Maxime Heller’s New Zealand pieces

5 April, 2021

National Library of NZ
National Library of NZ
National Library of NZ

The name Maxime Heller is usually identified as one of the multitude of pseudonyms used by the English composer Charles Arthur Rawlings (1857-1919). He produced a considerable number of light piano pianos and songs under a range of names including Theo Bonheur, Leon Delcasse and Oscar Verne. The Library of Congress lists forty-nine pseudonyms for Charles, including Maxime Heller.

While used for over twenty works, the most noteworthy of the Maxime Heller pieces are the three New Zealand-themed piano works – Maoriland waltzes (London: Frederick Harris, 1905), Moonlight on the Wanganui (London: Frederick Harris, 1910, and Sydney: Paling, 1910), and Zealandia waltz (London: Frederick Harris, 1910).

All three works were published by the Frederick Harris Music Company, which raises another tantalising possibility as to their authorship. Harris (1866-1945) was a Canadian who worked for some years in London as an agent for the music publisher Reynolds and Co. He established his own firm in 1904, concentrating originally on works which were not covered by British copyright in Canada and so which could be legitimately re-published there. Harris had visited New Zealand on behalf of Reynolds several times from the late 1890s to the early 1920s, with documented visits in 1903, 1904, 1905 and 1909.  

Some writers have also suggested that Harris was the composer of a popular Maxime Heller work Sunset on the St Lawrence, or at least the composer of the tune which someone else may have arranged. There appears to be no known reason why Rawlings should choose to write three New Zealand themed pieces over the space of five years, although there is some evidence of ‘exotic’ locations being used in the titles of his works. Harris, on the other hand, had visited New Zealand four times between 1903 and 1909, and the works were published by his firm in 1905 and 1910. Moonlight on the Wanganui was also published in Australia in 1910 and Harris would no doubt have developed a professional relationship with Palings during his visits to Australasia.

So, is it possible that he heard or invented the tunes while in New Zealand or on his return to England and either Rawlings set them or he set them himself? Or is that just a romantic fantasy as no firm evidence has yet to support the idea. Maybe it was just that the success of the Maoriland waltzes encouraged Rawlings to write some more in a similar vein.

Another intriguing aspect to these pieces concerns the figure on the cover of the Maorland waltzes. Family tradition (as noted in a webpage accessed in 2006 but no longer available) identifies the woman on the cover of the Maoriland Waltzes as Heeni (Jeannie) Mahuika (later McLaren) from Westport. She apparently recalled to her family that in 1908 she was asked to pose for a visiting artist and though reluctant, finally agreed. The family treasure a copy of the music as a taonga and remembrance of Heeni. Contact from anyone who is able to shed further light on this would be most welcome

The pieces, particularly the Maoriland waltzes, and Zealandia waltz were widely available in New Zealand and numerous copies remain. Their attractive covers, approachable tunes and ease of playing would all have contributed to their appeal to amateur musicians in New Zealand.