Partner Raimund von zur-Muhlen, John Joseph Borie, III

Queer Places:
St Nicholas Churchyard Glatton, Huntingdonshire District, Cambridgeshire, England

Victor BeigelVictor Rudolph Beigel (19 May 1870 – 7 November 1930) was an English pianist and singing teacher of Hungarian descent. Beigel was an internationally renowned vocal pedagogue. Friendships connected him with the painter John Singer Sargent, the interior designer Sybil Colefax and the composers John Ireland and Percy Grainger, whose choir rehearsals he accompanied on the piano for years.[1] He was also a friend of his student Gervase Elwes, after whose death in 1921 he founded the Gervase Elwes Memorial Fund (later the Musicians Benevolent Fund) to support young musicians. A letter written by Elwes waxes lyrical about the benefits of this period in his life: Beigel is really the most delightful person in the world-he is such a charming person and he joins in everything so vigorously and with so much spirit and go. After the singing lessons we go and fish in the ponds. I had two splendid lessons today and really my high notes are improving wonderfully. The lessons are simply glorious. His students included Lauritz Melchior, Anita Patti Brown, John Goss and Monica Harrison. Lauritz Melchior came to study with Beigel described him thus: Beigel was a heavy-set Viennese with a big, gray handlebar moustache and a shaven head. Because of his vast knowledge of music and his language abilities he had been accepted in the most distinguished society. His opinions were quoted with awe and he was without doubt the most fashionable singing teacher in London. During the First World War, he gave and organised benefit concerts in support of the Wounded Soldiers Concert Fund".[2]

For more than two decades, in both the USA and England, John "Dickie" Borie had “made his home with Victor Beigel, well known English musician.” Exactly how and when these two hardened bachelors first met is unclear, but by the late autumn of 1904 both were residing in Manhattan, having spent the preceding months together in England. Three years later, the couple would decamp permanently for Great Britain, establishing a home first at 18 Howley Place (in the “Little Venice” district of London), and at various country escapes in the years to come. By then, Victor Beigel had gained considerable renown as a teacher of voice, with a stable of rising opera singers and soloists on his roster of clients. As the British conductor Adrian Boult later recalled, Beigel much enjoyed the punning name of the road—Howley Place—well suited as a venue which “daily re-echoed” with the voluble sound of his pupils, straining to reach their most difficult notes. “His companion,” Boult noted, “was a charming American architect named Dickie Borie,” whose infectious wit enlivened the couple’s frequent parties and musicales. “It was always a pleasure to dine with them,” the musician recalled, and then sit in the garden, when “finally they would bring the dogs for a walk with us to the tube station at Warwick Avenue, with an occasional whiff of what they called ‘parfum de Venise’ as one passed the canal.”

When a rising young singer named Susan Metcalfe began to give recitals in New York’s Mendelssohn Hall, John Borie and Jane Emmet probably were in attendance: first, because Jane Emmet and Susie (as she always called her) had known each other since their shared childhood in New Rochelle, and second, because her teacher and accompanist was the man whose life partner John Borie soon would soon become—Mr. Victor Beigel. For that matter, Jane Erin Emmet might even have been the matchmaker who could take credit for that durable queer companionship, since she occupied a crucial social nexus between both men and quite possibly brought them together.

Though he was born in London, his father was Hungarian, a diplomat employed in the service of the Hapsburg Empire; and, as he was growing up, the family seems to have spent many years at various postings in central and eastern Europe. Beigel's musical talent must have been discovered and nurtured in his youth, because even by his twenties he had won considerable fame as keyboard accompanist for Raimund von zur-Muhlen, the reknowed singer of German Lieder and interpreter of Brahms. Since it is reported that Beigel (who was born in 1870) played for von zur-Muhlen "for many years," but then "left hurriedly" for the USA (where news accounts place him in 1896), one almost has to assume that he was hardly less of a prodigy than his vocal sponsor and companion. According to one adulatory observer, Beigel's piano performances on board the Hamburg-Amerika liner that brought him across the Atlantic were so phenomenal, they won him "many potential friends and pupils before he landed in New York." Securing membership in the "One Hundred Club" (adding his name to a roster that included those of men like Clyde Fitch, Stanford White, and Peter Cooper Hewitt) was another social victory.

Having adroitly established himself within the upper echelon of New York society, Beigel was well placed to exploit his other asset, having learned many vocal secrets and techniques from his erstwhile mentor and companion, Raimund von zur-Muhlen, remembered as "the greatest concert tenor of his day." One of his earliest pupils, the soprano Susan Metcalfe, eventually would be recognized as one of his finest, but the Times greeted even her first recital (in the 1901 season) with marked enthusiasm. When Raimund von zur-Muhlen was asked to participate in the inaugural program at the celebrated opening of London's Bechstein (now Wigmore) Hall in 1901, his former accompanist returned to play Schubert and Schumann for him.

Victor Beigel's expanding reputation as a singing teacher preceded his arrival in England and also helped to secure a new set of clients, most notably the British aristocrat Gervase Elwes, who would surmount the conventional patrician distaste for the performing arts to become one of the leading tenor voices of the XX century. In the summer of 1903, at the behest of his wife, Elwes brought Beigel to his family's ancestral seat, Billing Hall in Northamptonshire, to begin an intensive series of lessons in vocal technique and interpretation. Everyone started calling him "The Baby," perhaps because of his diminutive stature and pudgy figure. Perhaps unwittingly, in return Elwes' patronage would give his teacher an important social foothold when Beigel relocated to London with John Borie. Already he would enjoy intimate connection to a circle of rising (and established) musical figures, including the pianists Percy Grainger and Léon Delafosse and composers such as Edward Elgar and Roger Quilter.

Before Victor Beigel reestablished himself as a fixture in the musical world of Edwardian London, he and John Borie began the companionate relationship that would last until the latter’s death in 1925. During their remaining years in New York, their social and professional lives crisscrossed the realms of art and music, especially because Beigel’s star pupil, Susan Metcalfe, was a first cousin and intimate friend of all the Emmet women. From 1904 to 1906, after the winter concert seasons had ended in New York, Beigel routinely boarded luxury lines such as the Kaiser Wilhelm II and the Deutschland (in company with the likes of the Potter Palmers of Chicago and the John D. Rockefellers of New York) to spend the summer months with his clients abroad. The same year that Borie’s fortunes took a tumble, in 1905, his partner resolved to relocate his teaching practice to England once and for all. In August 1905, Jane Emmet de Glehn reported to her sister Lydia, “We saw Beigel the other day. He told us he had at last decided to settle in London.” The maestro and Dickie Borie would not relocate until 1907, but even before then they frequented the de Glehns’ salon in Chelsea during their summer sojourns, 73 Cheyne Walk already having become a kind of hub for younger artists and musicians. “Beigel dined here last night,” Jane wrote back to her mother in June 1906, along with Percy Grainger, his doting mother, “our nice Roger Quilter,” and Gervase Elwes and his wife Winifride. On other occasions, John Singer Sargent and his sister Emily joined in or, in turn, hosted their own evening musicales in Tite Street or Carlyle Mansions.

Victor Beigel (with John Borie beside him) was well poised to enter the comfortable musical echelons of Edwardian London, and by all accounts, he quickly established himself once the move was made. "It's not so very long ago that Victor Beigel came to reside permanently in London," one reporter observed in April 1908, "but already the list of his pupils who have made public appearances, and secured prominent places in the professional world, is a long one." Later in life, the Edwardian socialite Violet Hammersley recalled an evening party she had organized decades before, for which she had sent invitations to "those who understood and loved music." Besides Gervase Elwes, Percy Grainger, and "a sprinkling of elegance from the diplomatic world," the company included Victor Beigel, who comforted his hostess when the guest of honor, the great mezzo-soprano Camilla Landi (who had consented to sing "for an enormous fee"), stormed out of the salon, muttering, "These people are all stockbrokers - I do not sing to stockbrokers." Some years later, when Hugh Walpole became infatuated with a newly arrived Danish singer, Lauritz Melchior, he not only dedicated a novel to him (The Young Enchanted) but also sponsored an intensive campaign of lessons from Victor Beigel that would, he was convinced, turn Lauritz Melchior into "the greatest Wagner tenor in the world."

Neither Beigel's homosexual companionship with John Borie nor his penchant for "sitting at the piano, singing bawdy Viennese ditties" prevented him from winning the esteem of musical London. Almost as soon as the two men arrived in the British capital, they resumed their close friendship with Jane and Wilfrid de Glehn, whose home in Chelsea already had become "a center for the art colony" of painters, composers, and musicians. Though modestly gifted at the easel, Jane de Glehn excelled as a hostess, and she organized numerous recitals in their drawing room "when Sargeant was present and their close friends Roger Quilter, Leonard Borwick, Gervase Elwes, Percy Grainger, and the singer Susie Metcalfe... all performed."

Victor Beigel, long-expatriated from Vienna, faced a more immediate dilemma when Britain declared war on the Austro-Hungarian Empire in August 1914. Even though he and Borie had lived very comfortably in the British capital for many years, Beigel had won much of his renown as a champion of German music. Confronted by increasingly antagonistic sentiment, Victor Beigel delicately nurtured a new publich role for himself as a generous patron and sponsor of wartime charity. Like his partner Borie, Beigel directed his efforts toward those wounded in action, organizing musical benefits to raise funds for military hospitals, nursing, and rehabilitation treatment. When in 1921 Fritz Kreisler finally returned to a concert hall in London, it is likely that Victor Beigel helped orchestrate the triumphant event. One of John Borie's last commissions was to design in 1924 a country estate for Kreisler on the outskirts of Berlin (almost reminiscent of "The Farms").

Still relatively young, Victor Beigel's life closed in 1930, when he was just 59. "Borie's death (four years before) seemed to break him up completely," an intimate acquaintance observed, but till the end Beigel "remained a familiar figure in musical circles and had a great number of friendships within the profession." Borie's remains were interred in the little churchyard at Glatton, not far from the Thatch Cottage that he loved, and five years later, Victor Beigel followed him there, "forever united to the best friend man ever had." They lie side by side, beneath stone memorials that John Borie must have designed in anticipation of their common end. Beigel's grave was dug to Borie's left, so that their shared Latin inscription, running from one stone to the next, now could be read in its full sentence: Requiem Aeternam Dona Eis Domine, Lux Perpetua Luceat Ei (Eternal rest grant upon them, O Lord, May perpetual light shine upon him.)

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