Sunday, 13 April 2008

Plaisir d’amour ne dure qu’un moment

Maybe, but the song pointing this out has lasted well; it is a poem by Jean de Florian set to music by J P E Martini (né Schwarzendorf) around two hundred years ago. I have always loved it, and even hearing the dreary Joan Baez sing it in her twee style, missing out the centre section, or Elvis Presley turning it into something quite different, could not spoil it for me.

But when I wanted to get a recording of it I found that the choice was so huge that it took a very long time to choose one to share my life with. Brigitte Bardot, Elizabeth Scharzkopf, Jacques Brel, Richard Clayderman and hundreds of others have rendered it with varying degrees of distinction: iTunes alone offers 150 versions, so I sat down to try out the snippets which you can listen to for nothing.

Not all of them, of course. I felt I would not miss much by skipping the likes of Nana Mouskouri, Marianne Faithfull, Mary Hopkin (in Welsh), Mantovani, André Kostelanetz, the Schwenk-
Baum Virtuose Akkordeon and Charlotte Church, though out of curiosity I did dip into a few seconds of Ray Ventura. Also, I tried Ronnie Ronalde, and I have to say that if it's a whistled version you are after, then he's your man.

Finally, I did it by elimination, rejecting those not in good French (which sadly ruled out several pleasing ones such as Tauber's elegant but accented English version), and those with orchestral accompaniments (though Berlioz wrote one in 1859).

This left me with three, all different but each with something to recommend it: Tino Rossi, the second most famous son of Corsica, was more than a Latin lover and cabaret artist, being no mean hand at the art songs of Massenet and Reynaldo Hahn, and his 1955 version of Plaisir d'Amour with harpsichord accompaniment is smooth and seductive. The song is really for a man (the singer gives up everything for the ungrateful Sylvie), but my other two choices were both women. Yvonne Printemps sings it well in an utterly French manner but her recording was made in 1931 and is a bit scratchy with a poor tone. Maggie Teyte's recording is also scratchy but is beautifully sung and has Gerald Moore at the piano, so that was my final choice; it is well worth the 79p I paid.

From Wikipedia:

Maggie Teyte changed her name from Tate because when she was studying in Paris she found that the French invariably mispronounced it. She became a pupil of the celebrated tenor Jean de Reszke and later, to prepare for her role in Pelléas et Mélisande, was sent to study with Debussy himself, every day for six months. By reputation he was a terror and a martinet, but according to Teyte he rarely corrected her and in fact hardly spoke to her at all.

Despite her early singing successes, she did not easily establish herself in in France and moved to America, performing with the Chicago Opera Company and the Boston Opera Company from 1914-1917, singing in Philadelphia and elsewhere.. Returning to Britain in 1919, she went into semi-retirement until 1930, when she performed as Mélisande and played the title-rôle in Puccini’s Madama Butterfly. After an absence of nearly a decade she had difficulty in reviving her career and ended up performing music hall and variety (24 performances a week) at the Victoria Palace in London. Finally, in 1936, her recordings of Debussy songs accompanied by Alfred Cortot attracted attention, and recordings remained an important factor in her renewed fame, as she gained a reputation in England and the United States as the leading French art song interpreter of her time. She sang at the Royal Opera House in 1936-37 in Hansel und Gretel, as Eurydice in Gluck’s Orfeo ed Euridice, and as Butterfly, and appeared in operetta and musical comedy between the wars.

During World War II, Teyte sang in a series of concerts sponsored by the French Committee of National Liberation for which she received the Gold Cross of Lorraine for services to France. She made her first New York appearances in 1948, including a Town Hall recital followed by performances of Pelléas at the New York City Center Opera. She continued to record and perform in opera until 1951, making her final appearance in the part of Belinda (to Kirsten Flagstad’s Dido) in Purcell's Dido and Aeneas at the Mermaid Theatre in London. Her final concert appearance was at the Royal Festival Hall on April 22, 1956.

In 1958, she was made a Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire. Also in 1958, her autobiography Star at the Door was published. She died in London at the age of 88.

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