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Oskar Morawetz

MORAWETZ, OSKAR (1917– ), Canadian composer. Morawetz was born in Svetla nad Sazavou, Czech Republic. Having studied piano and music theory in Prague and Vienna, he applied to enter Canada after the Nazis entered the Sudetenland (1938). Finally admitted in 1940, he continued music studies at the University of Toronto (D.Mus., 1953), where he taught theory and composition (1946–82).

A conservative throughout his career, Morawetz early gained attention for such expatriate works of Czech nationalism as Carnival Overture (1945) and Overture to a Fairy Tale (1957). Known especially as a symphonic composer, Morawetz had works performed on every continent by more than a hundred orchestras. Also representative of his output are Fantasy on a Hebrew Theme for piano (1951), his choral setting of Who Has Allowed Us to Suffer? with words by Anne Frank (1970), and his arrangement for voice of Psalm 22 (1979) whose words, "My God, why have you forsaken me?" Morawetz employed to comment on the Holocaust. Notable too are the orchestral Passacaglia on a Bach Chorale for John F. Kennedy (1964) and Memorial to Martin Luther King, Jr. for cello and orchestra (1968, commissioned by Mstislav Rostropovich).

The Canadian Performing Rights Commission honored Morawetz for two student works: String Quartet no. 1 (1945) and Sonata Tragica (1946). The Segal Fund of Montreal provided a special award for the orchestral work From the Diary of Anne Frank – which focuses on Anne's fear for the survival of her former friend Lies – citing it as "the most important contribution to Jewish music" (1971). Morawetz's Concerto for Harp and Orchestra won a Juno award as best Canadian classical composition (1989). The Canada Council awarded Senior Fellowships (1960, 1967, 1974) for his contributions to Canadian music. Morawetz was the first composer to receive the Order of Ontario (1987) and became a Member of the Order of Canada in 1988.

Sources: Encyclopaedia Judaica. © 2007 The Gale Group. All Rights Reserved.