broke rules too.
His musical memory was so extensive that he identified his students by the
music which they composed. When a former student whom Morawetz had not seen for
a few years asked if he remembered him, Morawetz baffled him by sitting at the
piano and playing a few bars from one of the student's compositions.
Jan. 12, 1992
student Gustav Ciamaga describes Morawetz' incredible musical memory to host
Richard Paul on CBC's Two New Hours.
Morawetz loved teaching and watching his students develop into fine
musicians. He also loved being around the youthful environment of the music
faculty, and continued to teach an occasional course at the university for a
couple of years after his retirement. Yet as much as he enjoyed the actual
teaching, he disliked the politics of examinations and grading. When one student
whom Morawetz had given a mark of 82% came to complain that he had written a
better exam than his comrade who had obtained the same mark, Morawetz asked the
student what mark he thought he deserved. The student appealed for 83% whereupon
Morawetz, who found a music exam much too subjective to be marked using a
percentage scale, acceded to his request without so much as looking at the exam
The entrance exams which potential music students had to undertake were
equally pedantic for Morawetz. Apart from the occasional brilliant applicant, it
was perplexing to him how a young person who wanted to make a career in music was so
ignorant of any music outside their own studies. After listening to flawless performances of difficult
audition pieces, Morawetz was baffled at the candidate's inability to sight-read
pieces beyond a rudimentary level, or to name any other composers beyond the few
whose pieces they had learned.
Inasmuch as Morawetz found small annoyances in his teaching pursuits, these
aggravations paled in comparison with the politics he was subjected to by some
of the administration and his more avant-garde peers at the faculty. He was
professor at a time when fellow composers were experimenting with chance or
electronic music. As the music he was composing was much more conservative, he
was viewed as "old-fashioned". Yet Morawetz was a stark defender of writing
music that is accessible to the public and has an emotional message, and of not
following the latest trends.
As a result of not falling in with the "contemporary" crowd, and perhaps
partly because of his European heritage, he was marginalized at the university,
and saw many of his North American colleagues advance to full professorship more
quickly than himself. Although he was a lecturer since 1946 and joined the
faculty of music as an assistant professor in 1952, it would be almost twenty
years later, and after many letters proclaiming his unfair treatment, that he was
finally promoted to full professor. He was never given graduate courses to
teach, and instead was relegated to teaching the menial first and second year
theory and harmony courses. He knew his craft and did these very well, but
nonetheless was hurt by the insult of this edict.
Nov. 24, 2012
Anton Kuerti relates an example of the injustice done to Morawetz as professor
at the University of Toronto on CBC's program This is My Music.
In spite of the political situation, Morawetz maintained his wit and sense of
humour around the faculty. His quick tongue may have deepened his troubles,
particularly as he talked a little too freely of his scorn for people who had
contempt for "old-fashioned" music. He loved to provoke those with whose
teaching methodologies he did not concur, and took particular delight in baiting
a particular music history professor who had a habit of glossing over four
centuries of Western music in favour of spending weeks teaching his students
some fine point of his musicological research. One such hallway conversation
unfolded in the following manner:
Morawetz: So, Professor, what are you teaching our young students
Professor: We are currently studying the music of Haydn.
Morawetz: [delighted that the students are at least learning about one
of the great composers] And have you begun to study the Creation Mass?
Professor: Oh, no, we are not studying Joseph Haydn. Oskar, did
you not know that he had a younger brother, Michael Haydn, who wrote
all sorts of orchestral and chamber music?
Equally exasperating to Morawetz were the committees on which he sat where it was
decided which students would be granted their degrees. In one of these meetings,
a heated debate ensued in which one professor insisted that a gifted voice
student should be denied her diploma because she had failed her harmony courses.
Morawetz was among those who objected arguing that this singer was already being
engaged by the Metropolitan Opera, and the University of Toronto would be a
laughing stock if they did not pass her. She did receive her degree, and went on
to a very successful career.
Composer Srul Irving Glick was a former student of Morawetz and later they
became good friends. "He's a good
composer and he writes good music, but he is also a very simple man, a very
direct man," Glick said of his past mentor. "He doesn't take into account the subtlety of
manipulation . . . He makes a lot of enemies. But you can't say enough about
him as a musician and a teacher."
Morawetz composing in Banff, 1978
Morawetz and students from the Banff composers' workshop, 1979
Although Toronto's faculty of music was Morawetz' primary teaching location,
he was often invited to teach or lecture at other venues. In 1978, the Banff
School of Fine Arts invited Morawetz to chair a new workshop program for young
composers. This innovative summer program admitted eight young composers to
participate in master classes taught by Morawetz and other well-known composers
such as Jean Coulthard, Malcolm Forsyth, Gilles Tremblay and Violet Archer. The students' impromptu compositions
were performed by resident student and professional performers, providing
immediate feedback on their compositions. The program was very successful, and
Morawetz taught in the composer's workshop two years in a row.
Below is an article about the program in its initial year:
Morawetz in front of "Anne Frank House" in Amsterdam, 1973
When Morawetz wrote his well-known 1970 composition,
From the Diary of Anne Frank,
he chose to set to music a passage from the diary
of the young girl in which she worries about her school friend, Lies. Anne
presumes that Lies has perished in a Nazi concentration camp, while she herself feels
guilt-ridden by her relative safety in hiding in an Amsterdam attic. Although it
took Morawetz more than twenty years after the war was over before he could
bring himself to read the diary, he was so moved by her selfless prayers for the
safety of other Jews that he had almost completed his composition before he
realized he would need permission to use the words from the published diary.
Thus began a long correspondence with Anne's father, Otto Frank, the sole
survivor of the eight that were in hiding in the attic.
Morawetz lecturing about the Anne Frank story, 1983
Morawetz eventually met Mr. Frank, as well as Mr. Kugler and the two
secretaries, Miep and Elly, who had helped to hide the Frank family in the attic
above Mr. Frank's Amsterdam spice business. In a 1976 trip to Israel for a Tel
Aviv performance of the Diary, Morawetz met Lies who had settled in
Jerusalem, and who told Morawetz she had seen Anne a few days before she died in
Bergen-Belsen concentration camp. Morawetz learned a lot of details about the
Anne Frank story from these visits. Mr. Frank showed him the original diary, as
well as pictures of Anne from before the war. Lies gave Morawetz an article she
had written after the war about her association with Anne. Miep told Morawetz
that she had gathered the scattered pages of Anne's diary after their arrest,
and had hidden them in a drawer until the end of the war in the hopes of
returning it to Anne. She said that she never read any part of the diary, and
confessed that if she had, she surely would have destroyed it as it would have
been dangerous to be in possession of such material during the war.
With so much background knowledge, Morawetz soon became somewhat of an
ambassador for the Anne Frank story, giving lectures about the people and about his
composition in pre-concert talks, or at Jewish venues. The audience were
particularly moved when Morawetz would present Mr. Kugler, who emigrated to
Toronto after the war, and with whom Morawetz visited regularly until his death
Morawetz speaking in Roy Thomson Hall, 1995
In 1995, Toronto's Roy Thomson Hall made a special exhibit of the Czech
composer Smetana. Many musicians and others from the Czech community were
involved in preparing for the event. Morawetz spoke about the composer in the
lobby of Roy Thomson Hall.
Whether Morawetz was lecturing music students, a music audience or just
telling a joke at a party, he enjoyed public speaking. He admitted that
speaking in front of a large crowd made him nervous. Yet he was always
well-prepared, and knew the art of delivering a story that kept his listeners
attentive to the very end.