Oskar and Ruth Morawetz
After a honeymoon drive to Niagara Falls, Oskar and Ruth settled into their new
Toronto Forest Hill home at 59 Duncannon Drive.
Here the two musicians set up house with space for family and professional life.
Morawetz had an office upstairs with a Heintzman piano and a large oak desk at
which he composed his music. A Steinway
grand resided in the living room and was used occasionally by Morawetz, but mostly by
his pianist wife, who had her own office in the basement.
Click here for more
details on the family home.
Claudia Louise Morawetz
Richard Norman Morawetz
In 1960, Morawetz
was awarded a Senior Arts Fellowship which allowed him and his wife to travel
Europe the following summer, attending concerts and making contacts with musicians. It was during
this trip while in Switzerland that their first child was conceived, and on May 2, 1962,
their daughter Claudia Louise, was born. A few days after her birth, she
developed severe jaundice because her parents' blood types were not compatible.
When she was only a few days old, she underwent a blood transfusion, which in
the early 1960s was a risky operation.
Oskar and Ruth in Switzerland, 1961
Because of their experiences with their first born, when Ruth was pregnant
with their second child, the doctor recommended inducing the baby early to avoid
the same blood incompatibility problems they had had with their daughter. The baby
was induced at 8 months, and on February 11, 1966, their second child was born, a son
Richard Norman. His given and middle names are the first names of each of
his two grandfathers. Unfortunately there were so many more complications with
this premature baby that the doctor declared that if the couple were to have a
third child, he would rather deal with the blood transfusion.
With two musicians living under one roof, the Morawetz home was a hub of
musical activity. Morawetz composed at the piano in his bedroom/office. His
daughter fell asleep countless times listening through the walls to the same two
or three bars being endlessly repeated as Morawetz "tested" a dynamic, a tempo,
or another musical marking. Morawetz' wife, Ruth, taught piano lessons for many
years, and the living room with its grand piano was off-limits during after-school hours.
In the evenings, Morawetz would often fill the living room
with the sound of his own compositions as he dubbed recordings on his high
quality stereo equipment, which he would then send to musicians who might
potentially perform his music. Other evenings, Ruth would close off the living
room for rehearsals with a singer, a violinist, or other musician with whom she
was preparing a recital.
Morawetz, violinist Isaac Stern (seated), and former TSO manager,
Walter Homburger, studying Discopaedia of the Violin: 1889-1971, by
sound archivist Jim Creighton (far left) in Morawetz home, 1976.
Photo: Paul J. Hoeffler
Countless musicians were invited to the Morawetz home over the years, either
on their own, or as part of some gathering. In the early years of their
marriage, Oskar and Ruth hosted after-concert receptions, often in honour of the
concert's invited guest musician. Occasionally full evening parties were
organized, complete with catered food. Many great musicians passed through their
home, such as pianists Glenn Gould and Anton Kuerti, cellists Yo Yo Ma and
Mstislav Rostropovich, violinist Isaac Stern,
singers Jan Rubes, Jon Vickers and Victor Braun, conductors Karel Ancerl and
Mario Bernardi, and
music educator Boris Berlin.
There was nothing but "classical" music played in the home, and when their
son Richard, decided in his teens that he had little interest in this music
he played his own music at a discreet volume in his bedroom with the door closed.
Even so, music was infused in the home, almost to the exclusion of other topics.
Dinner conversations, when they were not overwrought with tension and family
feuds which became more common in later years, often entailed discussions about
some musical event, or "office politics" which Morawetz brought home from the
faculty of music almost to the exclusion of the "normal" topics children would
generally be exposed to by their parents. Morawetz' daughter Claudia recalls her
new university friends disclosing to her later how they had been astounded by
her depth of knowledge of music, but how she had displayed such a lack of common
knowledge with her questions such as where is the Canadian shield?
Children and music
Morawetz with daughter, Claudia
Parents generally hope that their children will share their same interests,
and Morawetz was no exception. When his daughter Claudia was 3 years old, he
began her music education with music "cue cards". These were a collection of
small cardboard cards which Morawetz fashioned, each one having a letter written
on them representing one musical note. A bedtime activity would be for Morawetz
to ask her to arrange these cards in order to make a recognizable song, e.g.: C
C G G A A G,..etc.. When she was 6 years old, Morawetz taught her to sing the
intervals from the major scale, and evokes great pride on a recording he made
where he tested her on these intervals.
Click here to listen
to Morawetz and daughter Claudia.
Both his children took piano lessons for many years, although Richard did not
take a huge interest in his music education. In his early teens he gave up the
piano and tried the clarinet for a while. However even this did not hold his
attention for long, and he soon dropped music lessons altogether. Nonetheless,
simply by osmosis from living in a musical home, he demonstrated a musical
knowledge beyond that of someone his age.
Claudia with composer Gian Carlo Menotti, before
the CCOC premičre of his children's opera, Chip and His Dog, 1979.
Morawetz' daughter Claudia, on the other hand, was avidly interested in
music. At the age of 12 she joined the Canadian Children's Opera Chorus (CCOC) which
she continued for five years, performing in stage concerts, children's operas
and once as a street urchin in the COC's 1975 production of I Pagliacci. In
high school she took up the flute, and was later introduced to the joys of
ensemble playing through CAMMAC, an amateur music organization with which she is
still actively involved. Her piano lessons continued until she was 13, at which
point too many extra-curricular activities forced her to drop them. However,
with the wealth of piano music in the house, she started picking up score after
score, sight-reading music far beyond the level she had attained with formal
lessons. Gradually her sight-reading improved, to the point where she and
Morawetz could play piano duets together, and spent many evenings (after much
begging on her part) to read through another piano duet. It was at this time she
discovered she had perfect pitch with the piano.
Morawetz derived great pleasure from teaching his own progeny. Although he
taught university-level music students every day, he loved to boast how his own
daughter, often much to her embarrassment, could sight-read better, and knew
more about the music literature than his students twice her age. When Morawetz
bought tickets to the opera, he would spend weeks "preparing" her for the
production: explaining the story, playing the main themes of arias, and
listening to a recording of the opera where he would point out different colours
of the orchestra, or how a melody supports the words that are being sung.
When Claudia was in her late teens, Morawetz gave her recordings of all
Beethoven's nine symphonies, and taught her how to score-read using the Harcourt
Brace miniature scores with arrow signals which pointed out the main themes.
After much practice, she was able to follow the score of any music
she listened to. In her last year of university, she took the first year music
theory program as an elective to her computer science degree, which included
harmony and keyboard harmony, the latter which introduced her to reading
different clefs and the transposing scores with non-C instruments. This score reading ability,
along with her strong sight-reading skills made her an immeasurably stronger
chamber music accompanist, as she could read her own part while following the
solo parts, ensuring that the players stay together, and sometimes to the
annoyance of her fellow musicians, point out their wrong notes!
In university, Claudia volunteered to be the accompanist for rehearsals of a
student production of Camelot. She had never seen a piano reduction score
before, and was at first overwhelmed with the number of notes on the page, often
covering large parts of the keyboard so that one would need three or four hands
to play all the notes. In desperation, she brought the score home to show her
father and ask for help. Morawetz explained first of all that the small notes
were instrument cues, and can be played optionally. Secondly he reminded her that she was an accompanist, and
that a singer does not need to hear every note in order to be accompanied. "If
all you can play is the bass line, then just start with that," he counselled.
"If you can add the melody line, do that next, and then whenever you can, fill
in the rest of the harmonies." Thus she became adept at identifying the
harmonies while sight-reading, and soon learned to "fake". This new skill
launched a pastime in playing for musical theatre auditions and productions over
the following eight years.
March 29, 1992.
talks about his children's interest in music on CBC Fresh Air.
Children and play
Morawetz with son Richard, 1973
When Morawetz' children attained school-age, he derived great pleasure from
playing different games with them. One activity was carefully lining up
dominoes, forming paths that would split, criss-cross, or even drop from a
height and continue on the ground, and then watch them topple over one another
as the first domino in the path was knocked over. Morawetz also blissfully
relived a past-time from his childhood when his son acquired a mechano set,
allowing them to construct all sorts of edifices. After his son received his
first train set, a hobby was initiated that lasted several years of laying
tracks on a large plywood board, and building ever more complex miniature towns
around them. The houses were often built from paper models of miniature houses.
Morawetz loved building these intricate models, and once brought home a paper
miniature of Salisbury Cathedral from a trip to England. When his daughter was
crying uncontrollably once after stubbing her toe, Morawetz pulled out a paper
puppet theatre and proceeded to assemble it with her, reinforcing it with
cardboard so that it lasted many years.
One pursuit which Morawetz began when his children were born was to hold
periodic tape-recording sessions, where he would have conversations with his
children about school or some activity they were involved in, have them sing
songs or recite poems. This was initiated on Morawetz' first recording device, a
vacuum tube reel-to-reel tape recorder, which stood about three feet high on the
floor. As Morawetz had a huge collection of reel-to-reel tapes, mostly of
performances of his compositions, he had devised a numbering system for all of
his tapes. The "children's tape" was known as the "C55".
Morawetz with Claudia, 1964
Morawetz also delighted his young children with his magic tricks. Initially
these were not very sophisticated, but provided great amusement. For example, he
would throw a tea-towel in the air and make it disappear, until his children
discovered it sandwiched between his legs. Other tricks mystified his offspring,
and he later disclosed the secret of a good magician is distraction, using the
eyes or hands to divert the audience's attention away from the hoax. He used
this ploy when playing the card game Cheat where he would ask a question
or draw his children's eyes away from the table, and then promptly dump half a
deck of cards in place of his single allowable card on the pile.
Morawetz was a huge fan of Charlie Chaplin movies. When the nearby
Eglinton movie theatre played each of the comedian's silent films, one after
another over several years, Morawetz took one or the other of his children,
never missing a feature. His favourite was the classic Modern Times,
although he was touched by the plight of the blind girl in City Lights.
Notwithstanding the pleasure Morawetz derived from his children, he was
over-conscientious with regards to their safety. The children were constantly
being drilled: carry scissors pointing down, check the stove-top before climbing
on the counter, don't talk to or accept candy from strangers, chain the door
before opening the door to anyone,..etc.. Morawetz related all the freak
accidents he had heard or read about, and had an innate fear that some such
misfortune should befall one of his children. He was completely at odds with his
wife when it came to driving: whereas Ruth allowed her children to move about
freely in the wagon part of her Volvo, Morawetz was insisting on seatbelts long
before seatbelt laws came into effect. A middle ground between Ruth's habit of
inching into intersections before the light turned green, and Morawetz' practice of driving with
one foot each on the gas and the brake pedals may have been more reasonable!
Every weekday, Morawetz followed the same basic routine. He went to his
office at the university's faculty of music to teach his classes and do some
composing. He drove home around dinnertime, and usually timed it so that he sat
in his car in the driveway listening to the 6:00 news. During more peaceful
mealtimes, stories about each person's day would be shared. At one time,
Morawetz seemed to his children to know a never-ending number of jokes and
riddles, and was called upon to produce story after story. The jokes were not
often uproariously funny, but Morawetz had a real knack for story-telling,
embellishing it with all sorts of unnecessary details in order to
prolong the suspense. When he was about to reveal the punch line, he would
pause and look with a glint in his eye, relaying the ending with a triumphant
After supper, Morawetz made himself a hot cup of decaffeinated coffee, which
was generally too hot for him to drink right away, and so he carried it around
the house with him. Invariably he would take a few periodic sips, then become
absorbed in something, forgetting about his coffee until it was cold.
The kitchen and his bedroom/office regularly accumulated a collection of half-drunk cups of coffee.
Morawetz jumping in pool at Banff Springs Hotel, 1979
Three or four evenings a week, Morawetz would go for his evening swim at the
local indoor or outdoor pool, depending on the season. His habit was to do his
"500 strokes", which involved doing the breast stroke in a square pattern in the
deep end of the pool. Occasionally he brought his children with him. Morawetz
did not delay getting into the water: he held his nose and jumped. This
caused him a bit of surprise the first time he swam at the Upper Hot Springs in
Banff. Not realizing the natural sulphur water hovered around 100˚F, he had
quite a shock after his habitual method of entering the water!
After doing more composing, and before retiring for the night, Morawetz
watched CBC's 10:00 news followed by The National and in later years,
The Journal with Barbara Frum, whose piercing interview style he found both
fascinating and on occasion overbearing. This "obsession"' with the news was not
just a desire to remain informed about local and world events, but because he
empathized strongly with the human suffering and plight of any humankind less
fortunate than himself. Morawetz donated huge sums of money to various charities
throughout his lifetime, and was always receptive to any legitimate cause
requiring financial aid.
Shades of the "absent-minded professor" were also evident at home, such as in
the frequent, desperate morning search for his house or car keys. Once his
daughter invited a friend to their home who was astounded when in the middle of
a conversation with Morawetz, the latter stopped talking mid-sentence and headed
for his office, presumably intent on jotting down some musical inspiration. On
the other hand, Morawetz' mind was as sharp as ever, and he was never short of
witty or sarcastic come-backs when the moment called for them. Like his father,
he was quick to do arithmetic in his head. In the time before computerized
cash-registers came into existence, he took delight in announcing to the
astounded cashiers what the correct change should be.
Although Morawetz' family was Jewish, he was not brought up in a particularly
religious home, and did not put up much protest when his wife insisted that the
children be baptized in the United Church. Nonetheless, Morawetz maintained some
inner spirituality, which is evident in much of the music he composed. Although
he did not attend a weekly service at the synagogue, he did go to the temple
during Passover and on Yom Kippur. He also faithfully visited his father's grave
every year on the anniversary of his death. Although he clearly sustained some
religious beliefs, he never talked about them at home with his children, and
remained private about his religiosity.
Ruth and Oskar at home, 1972
When by the age of 40 Morawetz was still not married, his father concluded
that Morawetz was being too choosy. After meeting the young pianist, Ruth
Shipman, Morawetz' father pointed out that they had music in common, and she
seemed like a nice girl, and so with a little prompting, Morawetz proposed
marriage. Morawetz was initially turned down, but after reconsideration, Ruth
called late one evening to accept his proposal of marriage. Apparently when
Morawetz hung up and his father asked who it was who had called so late,
Morawetz was too embarrassed to admit the reason for the call, and fibbed that
Ruth had called about a bracelet she thought she had inadvertently left at his
Regrettably the couple’s shared
involvement in music was not sufficient to produce a harmonious marriage.
Morawetz had envisioned a more traditional wife who would care for the home and
support him in his profession, and was unprepared for Ruth's expectations of Morawetz as the modern, American "family
man". Their relationship
started to fall apart, and the tension in the home assumed unbearable
proportions. When the children became teenagers, the stress of their home
environment was so great that they developed health problems.
Eventually Morawetz and his wife started leading separate lives. Morawetz
cloistered himself more in his music, while his wife sought other companionship.
Finally in 1982 they separated, and two years later, twenty four years of
marriage ended in their divorce.
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