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Published on May 16th, 2011 | by Yellow Magpie

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Joyce Hatto: The Great Pianist That Fooled The World

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In 2003, she would become the most famous pianist in the world. The toast and the envy of the music industry, Joyce Hatto rose from a place of previous obscurity to temporarily become the world’s transcendent piano player as a series of her recordings caused tidals waves throughout the classical music sphere.

A Musical Genius?

So what made her performances so special? The reasons were two-fold. Hatto’s recordings were exquisite and masterful. More importantly though was the astonishing breadth of her repertoire. She appeared to be able to play the works of every famous composer with equal virtuosity and brilliance. From the classical style of Mozart to the romanticism of Tchaikovsky and Chopin, Hatto, it seemed, could play anything with equal aplomb.

To put this in context Hatto’s ability would be the musical equivalent of a doctor being an expert in all fields of medicine, a scientist excelling in all scientific fields, an engineer intimately knowing all aspects of machines and building construction. To put it mildly Hatto was a musical oddity.

Who Was She? Where Did She Come From?

As soon as her recordings began to cause a stir people wanted to know the person behind the music. Who was this woman and where had she been hiding all these years? The answers to these questions were to come thick and fast. Not only that, but they were nearly as unbelievable as the recordings themselves.

Joyce Hatto was born in London on the 5th September, 1928. She was a promising young concert pianist who performed as a soloist in Britain and Europe during the 1950’s and 1960’s with some critical acclaim.

However, during the 1970’s Hatto suddenly disappeared from public view. It wasn’t until 2003, with the realease of her remarkable recordings, that she had come out again.

When more details of how and why the recordings were made began to filter into the public. Hatto’s story turned surreal, when it emerged that she was dying of cancer and had recorded her now world-famous music in a shed in her back garden.

Unending Virtuosity

Outstanding recording after outstanding recording continued to emerge from Hatto as the music industry listened mouths agape in wonderment. In all, Hatto would produce over 100 recordings of the most stunning performances the music world had ever heard. All of this came from a shed in a back garden while Hatto was fighting cancer.

Doubts About Hatto’s Authenticity

In May, 2005, a comment by the musicologist Marc-Andre Roberge on a Yahoo group would later hint at disquiet beneath the surface. Roberge said  that on a Chopin-Godowsky recording, a misread chord was identical to one played by the highly accomplished Italian pianist, Carlo Grante. No further heed was paid to this comment until much later.

But doubts were beginning to emerge about the likelihood of a pianist, who had disappeared for over three decades from public consciousness, producing such sterling works while being in the last years of her life.

On June 29th, 2006, Joyce Hatto died.

A Shattered Legacy

The revealing of the true nature of Joyce Hatto’s works would come from a rather unexpected source. A New York financial analyst one day noticed that Joyce Hatto’s Liszt Transcendental Studies were credited to another composer, a hungarian called Laszlo Simon. He informed the classical critic, Jed Distler, of this strange quirk.

Hatto’s musical legacy was destroyed when Distler and others carefully uncovered the true sources of the works. It quickly became apparent that all of the recordings were from other musicians.

The Brainchild Of Hatto’s Husband

Hatto’s husband, William Barrington-Coupe, was the man responsible for the fraud. It would emerge that pianists, Carlo Grante, Andre Previn, Laszlo Simon and John O’Connor, amongst others, were the actual sources for the music.

It would later emerge that Barrignton-Coupe, a record producer by profession, had not just copied from other recordings. In some cases the plagiarised music was sped up or slowed down. This digital manipulation was so good that it even fooled those whose material was stolen. When their own music was played to them many just did not recognise it as being their own playing.

Lingering Questions

Her music may have taken the world by surprise and prior to the true nature of ‘her’ recordings she was many people’s favourite pianist. What role, if any, she played in her husbands scheme is open to conjecture. Barrington-Coupe claims that she believed the recordings to be her own and he didn’t tell her otherwise.


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2 Responses to Joyce Hatto: The Great Pianist That Fooled The World

  1. Richard Cowdell says:

    Well done Mr Barrington-Coupe. You really showed these holier-than-thou, know-all obnoxious critics and self appointed ‘experts’ exactly what they are. A shower of self-serving, self-aggrandising frauds who know very little about music. Take, for instance the Penguin Guide to Classical CDs which, for years insisted (it may well still do so) that Gorecki’s 3rd Symphony was ‘scored for strings and piano with a soprano in each of the three movements’. Just shows how much that critic knows about music (or had he just not bothered to listen to the piece he was reviewing?) and what about the reviewer who blamed his snooty stuck-up, I-know-better-than-you sneering review in Gramophone magazine of the ‘Everest’ recording of Shostakovich’s 13th symphony on the fact that the recorded sound was abysmal. Anyone REAL music lover recognised the work as a masterpiece. Odd isn’t it that when EMI mis-attributed a performance of Chopin’s 1st Piano Concerto to Dinu Lipatti (and sold LPs under that name) it was claimed it was an error when they were found out! The only reason the critics made so much fuss is because they had been duped, made to look small. The majority of critics are spineless know-alls, petrified to upset the major recording companies, petrified to admit liking certain music (just look how they and the BBC treated such composers as Malcolm Arnold, Bax, Rawsthorne and innumerable English composers who wrote marvellous music) just because they wanted to appear oh-so trendy.Aand what about that stupid reviewer who claimed the Beatles were ‘the greatest songwriters since Schubert’ ignoring the whole of the German Lieder tradition since Schubert and the incredible songs of (amongst others) Rodgers and Hart, the Gershwins, Cole Porter, Burt Bacharach – need I go on?. Sad what some will do to appear trendy. Again well done Mr B-C and (if you were involved) Joyce, you showed them for what they are!!

  2. Yellow Magpie says:

    Thanks for your comment, Richard.

    Yes, they were made to look quite the fools!

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