Showing posts with label Joyce Hatto. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Joyce Hatto. Show all posts

Wednesday, January 09, 2013

Hatto, football and how to cheat, or not

Was the Joyce Hatto affair the biggest cheat in the history of classical music? Yesterday I finally saw Loving Miss Hatto, Victoria Wood's BBC drama about the unfortunate pianist and her husband, William Barrington-Coupe ('Barrie'). Mixed reports have been circulating in the music biz since the film was first screened over Christmas, with many feeling that the pair were given too easy a time and came over as too sympathetic - after all, they had perpetrated the biggest con trick the classical music business has ever seen. At least, as far as we know.

Quite apart from some fantastic acting by Francesca Annis and Alfred Molina as the couple in their advancing years, the film was rather more interesting than that. It is tricky indeed to produce a good drama about unsympathetic people - but if you can make the audience empathise with her/him (different from 'sympathise'), then you're halfway home. Here Loving Miss Hatto accomplished the nearly impossible, constructing a convincing plot around a central pair who are total losers - fantasists, no-hopers, convincing themselves that they aren't cheating when they are: "We flew too close to the sun..." is how they romanticise their failures. There's some canny script-writing, too, and superb characterisation - for example, Joyce's vile mother (make a character more sympathetic by surrounding her with characters even less sympathetic than she is) and the self-deluding Barrie, going to jail for tax fraud yet still insisting that he hasn't really done anything wrong.

The furore when the story broke in 2007 was intense to the point of scariness. JDCMB grabbed the news the minute it was out and I lost some sleep over the nuclear fallout that followed. What was so frightening? It was desperately out of proportion. The conspiracy theories, the trolls (back then, a relatively new phenomenon), the fanatics, the hysteria, the accusations of - well, of what? God knows! And over what? A rather sad and pathetic situation.

It was Robert von Bahr, the director of BIS Records (the label whose recording by Laszlo Simon of the Liszt Transcendental Etudes was ripped off in the scandal), who talked the most sense. When I phoned him at the time for my Independent article, he said this:

“I’ve given the matter a lot of thought and I think it will turn out to have been a desperate attempt to build a shrine to a dying wife. If this is indeed the case, I don’t think I will be pressing charges. Concert Artist is a tiny label with very limited distribution, and in some ways quite amateurish; this exercise was never a matter of making money. But it is likely now that William Barrington-Coupe will be ruined, one way or another, and that his beloved wife’s name will be forever associated with this incident. That in itself is punishment enough.”

Here, the film hit the nail on the head. It was a pathetic love story - yet it was no less disturbing an incident for all that. Because at the centre of it is an easy-to-slip-into amorality and self-delusion that permeates our world. Just have a look at this football piece from today's Indy, about Luis Suarez's alleged handling of the ball:

It isn't cheating if you don't think it is. So, back in the classical music sphere, some so-called live recordings are extensively edited but still labelled 'live', because it isn't cheating if you don't think it is. Neither is the promotion of third-rate musicians who can pay for the privilege of telling an underinformed public that they are geniuses, or bizarre results at certain international competitions, or the use in the 1980s, a time of intense financial cutbacks, of much-reduced ensembles in baroque/classical music because they were "authentic" (as opposed to "cheaper") - today, stand by for similar arty excuses about the benefits of using pre-recorded music in theatres... We all know, deep down, that the business is chock-full of con tricks, and none of them are cheating if you don't think they are. What's disturbing is the shard of human weakness at the heart of it all. We don't like being reminded of it, but there's a ring of truth. Everyone can be gullible when they want to be. 

I reckon far worse things than l'affaire Hatto go on all the time. Now let her rest in peace.


Sunday, March 04, 2007


I'm in Madeira, so not much proper blogging - sun, swimming pool, madeira, more madeira, fresh seafood and more madeira...mmmmmm... But many, many cheers to The Sunday Times for today's referral to this blog re Hattogate! They have an interview with William Barrington-Coupe about What Really Happened. Read it here.

If you've found this blog via that referral and want to see why, follow the Joyce Hatto label at the bottom of the post. Meanwhile regular readers can lie back and think of Canciones Argentinas, playing on the iPod by the sea.

Back sooner than I'd like to be.

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

A note from Addenbrooke's

Addenbrooke's Hospital writes to me as follows:

Addenbrooke's Hospital takes patient confidentiality very seriously and would never give permission for patient details to be divulged without consent of the individual or next of kin.

UPDATE, Wednesday 28 Feb, 5pm: I've decided [entirely on my own choice] to remove certain elements from Hatto discussions from view wholesale. Nobody is trying to censor my blog, though conspiracy theorists will obviously think so. It is quite simply that I'm sick of the whole thing, and am very happy to leave that screenplay to someone else.

Now, back to the glory of Grigory...

Thursday, February 22, 2007

For Hattogate addicts

A very long and fascinating article on Musicweb International by pianist and critic Christopher Howell, in case you haven't already seen it. You'll need at least 2 cups of coffee for this one.

UPDATE: Andrys has made an extremely useful page containing all the links anybody could want on this topic. Essential reading and some audio interviews too.

I have to get back to writing about other things today: a top singer, an innovative chamber ensemble and teaching organisation and five CDs for review require urgent attention, plus I've got a friend coming round to play through a violin concerto tonight (with piano, not orchestra) (with a real pianist).

Tuesday, February 20, 2007


...The Telegraph has an article in which William Barrington-Coupe says that his wife Joyce Hatto's recordings were genuine. He 'can't explain some of the things they say are there'. He also points out wryly that if he'd wanted to make a lot more money, he'd have used a Russian name for the pianist.

Monday, February 19, 2007

The real Uchida

So today I had a call asking me to go on BBC Radio 4 to talk about Hattogate. Dropped everything and ran to Broadcasting House...only to discover, when I got there, that the programme also had to fit in Art Garfunkel and Robert de Niro, who were real, so the finer details of how easy or otherwise it is to tell the difference between...well, you get the drift, my spot was off. So to speak. It was nice to have been asked...

But in the Broadcasting House foyer (where, my dears, you see everyone who is anyone), I bumped into Mitsuko Uchida, who was on her way to Radio 3 to appear on In Tune. Now there's one truly great artist - a pianist you couldn't fake if you tried. Her playing could never have been anybody else's. I've often felt that for her, the piano is like a second voice box. It's part of her, indivisible from her personality, indeed her soul, and that's how it ought to be.

She's playing Mozart piano concertos with the LSO and Colin Davis at the Barbican on Wednesday and Thursday. Further details here and here. UPDATE: BOTH CONCERTS are now sold out. Earlier this evening, there were seats available for Wednesday, but...

UPDATE: To hear Mitsuko's interview on In Tune, go here, browse the Radio Player for In Tune and click on MON. You can listen to it online for the rest of this week.

Here's a treat for those of us who can't get to the concerts:


David Hurwitz has a splendid editorial about the Hatto-trick [sorry, couldn't resist that!] at Classics Today.

Alex Ross makes some astute comments: the recordings are not forgery, but plagiarism.

Soho the Dog, whose blog I' m afraid I hadn't seen before, is sniffing out some interesting angles too.

Pliable of On An Overgrown Path has been trying to get some answers from Hatto's husband and the owner of the Concert Artist record label, William Barrington-Coupe.

A commentator on one of the newsgroups demanded to know when someone would volunteer to write the screenplay. HELLO, OVER HERE!!!

Meanwhile, I've been to hear a very real concert by Marc-Andre Hamelin (and found that I do have to wait to hear him play Op.111 after all, because the programme involved only Op..109 and 110. [only?!?])...The Beethoven was beautifully thought out, the pacing and emotional shape of Op.110 especially so. But it's his exquisite-toned, other-worldly Schubert B flat Sonata that will stay with me forever.

Saturday, February 17, 2007

More Hatto links

....Why would anyone do a thing like that? Is it perhaps the most brilliant form of revenge ever devised, served stone cold and calling the bluff of the entire recording industry - possibly the whole music business? It may be some time before we know the truth...

Anyone hooked on the Hatto scandal will find interesting reading & discussions at Piano Street, where the latest post from Alistair Hinton (curator & director of the Sorabji Archive) says this:

"I think that we'll really just have to wait and see - and wait and see we will surely be able to do, for this, as I have suggested, is unlikely to go away again now and, given the sheer number of other parties with potential involvement (other artists, other record companies, etc.), it is likely also to run and run when it finally does get to court. Robert von Bahr of BIS in Sweden has so far commented, albeit rather wryly and in a carefully owrded manner that could be taken to imply that he'll not likely be reticent with the ammunition if and when he may believe it becomes necessary to use it. The sheer scale of this fraud - IF it is such (and I do stress the "if") is such as to ensure that the case may well drag on into next year even on its own merits alone, but if it becomes the tip of the iceberg in the industry as a whole (which is not entirely inconceivable), then we could be looking at decades of litigation rather than merely months or years in a massive multiplicity of cases."

There's also a Google group with some good threads.

Thanks to Stephen Pollard, Opera Chic and Lisa for shoutouts.

Friday, February 16, 2007

OMG...was Joyce Hatto faked?

Breaking news on Gramophone's website reveals one of the most extraordinary stories to have come our way, ever.

A few years ago, Gramophone's critics began to rave about an unknown British pianist, a lady named Joyce Hatto [above, photo Vivienne of London 1973, reproduced on Musicweb International]. Just look at this review, by one of their leading piano men, from the Awards issue 2006:

Celebrating Hatto's mastery and musicianship

Recorded between 1990 and 2004, these performances are reissued in brilliantly refurbished and clarified sound, forming part of a 100-CD discography. Indeed, it is no exaggeration to say that no other pianist, male or female, would even have considered such a comprehensive undertaking.

Doubting Thomases, of which there are apparently many, may well wonder how Joyce Hatto achieved such unalloyed mastery and musicianship when tragically beset with ill-health. But others will surely celebrate an awe-inspiring triumph of mind over matter, of the indomitable nature of the human spirit.

Even in the most daunting repertoire, her poise in the face of one pianistic storm after another is a source of astonishment. Her warmth, affection, ease and humanity strike you at every turn, her scale and command without a hint of superficial or hard-nosed virtuosity. Here, Liszt's occasional histrionics and theatricality are tempered with the most aristocratic quality.

In Preludio, the dazzling curtain-raiser, Hatto yields nothing to any other pianist in fearless authority, while the notorious difficulties of Feux follets are resolved with a surpassing fluency and vivacity. She is no less gloriously responsive to La ricordanza's heady romanticism (for Busoni, 'like a packet of yellowed love letters') and Etudes Nos 10-12 are natural triumphs of an unswerving vision and poetry, concluding performances that form a rare tribute to their symphonic weight and breadth, the quasi-orchestral might of Liszt's outsize opus.

The same attributes apply to Hatto's Chopin-Godowsky. And whether you consider Godowsky's elaborations delectable or outrageous - or both - you will only hear pure music from this pianist. Listen to her in Ignis fatuus (No 4) where, as Hatto herself ruefully puts it, Godowsky adds a few extra hours to your practice, or in the 'touch of paprika' she notes in the coda of No 7; in No 27 where Godowsky turns innocence into experience and sophistication with a vengeance, or in No 8 in what Hatto calls 'a riot of bravura ingenuity' ' you can only listen and wonder. Amazingly, she has all the time in the world to make her points in the turbulence of No 20 and what gentle sparkle, what unforced brilliance in 'Badinage', where Godowsky so mischievously gives you two Etudes for the price of one.

Joyce Hatto may well be 'the greatest pianist no one has heard of'; her work demands a book rather than just a review.

I heard rumours some time ago querying the authenticity, or otherwise, of Hatto's recordings, but didn't take much notice: British critics are notorious for ignoring home-grown female pianistic talent, so Hatto's lifetime of neglected genius didn't seem unconvincing. But recently another Gramophone piano critic had a strange experience. He popped the Liszt disc into his computer's CD player and iTunes identified a recording on BIS by the Hungarian pianist Laszlo Simon. Gramophone sent off both recordings to have their wavelengths checked. They turned out to be identical - except for two tracks, which were identical with a CD called Nojima Plays Liszt.

The plot thickens. The engineer checking the waves thought the Godowsky, so glowingly reviewed, sounded a little odd. Sure enough, it turned out that the recording had been 'stretched' by 15.112 per cent ("all the time in the world," eh?). When the 'stretch' was undone, the soundwaves proved identical with a recording by Carlo Grante. And her Rachmaninov piano concertos recordings? Yefim Bronfman on Sony.

If her glorious Liszt recordings really are Laszlo Simon's, I think he can open some champagne.

Here is the evidence, from Pristine Classical.

Read more on the Gramophone website here.

Here's her obituary from The Guardian, describing her as 'one of the greatest pianists Britain has ever produced'...

An interview with her from Musicweb International.

And a fascinating article about her by Ates Orga.

The mind boggles. Updates when I have any.