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:
TO MAGGIE TEYTE
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
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