Michel-Maurice Lévy (1884 – 1965), ‘dit Bétove’.
Biographical information on Maurice Michel Lévy is not very easy to come by on the Internet. Photographs or images of him are rarer still, so it is with delight that we can give you the above recently-obtained drawing of him. Below you can listen to four of the sides he made for Odeon in 1926. Suffice it to say that our web-searches indicate he studied at the Paris Conservatoire, winning the much-coveted Prix de Rome, and wrote a number of formal – mostly liturgical? – compositions; but possibly the need to make a more secure living from music may have induced him to also write for the theatre and musical comedy. When doing so, he adopted the pseudonym ‘Bétove’ – which is, of course, the French for Beethoven. He made a number of recordings, probably beginning in 1926, and it is four of these with which this page is concerned.
This is the first Bétove disc we acquired. We have had it for perhaps twenty years, and love it. It is not an easy 78 to play; the groove requires a very exact stylus size: it is impossibly ‘swishy’ and fuzzy otherwise. And, being a British EMI pressing, it is rather noisy to boot. The Parlophone ‘DP-’ series was for export, though they were freely available within the UK – as long as you knew they existed! The date of this pressing is quite late, certainly after 1944, when the rational type face for catalogue numbers was adopted. Anyway, the purpose of this page is to let you hear the sides, not to go on about discographical obscurities. Maurice Chevalier (1888 – 1972) was another who imitated the sounds of languages ‘as heard’ by people who did not speak that language, so it is natural to wonder who did it first? Bétove or Chevalier? I believe it is a question of little importance: if we think about it, people will have been imitating the sounds of ‘foreign languages’ for many centuries? Just enjoy the satires – both gentle and severe! – that Michel-Maurice Lévy presents here!
Earlier in 2009, to our great delight, we found another Bétove 78. This was in the normal Parlophone R- series (as the above one doubtless also was), under the catalogue number R-1947. It is good that in neither case, was any attempt made to translate the French label copy into English.
The master numbers that appear on the labels are interesting. These are Ki-1011 and Ki-1012 on the first record, and Ki-1017 and Ki-1018 on the second disc. So what about the intervening numbers Ki-1013 – Ki-1016? These four numbers might be four more sides by Bétove. It would be very good to find them! But in the meantime, enjoy these ‘pastiches’ that Bétove does so well. The Debussy piano music is gorgeous; Bétove is not sending up Debussy: The late Jean-Pierre Lion gently explained to me that the satire was on the words of Paul Verlaine, who is being gently teased with the talk of ‘little blue frogs’! Note that the balance between the voice and piano, indeed the whole studio ambience are quite different on the second pair of sides with a distinctly ‘ploingy’ piano – perhaps they were not all recorded on the same session after all…
Page written 24th November 2009.
Revised 24th November 2010. (Just a coincidence, I assure you.)
Re-formatted 21st December 2015.
Page moved here 8th February 2017.