was born in Světlá nad Sázavou in Czechoslovakia on January 17, 1917. He 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. At an early age he developed the ability to sight-read orchestral scores
and at the age of 19 he 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 leading and most frequently performed
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, Sir Andrew Davis, Sir Adrian Boult, Sir Charles Mackerras, William Steinberg
and many prominent Canadian conductors. Many internationally acclaimed soloists
have performed and recorded his compositions including cellist Yo-Yo Ma,
violinist Itzhak Perlman, pianists Glenn Gould, Rudolf Firkušný and Anton
Kuerti, Metropolitan Opera singers Jon Vickers, Maureen Forrester, Victor Braun,
Louis Quilico, Judith Forst and Ben Heppner, and many principal wind players of
the best orchestras in the U.S.A. and Canada who have commissioned and premičred
His style absorbs, in his own distinctly personal way, several trends
of the 20th century. However he was never attached to serial music or the latest
avant-garde styles such as chance or electronic music. Musicologists and critics
usually stress the melodic and rhythmic vitality of his music, sincerity and
depth of expression, his sense for building up powerful, dramatic climaxes, and
his unusually 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
Among his most highly regarded works are his Piano Concerto and
Sinfonietta for Winds and Percussion both premičred by Mehta. His
Memorial to Martin Luther King was broadcast by radio stations in 24
countries in 1979 in honour of King's 50th birthday, and by nearly 250 stations
in the USA in 1987 in a special performance by Kurt Masur and the Cleveland
Orchestra. This composition as well as his From the Diary of Anne Frank,
which conductor Karel Ancerl described after its Carnegie Hall premičre as "one
of the most moving compositions he had conducted during the last two decades", have
both been performed on four continents.
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 Critics' 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 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. In 1987, Morawetz
was the first composer in Canada to receive 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
for his "outstanding achievements and service". 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,
Sony Classical, the Canadian Music Centre
and the CBC. In 1984 the Canadian
Broadcasting Corporation issued an anthology of Morawetz's music on seven
records. In 2002 the Canadian Music Centre, produced Canadian Composers
Portraits, a documentary and music CD set on the pioneering composers to
Morawetz began teaching at the Royal Conservatory of Music in 1946, and in
1952 was appointed to the University of Toronto where he was professor of
composition until his retirement in 1982.
This Ph.D. disseration is a thorough examination of the life of Oskar Morawetz, and the
influences on his composing style in context of
the musical and political climate both in Czechoslovakia and in Canada during his domicile in each of those countries.
The thesis is extraordinarily well-researched and well-presented. This web site is used as a reference,
but the dissertation contains material far beyond the scope of this web site, including material from the
National Library and Archives in Ottawa, a Czech video, personal interviews and other scholarly sources.
On January 17, 2017, Oskar Morawetz would have celebrated his 100th birthday. In honour of his centenary, nine Canadian
orchestras performed his concertos and orchestral works in 2017, and his music was heard in numerous chamber music concerts.
On January 23rd, his daughter Claudia hosted a multi-media concert relating the story of Morawetz' life as a person
and musician through photos, audio, and video. The story line was supported by selected chamber compositions of Morawetz,
performed by musicians from the University of Toronto's Faculty of Music.
The concert was recorded by CBC and later broadcast on In Concert.
This concert was repeated on March 3rd with musicians from the UBC School of Music. The following video of the narrative
from this concert encapsulates the Life and Music of Oskar Morawetz in a 25-minute exposé.
The Life and Music of Oskar Morawetz with photos, audio and video clips.