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Family Writings


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.

New Parents

Claudia Louise Morawetz

Richard Norman Morawetz

Oskar and Ruth in Switzerland, 1961

In 1960, Morawetz was awarded a Senior Arts Fellowship which allowed him and his wife to travel throughout 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.

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.

Musical home

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 genre, 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
Jan. 1963

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. Morawetz 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!

Daily Routine

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 smile.

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.

Unharmonious marriage

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 home!

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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