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Family Writings


Morawetz always had a great sense of humour. As a young boy he invented an endless stream of pranks to play on people. As he got older, he always loved delivering a good joke, inventing elaborate details around a story, and looking one in the eye with a significant pause before throwing the punch line. Below are various humorous stories about or authored by Morawetz.


The letter from Sweden

In 1937, the Morawetz brothers took a holiday to a resort in Sweden. On their arrival, they could not find a hotel near the lake, and not speaking any Swedish, they were in a bit of a predicament. This did not deter Oskar Morawetz. He boldly went up to a Swede, and without saying a word, put his hand above his eyes and looked to the ground as if searching for something. Apparently his international communication was enough to make himself understood, and the man directed them to a suitable hotel.

One day while in Sweden, Oskar's two brothers decided to go for a long walk, but he decided to stay back and write a letter to his cousin Eva Stein. In his letter, Oskar told of exciting news! There was a big tennis tournament, and his brother John had reached the semi-finals. In this game, John was playing against a German. Whenever John scored a point, the German would bellow in a loud voice: Wotan wird dich bestrafen!, which means Wotan will punish you! (Wotan is the highest God in German mythology, and as Oskar was writing his letter right before the war, this was his way of ridiculing the Nazis). But John won the semi-finals!

Oskar described the elegant setting complete with the latest in technology. The grounds were surrounded by hedges that were all cut in shapes of the greatest tennis players. The tennis court was so advanced that they didn’t need any ball boys. Instead, after each play, big machines jumped to the middle of the court and cleared it of the balls.

Finally the day of the finals arrived, and it was attended by the Queen of Sweden herself. First they played the Swedish anthem, and when John came to the court, they played the Czech national anthem. Oskar continued to describe the grandiose setting that surrounded John for the big game. Then he ended the letter:
“I suppose you probably want to know who won the finals. Actually, nobody, because everything you read up until now is a complete invention!”

On their return to Světlá, Frida proudly showed the letter to various guests, and Oskar derived great pleasure from watching their faces. As they read the 7 pages with wide eyes and incredulous faces, they would exclaim: Incredible! Is that possible? They really had such machines? Finally when they reached the last page, their expressions would change to great disappointment and embarrassment that they had been duped and exclaim: Oh, my goodness!


Dominican Republic

Shortly before emigrating to Canada, Morawetz was in Santo Domingo for six weeks in 1940. At that time, there were very few males, particularly whites ones. So Morawetz always seemed to find himself surrounded by American women with the racial prejudices that were prevalent in those days. He did not take kindly to all this attention and tried to think of some way to get rid of them.

One day he said to his entourage of young ladies: "You know, it's a mystery in our family why I am white. My father is black, my mother is black, and all my brothers and sisters are black". To which the girls, taken aback asked: "Well, then, why are you white?" Morawetz, completely deadpan replied: "Actually, I'm an albino".


English as a new language

In December 1938, Morawetz was in Paris when the New York Philharmonic made the long, 10-day journey by boat to France to perform, with conductor Stokowski. The Duke and Duchess of Windsor were in attendance. At intermission, the backstage was so crowded that one could hardly move. Oskar pushed his way through the masses to a clearing where there were no people. Just as he was thinking that this was odd, flashlights suddenly began popping and as he turned around he bumped into the Duchess of Windsor.

Years later, at a party in Toronto, Morawetz’s mother urged him to tell her guests how he had “met” the Duchess of Windsor. As a newcomer to Canada, Morawetz’s English was still a little primitive, and he eagerly replied: “I not only met the Duchess, but also the Duck!”

Morawetz eventually mastered the English language, although it was always heavily accented. He recalls how once some unpleasant person commented about how he could have done a better job at mastering English, whereupon Morawetz, who could communicate in six languages (Czech, German, English, French, Spanish and Italian) replied: "It is better to speak six languages with an accent, than to speak just one the way you do!"


Bravery vis ŕ vis authority

After his arrival in Canada, Morawetz made it a habit to go for a walk each evening before bedtime. Today people walk, jog, run, and carry out all sorts of outdoor activity outdoor at all times of day, but in the 1940s it was unusual. On one of his evening walks, Morawetz was stopped by a policeman who demanded: "What are you doing?" to which Morawetz replied earnestly: "I am walking." The policeman noted Morawetz' accent and asked: "Are you German?" Morawetz, straight-faced, brazenly responded: "Only my mother is German. My father is Japanese."


Dating protocol

Shortly after arriving in Canada, Morawetz invited a young violinist, Peggy Moreland, on a date. Since Morawetz did not yet drive, the couple returned from their outing on a streetcar. As they approached the stop where they were to get off, Peggy said: “Aren’t you going to ring the bell?” – “You are sitting closer to the bell,” Morawetz replied, “why don’t you ring it?” Peggy explained that, in Canada, it was customary for men to perform such little services as a matter of courtesy, but Morawetz insisted that it was logical for the person closest to the bell to do the ringing. By the time they had finished arguing the point they had not only missed Peggy’s stop, but had arrived all the way at the streetcar terminal!



Morawetz became good friends with the pianist Rudolf Firkušný. Once they were walking together in the nearby city of Hamilton, and they passed by a "five and dime" thrift store. Morawetz said he would like to go inside and take a look around. Firkušný wondered why, stating that the store will have the same stock in Toronto, and why waste time looking around this one. Morawetz shrugged: "you never know," and went inside. Firkušný refused to join him and waited outside. When Morawetz emerged he asked: "well?", whereupon Morawetz replied that they have just the kind of paper he needs. Firkušný asked, "so, did you buy some?" upon which Morawetz sheepishly admitted he had no money!



Morawetz was never very business-minded and usually relied on his brother John for advice. When Morawetz purchased his house in 1958, John did the bargaining. Morawetz was moments away from becoming a home-owner, when John made one final stipulation: "Include the chandelier in the dining room, and we have a deal". When the woman who owned the house objected that she would have to raise the price a few hundred dollars, John insisted: "No chandelier, no deal". Morawetz practically fainted on the spot, but John's demand won Morawetz the house and the chandelier.

Morawetz wanted to buy his first car, but cars were hard to come by shortly after the war. He heard that an acquaintance of the family wanted to sell his car for $200, and so Morawetz asked John for advice on how to handle the situation. John suggested they look in the newspaper at similar cars for sale, and see what kind of prices are being asked. Finally John suggested to his brother that he offer their friend $180. "I can't do that", Morawetz objected, "I can't possibly bargain with someone I know". But John assured him that he was not bargaining, but making him an offer. So Morawetz boldly called the acquaintance and made his offer. "Done!" was the reply without a moment's hesitation. To which Morawetz replied: "Oh, just a second, I'll have to think it over!"


Making Alterations

One diversion Morawetz enjoyed was to take a printed article, magazine cover or some other published item and alter it slightly to provide a humorous take on a current situation in his life. For example, one year the appointment of a new dean of the Faculty of Music in Toronto coincided with the election of a new U.S. president and the cover of Time magazine had a suitably stately headline above the picture of the new president. Morawetz replaced the photo with one of the new dean, and presented it to him, presumably to express his approval of the new Faculty head.


Musical Jokes

One of Morawetz' favourite pastimes was to invent musical quizzes, or collect musical tidbits from unexpected places. For many years he maintained a collection of musical excerpts printed in unusual places such as on a paper napkin, a piece of wrapping paper or a greeting card. His depth of knowledge of the music literature could have kept panellists at the Saturday Met Opera Quizzes occupied for years.

He suggested some questions for his sister Sonja to send to the panel of Saturday Afternoon at the Met. She did, but none of them were ever used. Possibly they were too difficult! Here are the questions (with links to their answers):

In operatic music, we often find a dramatic climax underscored by the introduction of a new instrument or group of instruments (e.g. the use of brass instruments in Don Giovanni when the statue comes to life).  Some composers, however, have created dramatic effects by temporarily silencing one or more sections of the orchestra.  The following omissions occurs in three familiar 19th century operas:

  1. The entire string section of the orchestra remains silent for seven consecutive minutes of the performance.  (as a matter of fact, with the exception of 6 bars where the cellos are heard, the strings do not play for a total of 12 minutes).

  2. After having been used throughout the opera, the heavy brass instruments (i.e. trumpets, trombones and tuba) can leave the orchestra pit more than 8 minutes before the final curtain.

  3. Seven and a half consecutive bars are played exclusively by percussion instruments.

Can the experts name the operas and identify the scenes where these unusual omissions occur?


When Morawetz' daughter, Claudia, was the editor of the Toronto Region newsletter for Cammac (1995-1998), Morawetz used to help her out by supplying the Musical Quiz section of the newsletter. Here are some of the questions Morawetz invented, and the answers that he supplied (click on the question to view the answer):

  1. Can you name four composers who wrote exactly nine symphonies?
  2. Can you name at least three composers who wrote ten or more symphonies?
  3. Name as many composers as you can who never married? How about who married more than once?
  4. Name composers who had immediate family members (parents, children, spouse, sibling) who were also musicians.
  5. How many relationships can you name where a marriage linked two composers together somehow as in-laws?
  6. There are over 100 operas that have been written whose libretto is based on a Shakespeare play. Can you name some of the more well-known Shakespearean operas?
  7. People ask composers: how can you think of new melodies to write? There is so much music written, how is it possible that all combinations of notes have not already been used? This may or may not be so, but even the same combination of notes can be disguised to sound like completely different melodies because of the tempo, the rhythm, and the harmony accompanying the melody.

    How many pieces of music can you think of that begin with the same melody (in any key, with any rhythm) as the notes below: Morawetz came up with nine. (Click on the question to view the answers.)


In 1985, Morawetz presented the CBC network with a birthday card (below, left). In it he proclaimed that J.S. Bach knew that the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation would be formed more than 200 years before its existence, because the composer had written a fugue in its honour!

Morawetz also invented words to accompany the fugue:

C.B.C. AM, C.B.C. FM,
C.B.C. brings music to your home!


University stories

Morawetz often entertained his family with anecdotes he brought home from the music faculty at the University of Toronto, where he taught for almost 40 years. Here are some samples:

Professor Godfrey Ridout taught History of Music at the Royal Conservatory of Music. It was always interesting, and sometimes humorous, to see what students would come up with in the essays they submitted. For one essay, Professor Ridout asked the students to write about the "Music and Life of J.S.Bach". An excerpt from one of the student's essays went like this: "Bach was a very prolific composer. He wrote many passions. He took his passions very seriously. He had 20 children."

In the early days of the music school at the University of Toronto, the faculty was quite small. Consequently, performance students could find themselves being examined by professors whose main instrument was not the same as their own. Once, an accomplished harpist gave her student recital to an examining board of professors, none of which included a harpist. One of the examiners was a pianist, and although he concurred that her recital was superb, he docked marks, noting on her report that she used too much pedal!

Morawetz was always flabbergasted that young performers who auditioned to join the faculty could play so beautifully, and yet know so little about music. Part of the audition included questions which would determine a musician's knowledge of music. After one prospective student finished playing a Beethoven sonata, he was asked if he knew how many symphonies Beethoven had written. The response was: yes, three: the Eroica, the Pastorale, and the Ninth!


Absent-minded professor

In a CBC Fresh Air interview, Morawetz was asked if he is truly an "absent-minded" professor, as so many of his students reported. His response was an exemplary admission of his absent-mindedness.

March 6, 1994. Morawetz admits to a truly absent-minded act.