This week, I have decided to focus on French Art Song, or mélodie in French. Teyte, the spelling of whose name she changed from the original “Tate” to “Teyte” so that the French would not mispronounce it, was one of the foremost singers of French mélodie in the 20th century. We don’t have recordings from the beginning of her career in the early 1900s. The recordings that we have date from her late 40s. I will leave it to you to imagine what she would have sounded like as a young woman.

We’ll start with one of her most famous recordings, “Tu n’est pas beau” from Offenbach’s La Périchole.

Tu n’est pas beau
De la Périchole, Jacques Offenbach

Tu n’est pas beau, tu n’est pas riche,
Tu manques tout à fait d’esprit,
Tes gestes sont ceux d’un godiche,
D’un saltimbanque dont on rit.

Le talent c’est une autre affaire
Tu n’en as guère de talent
De ce qu’on doit avoir pour plaire
Tu n’as presque rien et pourtant.
Je t’adore, brigand, j’ai honte
À l’avouer, je t’adore
Et ne puis vivre sans t’adorer.

Je ne hais pas la bonne chère
On dinait chez ce viceroi
Tandis que toi, toi pauvre hère,
Je mourais de faim avec toi.

J’en avais chez lui de la joie,
J’en pouvais prendre tant et tant
J’avais du velours, de la soie,
De l’or, des bijoux. Et pourtant.
Je t’adore, brigand, j’ai honte
À l’avouer, je t’adore
Et ne puis vivre sans t’adorer.

You are not handsome
From La Périchole, by Jacques Offenbach

Your aren’t handsome, you aren’t rich,
You completely lack wit,
Your gestures are awkward,
Like those of an acrobat at whom one laughs.

Talent is another story
You have hardly any talent
Talent is necessary to please
You have almost nothing and yet.
I adore you, you thief, I am ashamed
To admit it, I adore you
And I can’t live without adoring you.

I don’t hate good food
I used to dine with this viceroy
Whereas you, you poor fawn,
I was dying of hunger with you.

I had joy with him,
I could take more and more
I had velvet, silk
Gold, jewels. And yet
I adore you, you thief, I am ashamed
To admit it, I adore you
And I can’t live without adoring you.

Le spectre de la rose
Théophile Gautier

Soulève ta paupière close
Qu’effleure un songe virginal;
Je suis le spectre d’une rose
Que tu portais hier au bal.
Tu me pris encore emperlée
Des pleurs d’argent de l’arrosoir,
Et parmi le fête étoilée
Tu me promenas tout le soir.

Ô toi, qui de ma mort fus cause,
Sans que tu puisses le chasser,
Toutes les nuits mon spectre rose
À ton chevet viendra danser.
Mais ne crains rien, je ne réclame
Ni messe ni De profundis;
Ce léger parfum est mon âme,
Et j’arrive du paradis.

Mon destin fut digne d’envie:
Et pour avoir un sort si beau,
Plus d’un aurait donné sa vie,
Car sur ton sein j’ai mon tombeau,
Et sur l’albâtre où je repose
Un poëte avec un baiser
Écrivit: Ci-gît une rose
Que tous les rois vont jalouser.

The Specter of the Rose

Open your closed eyelids,
Brushed by a virginal dream;
I am the spectre of a rose
That yesterday you wore at the ball.
You plucked me still sprinkled
With silvery tears of dew,
And amid the starry fête
You walked me around all evening long.

O you were the cause of my death,
You shall not be able to banish me:
Every night my rosy phantom
Will come to dance at your bedside.
But be not afraid – I require
Neither Mass nor De Profundis;
This light perfume is my soul,
And I come from Paradise.

My destiny was worthy of envy;
And for such a beautiful fate,
Many would have given their lives –
For my tomb is on your breast,
And on the alabaster where I lie,
A poet with a kiss
Wrote: Here lies a rose
Which all kings will envy.

Après un rêve
Paroles et Musique Gabriel Fauré

Dans un sommeil que charmait ton image
Je rêvais le bonheur, ardent mirage;
Tes yeux était plus doux, ta voix pure et sonore,
Tu rayonnais comme un ciel éclairé par l’aurore.

Tu m’appelais et je quittais la terre
Pour m’enfuir avec toi vers la lumière;
Les cieux pour nous, entr’ouvraient leurs nues,
Splendeurs inconnues, lueurs divines entrevues…

Hélas! Hélas, triste réveil des songes!
Je t’appelle, ô nuit, rends-moi tes mensonges;
Reviens, reviens radieuse,
Reviens, ô nuit mystérieuse!

After a dream
Words and music by Gabriel Fauré

In a sleep enchanted by your image
I dreamt of happiness, fiery mirage;
Your eyes were softer, your voice pure and ringing
You shone like a sky lit by the dawn.

You called d me, and I’d left the earth
To flee with you towards the light;
The heavens opened their clouds for us,
Unknown splendors, divine lights glimpsed …

Alas, alas, sad awakening from dreams!
I call to you, O night, give me back your illusions;
Return, return in radiance
Return, O mysterious night!

En sourdine, Fauré
Paul Verlaine 1869

Calmes dans le demi-jour
Que les branches hautes font,
Pénétrons bien notre amour
De ce silence profond.

Mêlons nos âmes, nos cœurs
Et nos sens extasiés,
Parmi les vagues langueurs
Des pins et des arbousiers.

Ferme tes yeux à demi,
Croise tes bras sur ton sein,
Et de ton cœur endormi
Chasse à jamais tout dessein.

Laissons-nous persuader
Au souffle berceur et doux
Qui vient, à tes pieds, rider
Les ondes des gazons roux.

Et quand, solennel, le soir
Des chênes noirs tombera
Voix de notre désespoir,
Le rossignol chantera.

Muted

 

Calm in the twilight
created by the high,
Let us permeate our love
In this deep silence.

Let us mingle our souls, our hearts
And our rapt senses,
Among the hazy indolence
Of shrubs and pine.

Half-close your eyes,
Cross your arms across your breast,
And from your heart fast asleep
Exile forever all purpose.

Let us both yield
To the gentle and lulling breeze
That comes to furrow at your feet
The waves of red grass.

And when, solemnly, evening
Falls from the black oaks,
Voice of our despair,
The nightingale will sing.

Dame Maggie Teyte
April 17, 1888 – May 26, 1976

Dame Maggie Teyte, original name Margaret Tate, was an English soprano who was considered one of the 20th century’s foremost interpreters of French art song (mélodies).

Teyte studied at the Royal College of Music in London as a child, and, in 1903, she moved to Paris to study voice with Jean de Reske. She made her concert debut in 1907 in Monte-Carlo. Her first great opportunity came in 1908, when Claude Debussy chose her to succeed Mary Garden as Mélisande in the original production of his Pélleas et Mélisande in Paris. She was an immediate success and was considered by many to the superior to Garden in the role. Debussy later performed with Teyte in a number of concerts in Paris. Among the opera companies with which she performed were the Chicago Opera Company, the Boston Opera Company, the Metropolitan Opera in New York City, the Opéra-Comnique in Paris, and Covent Garden in London.

Teyte married in 1921 and went into a period of semi-retirement. Upon the dissolution of her marriage in the early 30s, Teyte faced difficulties in resuming her career after the absence of about a decade.

The 1937 release of Teyte’s recording of a Debussy recital with Alfred Cortot at the piano brought her into international prominence as an interpreter of French mélodie. In 1940, this was followed by an album of French mélodie from Hector Berlioz to Debussy with both piano and orchestral accompaniment. Her last operatic appearance was as Belinda in Purcell’s Dido and Aeneas in 1951. Her last concert appearance was in London in 1955.