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Teyte, Maggie: A Vocal Portrait


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GREAT SINGERS: Maggie Teyte (1888-1976)

A Vocal Portrait

The significance of recording played a considerable part in reviving the career of Maggie Teyte in the mid-1930s. Following her divorce from her second husband, the American Sherwin Cottingham, in 1931, she attempted to revive her career that had been largely dormant during the previous decade. Unfortunately she seemed unable to find her proper course, landing up in music hall and variety which involved 24 performances a week at the Victoria Palace in London. She also appeared as Mrs Fitzherbert in an operetta By Appointment by Kennedy Russell that opened in the New Theatre in London on 11th October 1934. Two of the songs from the score appear in the present release. The success was short-lived and the production closed after a short run. Her future seemed uncertain.

Then in 1935, Joe Brogan, an Irish-American record collector and dealer in New York City, wrote to EMI suggesting an album of French songs by Maggie Teyte for inclusion in their newly-formed series of Society Editions. The producer Walter Legge was not convinced but his superior Fred Gaisberg was much taken with the project and even suggested the distinguished French pianist Alfred Cortot as her accompanist. Their historic collaboration was cemented in March 1936 with the recording of Debussy to be found in this set. Such was the artistic and commercial success of these recordings, with Brogan alone selling over a thousand sets, that Teyte’s career was reborn. The artist, however, always claimed never to have had a gramophone.

Born Margaret Tate on 17th April 1888 in Wolverhampton, Maggie Teyte was one of ten children from two marriages. Her half-brother, James William Tate, would become a composer who is now best remembered for his songs A Paradise for Two and A Bachelor Gay, which were included in Harold Fraser-Simson’s musical play The Maid of the Mountains in 1917. Tate died five years later, at the age of 46. His half-sister Margaret possessed an excellent memory and applied herself to music from an early age. After a short period of study at the Royal College of Music in London, she went to Paris in 1904 to work with the Polish tenor Jean de Reszke for two years, in time becoming his most successful pupil. She was a natural learner and quickly absorbed his teaching methods. It was also a particularly fortunate circumstance that she was able to work with Debussy, who was considered a most exacting taskmaster. Many years later Teyte would recall: "I studied the part of Mélisande with him every day over a period of five to six months. Whether my temperament or the colour of my voice had anything to do with it I do not know, but he never got angry with or corrected me, through all the lessons of Pelléas or his repertoire of songs".

Her concert début as Margaret Tate was in Monte Carlo, while she was still studying, in 1907, the year which also saw her first appearance on the stage as Tyreis in Offenbach’s Myriame et Daphne. Her Paris début was at the Théâtre National de l’Opéra-Comique on her nineteenth birthday in Hillmacher’s Circe. Three years later she came to London to sing with the Beecham Opera Company at His Majesty’s Theatre, appearing as Cherubino in Mozart’s Le nozze di Figaro followed by Blonde in the same composer’s Die Entführung aus dem Serail. Cherubino was also her début rôle at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, in the autumn of the same year.

Maggie Teyte made her first appearance in America in Chicago, again as Cherubino, in 1911. With the outbreak of the Great War she remained in the United States, and returning to Britain in 1919 she created the rôle of Lady Mary Carlisle in Messager’s operetta Monsieur Beaucaire at the Prince’s Theatre on 19th April. Following her second marriage in March 1921, she all but retired from the singing profession until 1930 when she gave a solitary performance as Mélisande in Debussy’s opera in addition to taking the title-rôle in Puccini’s Madama Butterfly. She would return to the Royal Opera House in 1936-37 both as Hansel and Gretel in Humperdinck’s opera, Euridice in Gluck’s Orphée and Butterfly. The years 1938-39 saw famous broadcast performances of Massenet’s Manon in English in addition to an ill-advised attempt as Eva in Wagner’s Die Meistersinger.

The outbreak of the Second World War saw Maggie Teyte remaining in Britain, enthusiastically throwing herself into war work in addition to much concert activity. It was a result of an invitation to visit the Unites States in 1946, however, through the efforts of Joe Brogan, that brought about an Indian summer in her career. She was then 58 and the American public and critics were astonished how remarkably untouched her voice was by time. It was during her second visit that she made an album of French and Italian arias for RCA with the conductor Jean Paul Morel, two of which are here included. Although by now most of her work was in the concert hall, she did reappear as Mélisande at the New York City Opera in 1948. Three years later she sang Belinda in the famous Mermaid Theatre’s production of Purcell’s Dido and Aeneas with Kirsten Flagstad in the title-rôle. Sadly, she was dropped for EMI’s commercial studio recording, but there survives an off-the-air recording with a ten-minute rehearsal sequence which was filmed by the BBC on 14th September 1951.

Teyte continued to perform in recital until a final Royal Festival Hall appearance in 1955. Created a Chevalier de la Légion d’Honneur by the French government in the 1950s, she was made a Dame of the British Empire in 1958. It was also during this year that her largely ghosted autobiography Star at the Door was published. She remained active well into her seventies, teaching (not entirely successfully, it has to be said), giving broadcast interviews and lectures. She still came over as a strong and feisty woman with independent views. She died in London on 26th May 1976.

Maggie Teyte’s recording career began in Paris in 1907 for The Gramophone Company, continuing in the United States from November 1913 until February for both Columbia and the Edison companies. Then she made selections from Monsieur Beaucaire in London, in April 1919, for the British Columbia label. There followed a thirteen-year gap until she undertook a series of sessions for the emerging Decca Recording Company, including the two delicious arias from Véronique and La Périchole to be found here. The next sessions, in October 1934 and March 1934, have been referred to already. An album of French songs, paid and made for The Gramophone Shop in July and August 1940, prompted EMI to sign her on 19th February 1941 on a one-year contract. This was renewed on an annual basis until 1948, her last recordings being made on 8th September that year. All her wartime recordings, which were produced by Walter Legge in EMI’s No. 3 Studios, were released in the top-price status: she was the only British-born artist to be so honoured.

Two years later in 1950 Teyte recorded a recital for the BBC which was published posthumously, a disc which also included an excerpt from her final broadcast as a singer on 25th November 1958. Thus ended a musical performing career which had lasted more than half a century.

Maggie Teyte’s voice was one of marked purity with perfect placement of tone, allied to considerable spontaneity of presence together with her strong and vivid intuitive skills as an interpreter and great care for diction, all of which contributed to her pre-emine
Disc: 1
King Arthur
1 Fairest Isle
2 Nymphs and Shepherds
3 Plaisir d'amour
4 Vous etiez ce que vous n'etes plus
5 Air de Zerbina
6 Il Le spectre de la rose
7 IV Absence
8 Oh! quand je dors
9 Les larmes
10 Chanson d'avril
11 Le Colibri
12 Tu n'es pas beau...Je t'adore brigand
13 Petite dinde, ah quel outrage / Ma foi! Pour venir
14 Phidyle
15 L'invitation au voyage
16 Clair de lune
17 Obstination
18 Apres un reve
19 Nell
20 Clair de lune
21 Psyche
22 L'heure exquise
23 Offrande
24 Si mes vers avaient des ailes
Disc: 2
Fetes galantes I
1 Clair de lune
2 En sourdine
3 Fantouches
4 Les ingenus
5 Le faune
6 Colloque sentimental
7 La flute de Pan
8 La chevelure
9 Le tombeau des Naiades
10 Aupres de cette grotte sombre
11 Crois mon conseil, chere Climene
12 Je tremble en voyant ton visage
13 Ballades des femmes de Paris
14 Il De greve
15 V Green
16 Beau soir
17 Romance
18 IV Le martin-pecheur
19 II Anne jouant de l'espinette
20 Asie
21 La flute enchantee
22 L'indifferent
23 Pleading
24 Now Sleeps the Crimson Petal
25 Night Hymn at Sea
26 White Roses
27 Deep in my heart dear
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