Sunday, August 18, 2013

Maggie Teyte in 18th-Century Arias

Cover design by Henry Stahlhut
The great British-born soprano Maggie Teyte, née Margaret Tate (1888-1976) made her reputation as an interpreter of French art songs, especially those of Debussy, who actually coached her for the role of Mélisande in his opera Pelléas et Mélisande when she replaced its originator, Mary Garden.  As the vast majority of her discography is of music written after 1850, it is something of a surprise to hear her in music that is mostly from a century earlier, as in this rather rare album:

French Operatic Arias
1. Pergolesi: La Servante Maîtresse - Air de Zerbina
2. Monsigny: Rose et Colas - Le Sagesse est un trésor
3. Grétry: Zémire et Azor - Rose chérie
4. Dourlen: Les Oies de Frère Philippe - Je sais attacher des rubans
5. Monsigny: Le Déserteur - Adieu. chère Louise
6. Grétry: Le Tableau Parlant - Vous étiez, ce que vous n'êtes plus
Maggie Teyte, soprano, with orchestra conducted by Jean Paul Morel
Recorded September 21 and 23, 1946
RCA Victor set MO-1169, three ten-inch 78-rpm records
Link (FLAC files, 51.97 MB)
Link (MP3 files, 27.1 MB)

Actually, of course, Pergolesi wasn't French, but as the liner notes to this set make clear, his opera La Serva Padrona (which Teyte here sings an aria from, in French) was a big influence on French opera, and, by extension, on Mozart.

As I was working on this transfer, I found myself thinking of one of my earliest record-collecting influences, William P. (Bill) Brooks, who was a big fan of Maggie Teyte.  Mr. Brooks was a kindly old gentleman in his 70s when I first knew him (I was 11) with a little white mustache that reminded me of Arthur Fiedler; he himself had been collecting records since his teen years, and that was when Caruso was an active recording artist!  His house in the Virginia-Highlands neighborhood of Atlanta was crammed with records of all speeds and sizes, and he would invite me over and sell me 78s cheaply to encourage my own budding hobby.  Through records I got from him I discovered the genius of Koussevitzky, Albert Coates, Vaclav Talich, Schnabel, Gieseking, the Flonzaley Quartet and countless others; he even introduced me to the delights of Florence Foster Jenkins!

His musical tastes were idiosyncratic, to say the least.  He disliked Bach, my favorite composer, and I would rib him about this mercilessly, which he took with his usual good nature. On the other hand, he liked Handel, and preferred Haydn to Mozart.  His favorite composer was Berlioz, and he admired Mahler long before Mahler was fashionable; he had long owned the Bruno Walter 78 sets of "Das Lied von der Erde" and the Ninth Symphony.

Not one to sit around the house after his retirement, Mr. Brooks worked until the end of his life, manning the exit desk four hours per day at the library at Emory University, where I often would go and chat with him.  Mr. Brooks passed away in 1986, aged 86, when I was 23, and I feel privileged to have known him.  His birthday, I discovered through a Google search, was August 18, so I am putting this Maggie Teyte set up today in his honor.  Happy birthday, Bill Brooks, wherever you may be.
Bill Brooks at his library post, c. 1978
(talking to my little brother, Gregory)


  1. A lovely post and a wonderful story, Bryan. My adolescence was also blessed by a 'musical mentor' - and when a young person is first awakened to the joys of music it can make a life-long difference to have someone say to you: "If you loved that piece, you should hear this next."

  2. Thanks for your beautiful story - and for this great album! Beautiful voice.