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Professor


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 Former 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 paper.

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.

 

Politics

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 these days?
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."

 

Ancillary lectures


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 in 1981.


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.