2007-02-20

The Joyce Hatto hoax?

Gramophone describes the scandulous discovery as:

It was already one of the strangest stories the classical music world had witnessed. But the discovery of the late English pianist Joyce Hatto as the greatest instrumentalist almost nobody had heard of, appears to have taken a bizarre, even potentially sinister turn.

So who was Joyce Hatto? And what is this bizarre and potentially sinister story?

Joyce Hatto, a little-known pianist who stopped performing as a concert pianist in 1976, struggled with cancer, continued to record - prolifically - for a small label Concert Artist Recordings run by her husband, began to achieve cult status among some classical music critics shortly before her death in July 2006. She was hailed as "the greatest living pianist that almost no one has ever heard of" and “one of the greatest pianists Britain has ever produced.”

Yes, there had been rumours that her prolific output - well over 100 CDs - covering a wide repertoire seemed suspect, but no one had been able to substantiate the doubts. Until now.

When you put a CD in your computer and run iTune, it would usually recognise it and come up with the correct album and track information for your cataloging purpose (actually it is done by Gracenote in the background). What if you put in a Bob Dylan CD and iTune comes up with Britney Spear information? Normally you would just curse iTune for being bloody useless.

But when someone put in a Joyce Hatto CD of Liszt's Transcendental Etudes and got instead information on the same work by a different pianist on a different label, he felt puzzled and informed a critic who reviewed for Gramophone and Classic Today.com, who concluded he smelled something fishy. Later, scientific analysis of soundwaves seemed to suggest the two were indeed identical. Soon, other cases of supposedly "plagiarism" were found.

To cut a long story short, it is now suggested that a number of Joyce Hatto CDs "were in fact copied from recordings of the same music by other pianists."

So it seems that while most of us have never (heard of or) listened to any CD by Joyce Hatto, those who have may have listened to great piano performances by someone else.

Suppose this is indeed a hoax. The not-yet-answered question is why? For money, or something else?

● Gramophone: Masterpieces Or Fakes? The Joyce Hatto Scandal
● The New York Times: A Pianist’s Recordings Draw Praise, but Were They All Hers?
● Stereophile: Was Joyce Hatto the Greatest Pianist Almost Nobody Ever Heard Of?
● MusicWeb: Hatto - the greatest pianist(s) that now everyone has heard of!
● Hiperhip: A Strange Story
● Wikipedia: Joyce Hatto

● Pristine Classical: Joyce Hatto - The Ultimate Recording Hoax
● AHRC Research: Purely coincidental? Joyce Hatto and Chopin's Mazurkas

● Concert Artist Recordings: Featured Artist: Joyce Hatto
● Boston Globe: After recording 119 CDs, a hidden jewel comes to light - Fans and critics have long overlooked pianist Joyce Hatto
● The Guardian: Obituary - Joyce Hatto

----------

From Classics Today.com:

Will The Real Joyce Hatto Please Stand Up

As I told him [Mr. Barrington-Coupea, Hatto's husband] a few days ago, either he hired an orchestra, engineers, a recording space, a conductor, and paid them all, or he did not. Even Ms. Hatto’s solo recordings were not made just by her husband alone. In short, many others were involved, and they are even credited on the booklet jackets. Let some of these parties come forward and acknowledge their participation. Let Mr. Barrington-Coupe produce receipts, schedules, or whatever documentation is in his possession.

At the heart of this whole controversy, the real question isn’t so much what Hatto and her husband may have done. It is “Why?” As I’ve already pointed out, it’s not difficult in today’s digital marketplace to engineer a fake, but there’s so little money in doing so that one can only wonder why anyone would want to bother. What on earth is the point in taking famous recordings by major artists and issuing them on a vanity label (with no international distribution) as the work of a virtually unknown recluse? The sheer level of chutzpah involved in lifting entire concerto recordings wholesale from major labels ... is either breathtaking, or simply insane.


William Barrington-Coupe did come forth and talked to the Telegraph, insisting that "my wife's virtuoso recordings are genuine", although he offered nothing whatsoever to support his point, in the face of strong evidence to the contrary.