Frederick Wilhelm Moritz, first bassoonist with the Los Angeles Philharmonic for 47 years who played for such noted conductors as Arturo Toscanini, Otto Klemperer, Serge Koussevitzky and Richard Strauss, has died. He was 96.
Moritz, who played for the Los Angeles orchestra from 1923 through 1970, died Thursday in his Los Angeles home, according to his son, Roland, a longtime flutist with the Philharmonic.
For his retirement concert Nov. 25, 1970, Moritz played the Mozart bassoon concerto, directed by then-Philharmonic conductor Zubin Mehta, whom he rated comparably with some of the legendary conductors of his youth.
Of Moritz’s finale, Times critic Albert Goldberg wrote: “His tone, his agility and his musicianship were as sturdily reliable as they ever were, and he made the concerto worth hearing quite apart from the sentiment of the occasion.”
Although classical music was his preference, Moritz occasionally performed in studio orchestras, notably for such films as the first talking picture, “The Jazz Singer,” and “Gone With the Wind.”
He was also a respected teacher, serving on the UCLA School of Music faculty from 1950 to 1970.
Born in the Bavarian village of Sulzthal, Germany, Moritz studied violin, viola and double bass as a child. He did not become involved with the double-reed instrument that was to be his life work until enrolling at the Coburg music school when he was 13.
“They persuaded me to take up the bassoon against my wishes,” he told The Times decades later. “They simply needed a bassoon player and they had a good point: There were too many violinists and not enough bassoon players.
“I learned fast,” he said in understatement, “and it turned out that I had a natural aptitude for the bassoon.”
He performed first with the Dresden Philharmonic and then at Dortmund, where he first played under the conductor who became his lifetime ideal, Arthur Nikisch.
During World War I, Moritz played with a regimental German army band in France and Russia. After discharge he auditioned for the Berlin Philharmonic.
“It was a risky thing to do,” he told The Times, “after all that band playing.”
But at age 22, Moritz became the first bassoonist for the Berlin Philharmonic, working for Nikisch.
“Nikisch made a lasting impression on me,” Moritz said. “I was lucky as a young man to come into contact with such greatness.”
Shortly after the conductor’s death, Moritz moved his young family to the United States in 1923 and was hired in New York to assume the first bassoon desk in the Los Angeles orchestra.
In Los Angeles, he studied piano with Karl Leimer and said of the teacher: “He taught me how to play music truthfully and naturally, not affectedly and all perfumed up. He was the organizer of my musical mind.”
The meticulous bassoonist made his own reeds from cane imported from France.
“If a player is not equipped with an adequately performing reed, he is bound to fall short or even fail in many aspects of his work,” Moritz told The Times in 1950. “A poor instrument may be made to sound well with a good reed, but the best instrument in the world may sound bad with a poor reed.”
In addition to his son, Moritz is survived by a daughter, Evamaria Lanning, four grandchildren and two great-grandchildren. His wife, Katherina, died in 1974.
Services are scheduled for 2 p.m. today in the chapel at the Hollywood Cemetery.
The family has asked that any memorial donations be made to the Los Angeles Philharmonic or to a charity of the donor’s choice.