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By the way ...

with Richard Graves

6. What's in a Name - or Neyme?

I am sure I am not alone in still treasuring some old 78's of songs by Fauré, Duparc, Debussy and Ravel recorded years ago by the incomparable Maggie Teyte. Though her repertoire was extensive, it is for her singing of the great French chansons that she is best remembered. She studied and spent a good deal of her life in Paris, meeting many of the top composers of the time, perfecting her use of the language and letting French music become part of her life. A lot of British and American admirers felt instinctively that she must indeed be French, although she was in fact born in the heart of England's black country in Wolverhampton. Her real name was Tate, and when she later changed it some folk criticised her for what was assumed to be a trendy attempt to sound Continental. As Teyte is in fact no more a French name than Tate, this was a ridiculous accusation - apart from the fact that anyone trying to Frenchify herself would hardly retain 'Maggie' as a first name.

The real reason for her name-change is revealed in her autobiography Star on the Door (Putnam 1958). While she was working in Paris she became embarrassed by repeatedly being referred to as 'Mademoiselle Tatt' and so decided to adopt an alternative spelling that the French might be able to pronounce correctly. But as we all know, you can never completely win. It was English speakers in other countries who now became mystified - to the extent that an anonymous versifier once sent her the following:


Tell us, ere it be too late,
Art thou known as Maggie Teyte?
Or, per contra, art though hight,
As we figure, Maggie Teyte?

And that is not the only slight confusion concerning this great singer. She herself chronicled that she was discovered as a very young girl immediately after making her first public appearance. This, she declares, was at a little Catholic Church in London's Maiden Lane where she sang Tosti's famous ballad Good-bye. As she returned to the vestry she encountered a very excited young man who declared that she must have formal training forthwith, and arranged for her to study in Paris with the great tenor Jean de Reszke. The enthusiastic and presumably wealthy gentleman in the vestry was, Maggie Teyte assures us, called Walter Rubens. He was the son of the popular composer Paul Rubens (1876-1917), writer of many successful musical comedies as well as the still popular ballad I Love the Moon. The Musical Herald for April 1907, however, tells a slightly different story, giving the credit to Paul Rubens himself. He, it is declared, went for a snack at a little coffee shop during a break in rehearsals. While enjoying his meat pie, he heard someone singing in the back parlour. This, he discovered, was the 14-year-old daughter of the proprietress - and the story goes on from there. so was it the father or the son? It doesn't really matter at all of course, because whoever it was enabled the talented soprano to study in Paris where she later was to meet Fauré, Debussy and Ravel. The opportunity to discover and help many gifted youngsters to develop their potential is surely one of the great privileges accessible to professional musicians. It is good to read historical confirmation that, contrary to traditional belief, they are not all rogues and vagabonds by any means.

Copyright © Richard Graves, May 27th 1999

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