Maurice Solway (1906-2001) was a violinist, music teacher, composer, author and actor who lived and worked for most of his life in Toronto. Although he was highly respected as a musician in Toronto, and thoroughly immersed in the city’s musical culture from the 1920s until the 1980s, his greatest fame came to him later in life, as an actor in the Academy Award nominated NFB short film “The Violin”.
Maurice Solway's family lived at 164 York Street, Toronto, where he was born, in 1906. His parents, Jakob (b.1877) and Roza Solway (b.1877), had only just emigrated that year from Halofzen, Russia, where Jakob had been a musician and band leader. In Canada, Jakob adopted his father's trade and worked as a Kosher butcher, in Toronto’s St. John’s Ward. As a youth, Maurice played the violin in variety programmes with his sister, Dora, accompanying him on piano. His father was his first teacher, but he quickly showed enough promise to warrant private lessons with Harry Adaskin, and later with Dr. Luigi von Kunits, at the Canadian Academy of Music. He also studied at the Hambourg Conservatory in Toronto with Henri Czaplinsky and Geza de Kresz, starting in 1921.
Solway began his professional career with the New Symphony, which later became the Toronto Symphony Orchestra (TSO). During the 1920s, he also played in the Famous Players Cinema orchestras that accompanied silent films, and performed lunch concerts in Toronto hotel and department store orchestras, professional venues that would disappear by the 1930s.
From 1926 to 1928, Solway left Canada to study in Brussels with the highly regarded violinist, Eugène Ysaÿe. There he befriended other students of Ysaÿe, such as Nathan Milstein, William Primrose, Viola Mitchell, Robert Velton, and Joseph Gingold.
Upon his return to Toronto, Solway gave several recitals that were both critically and publicly well-received. Few such opportunities, however, existed in Canada at the time, and Solway was obliged to find work in-between solo concerts. He also suffered an injury to his left hand while moving a piano in 1929 that required him to adjust his technique for three fingers and interfered with his being able to play comfortably for a number of years.
He was married in 1930 to Anne Cass (1907-1994), and they had a son, Stephen. Facing his financial obligations to his new family, he opted for the more dependable income of orchestral playing versus the riskier and transitory life of a soloist. Besides classical music, he played with jazz groups like the Jolly Bachelor’s Orchestra, Oscar Peterson, Jerome Kern, and Percy Faith, and on numerous recordings for the CBC, CFCA, and CKGW radio stations. He also played chamber music with the Joyce Trio, founded by Simeon Joyce (piano) and featuring Charles Mathe (cello).
In 1952, Solway retired from the TSO, dedicating himself to his chamber playing and radio work. He founded the Solway String Quartet (SSQ) in 1947, with Marcus Adeney (cello), Nathan Green (viola) and Jack Groob (violin). The quartet played a mixed repertoire that included standard classical music with more widely recognized popular songs and new compositions, especially works by Canadian composers such as Howard Cable, John Weinzweig and Jean Coulthard. Sponsored by the Ontario Board of Education and the CBC, the SSQ played rural Ontario towns and broadcast concerts for a wide demographic of music listeners. In 1955, they performed the Canadian debut of the Castelnuovo-Tedesco Quintet for guitar and strings with Andres Segovia. The SSQ, with frequent changes in personnel, continued performing until 1968. Other players in the SSQ included Robert Warburton, Martin Chenhall, Murray Adaskin, Arthur Milligan, Charles Dobias, Eugene Hudson, Berul Sugerman, Joseph Pach and Ivan Romanoff.
In 1973, Solway was invited to act in a short children’s film “The Violin,” co-produced by George Pastic and Andrew Walsh. Solway also contributed the original music to the film, which was nominated for an Academy Award in 1975. Following the success of the film, Solway also appeared on television, making guest appearances with Sharon, Lois and Bram, on the Elephant Show and Mr. Dressup. During this time, his wife Anne traveled with him and managed his appointments.
Solway was also a violin teacher throughout his career. In 1989, he published a preparatory book, Fiddling for Fun: the Visual and Aural Art of Violin Playing, in which he outlined a new theory for violin practice that proposed an easy to use visual system for familiarizing students with intervals and fingerboard positions.
He also wrote an autobiography, Recollections of a Violinist, in 1984, and continued to lecture and speak about music. In 1981 and 1983 he devised a lecture performance series to commemorate Ysaÿe, the proceeds of which went to the establishment of a music scholarship at the Royal Conservatory. As he began to play less frequently in the 1980s, he also began to compose more regularly, completing more than one hundred compositions, primarily works for solo violin and for violin and piano. As a composer, he returned frequently to folk themes and completed a series of songs based on his travels around the world. Among his folk themes are songs inspired by his visits to such diverse countries as Norway, Maui, Japan, Israel and Spain.
Maurice Solway was affiliated with the Beth Tzedec Synagogue and frequently contributed to charity concerts and fundraising efforts for organizations such as the Inner City Angels, a cultural society for disadvantaged children. He died in 2001 in Toronto.
Scope and Content
The Solway fonds is arranged into twelve files. The documents relate to Solway's professional activities as a musician, educator, composer, actor and author. These include printed texts, photographs, original music scores, promotional materials, programmes, audio cassettes, articles, correspondence, radioscripts and a video.
Includes 31 photographs, 2 v. of text, 1 videocassette (VHS) and 17 audio cassettes.
1 videocassette (ca. 25 min.) : duplicate, col. VHS and other material
"The Violin" was a short film by Andrew Welsh and George Pastic, released in 1974, and featuring Maurice Solway as the old man. The producers approached Maurice Solway about being in their film while making initial casting inquiries among Solway's students in regard to the children’s roles in the film. Eventually, they persuaded Solway to star in the film, shot on Ward Island, Toronto, in 1972 and 1973. Solway also wrote the original music and became the film's principle promoter, speaking in schools and at screenings of the film. The film promotes peace and understanding through the power of music and the exchange of knowledge and friendship between the old and the young. In 1975 it was nominated for an Academy Award. The spin-off book was published in 1976. Solway, with the managerial assistance of his wife, Anne, took on the role of promoting the film and saw it as his crowning achievement, the expression of what he wanted to be remembered for, after a career in music and education. The film was made for $25,000 and eventually grossed over $700,000. It was broadcast frequently on CBC in Canada, and CBS in the United States. It was even given a special screening for the 1976 Olympic Games in Montreal.
Scope and Content
This file includes a VHS copy of the original short video of "The Violin" , the accompanying book, correspondence, and promotional materials related to Maurice Solway's speaking tours in promotion of the film. These materials include a picture postcard and numerous posters and programmes for specific speaking and performance engagements associated with the release and screenings of the film. Also included are two hand-coloured children's illustrations of violins with accompanying letters to Solway, from children who had seen the film and wrote to express their appreciation. "The violin: a children's story" (McGraw-Hill: 1976) also uses stills from the film. The text was written by Robert Thomas Allen, from the story by Pastic and Welsh. Solway's score for the film is reproduced in the back of the children's book.
Includes 1 videocassette (VHS), 1 v. of text, 1 folder of textual records, and 3 graphic images (2 illustrations, 1 picture postcard).