Dr. Oskar Morawetz, born in Svetla nad Sazavou in Czechoslovakia January 17, 1917, studied piano and theory in Prague and, following the Nazi takeover of his country in 1938, studied in Vienna and Paris, always staying one step ahead of the invading Nazis. He developed at an early age an ability to sight-read orchestral scores and at 19 was recommended by George Szell for the assistant conductor’s post with the Prague Opera. In 1940, he left Europe for Canada and since that time, he has established himself as one of Canada's most frequently performed composers. His orchestral compositions have been programmed in North and South America, Europe, Australia and Asia by nearly 120 orchestras and by such outstanding conductors as Zubin Mehta, Seiji Ozawa, Rafael Kubelik, Kurt Masur, Gunther Herbig, Andrew Davis, Sir Adrian Boult, Sir Charles Mackerras, William Steinberg and many prominent Canadian conductors.
Morawetz taught music theory and composition from 1946 until his retirement in 1982 as professor emeritus at the University of Toronto. His pupils included Tomas Dusatko, Larysa Kuzmenko and Bruce Mather, among others.
Among his most highly regarded works are his Piano Concerto and Sinfonietta for Winds and Percussion both premiered by Mehta; his Memorial to Martin Luther King and From the Diary of Anne Frank have both been performed on four continents.
Morawetz's numerous chamber music compositions have been performed by pianists Glenn Gould, Rudolf Firkusny and Anton Kuerti, Metropolitan Opera singers Jon Vickers, Maureen Forrester, Victor Braun, Louis Quilico, Judith Forst, and by many principal wind players of the best orchestras in the U.S.A. and Canada who have commissioned and premiered his works.
His style absorbs, in his own distinctly personal way, several trends of the 20th century, but he was never attracted to serial music or the latest avant-garde styles as chance or electronic music. Musicologists and critics usually stress the melodic and rhythmic vitality of his music, sincerity of expression, his sense for building up powerful, dramatic climaxes, and his colourful and imaginative orchestration. Stylistically, he is a self-avowed traditionalist: "Ever since I was a child, music has meant for me something terribly emotional, and I still believe there has to be some kind of melodic line."
Morawetz has received numerous awards for his compositions. His String Quartet No. 1 and Sonata Tragica were both given a CAPAC award. His Concerto No.1 for Piano and Orchestra was the award winning composition in the nation-wide competition sponsored by the Montreal symphony (1962). His Sinfonietta for Winds and Percussion was chosen as the winning composition of Critic's Award at the International Competition for Contemporary Music in Cava dei Tirreni, Italy (1966). In 1971, From the Diary of Anne Frank received a special award from the J.I. Segal Fund for Jewish Culture in Canada in Montreal for "the most important contribution to Jewish culture and music in Canada." This composition also won a Juno Award for "Best Classical Composition" in 2001. His Concerto for Harp and Orchestra also won a Juno award in 1989.
On three occasions, Morawetz was awarded a Canada Council Senior Arts Fellowship (1960, 1967, 1974) for his contribution to Canadian music. Morawetz was the first composer in Canada to receive (in 1987) the "Order of Ontario" honouring citizens "who have demonstrated excellence and achievement of the highest degree and distinction", and in 1989, he received the "Order of Canada". SOCAN also honoured Morawetz in 1994 with the Jan V. Matejcek Concert Music Award, which recognizes a composer with "an unsurpassed number of performances of a vast variety of works executed by world renowned conductors and performers". In 1999, SOCAN once again honoured Morawetz with its highest honour, the Wm. Harold Moon Award for bringing international recognition to Canada through his work. Morawetz was also awarded an honorary diploma from the Royal Conservatory of Music (1998), and the Golden Jubilee Medal (2002).
A great number of his works have been recorded on disc by Columbia, RCA Victor, EMI, Centrediscs and the CBC. In 1984, the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation issued an anthology of his music on seven records. In 2002, Centrediscs featured Morawetz in its series Canadian Composers Portraits, a documentary and music CD set on the pioneering composers to Canadian music.
(He died in 2007.)
CAPAC, Canadian League of Composers
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Audio clips from Oskar Morawetz