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'Hoax' stuns classical music world

Joyce Hatto: the greatest pianist no-one has heard of

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Gramophone magazine has unearthed what one sound recording expert describes as "the biggest attempt at recording theft ever."

Thanks to the internet, the formerly obscure British classical pianist Joyce Hatto had become a critical favorite shortly before her death last year.

In 2005, the Boston Globe described her as "the greatest living pianist that almost no one has heard of".

The Guardian's music critic Jeremy Nicholas called the recordings "the most extraordinary recordings I have ever heard."

"Best of all is her musical imagination, which finds original things to say about the most familiar music," wrote a thrilled Globe critic.

The problem is, experts who have analysed her recordings say, is that they're not original at all.

Over 100 CD recordings have been issued by Concert Artists Recordings, a record label run by her husband William Barrington-Coupe, all subsequent to her retirement from public performance thirty five years ago.

Sound engineer Andrew Rose of Pristine Audio, who performed an analysis of Hatto's recordings on behalf of Gramophone, says every one of the CDs he has analysed can be attributed to another artist.

"We have yet to investigate a Hatto recording that has not proved to be a hoax," concludes Rose. In several cases, says Rose, the original sound recording had been manipulated to disguise the source.

(Calls to the Concert Artists Recordings record label were not returned today.)

Unlike the case of JT Leroy, a celebrity author created by a San Francisco couple, who hired a relative to perform his public appearances, Joyce Hatto really existed. But Rose suggests that no recordings since 1970 can accurately be attributed to her.

"Joyce Hatto was a pianist of moderate status in the UK, and abroad was not considered to be a great. Then, later, she's hailed as one of the greatest of all time," he told us.

"Here we have an elderly lady who refuses to play concerts, in fact refuses to play for anybody, even friends, in any capacity."

Barrington-Coupe has expressed surprise at the allegations and says he will perform his own sound analysis. A separate investigation has shown strong correlations between recordings attributed to Hatto, and other artists.

Hatto's belated fame owes much to the internet, notes Rose.

"It's a reputation that spread through the backwaters of the internet, thanks to online reviews and comments, message boards, and particularly on Usenet, ultimately resulting in the first major article in Gramophone magazine only a year ago. It's a reputation that was built online."

"Voices were raised," he notes, but these were in a minority. Rose describes it as "utterly remarkable - the biggest attempt at recording theft ever attempted."

There is one intriguing similarity with the JT Leroy case, however. Leroy's painful "life history" - child prostitute, heroin addict - was an essential part of the authenticity of his appeal.

Here's Barrington-Coupe on the missus, with our emphasis added:

"She doesn't want to play in public because she never knows when the pain will start, or when it will stop, and she refuses to take drugs. Nothing has stopped her, and I believe the illness has added a third dimension to her playing; she gets at what is inside the music, what lies behind it." ®

Related links

Gramophone magazine

Andrew Rose's analysis (with samples)

"original things to say"... Boston Globe interview with Hatto

Beginner's guide to SSL certificates

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