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Joyce Hatto (Piano)

Born: September 5, 1928 - London, England
Died: June 30, 2006 - London, England

The English pianist, Joyce Hilda Hatto, was the daughter of an antique dealer and passionate pianophile. She studied with Marian Holbrooke (sister of the composer Joseph) and Serge Krish (who had been a pupil of Ferruccio Busoni) before continuing during her early career to receive guidance from such luminaries as Benno Moiseiwitsch, Nicolai Medtner, Alfred Cortot, Matyas Seiber and Clara Haskil, Sviatoslav Richter, Paul Hindemith and Nadia Boulanger, among others. Calm and indomitable from the start, she rejected a more conventional Conservatoire education after the Royal Academy of Music had told her that a career as a pianist was a daunting prospect for a young girl who would be better employed learning how to cook a good roast.

In the late 1940's and 1950's Joyce Hatto appeared with conductors ranging from Victor de Sabata and Sir Thomas Beecham to Paul Kletzki and Jean Martinon. She made her London debut in 1952. Her recitals in the UK included, in 1953, the entire nocturnes of Frédéric Chopin and Field followed later in the decade by all the L.v. Beethoven symphonies transcribed by Franz Liszt, the first known modern performance of the cycle and championed at a time when Liszt's star shone dimly. Her debut at Wigmore Hall was in 1954 with F. Liszt's Malédiction. The Guardian's Neville Cardus wrote of her (live) J. Brahms Paganini Variations that they were "despatched in a seamless riot of ecstatic bravura laced with underlying deep musical feeling rarely countenanced in this work".

In 1956 Joyce Hatto married William Barrington-Coupe, the then artists and repertoire manager for Saga Records, who had a penchant for pianists: he subsequently became the first to record the late Lazar Berman in the west, as well as Sergio Fiorentino, Eileen Joyce and Lev Pouishnov. From then on, he acted as her manager, guide and mentor, and it is for his label, Concert Artist Recordings, for which all her later recordings were made. In its Cambridge studio, she had the luxuries of one of the two Steinways that Sergei Rachmaninov played when in the UK, and of being able to record whenever the mood took her or health allowed. It was for EMI, however, that she recorded in 1970 Bax's Symphonic Variations with the conductor Vernon Handley, the first complete performance since 1920. Harriet Cohen, the composer's muse and mistress, had regarded the work as her private property (though playing it in a simplified version) till her death in 1967.

When diagnosed with cancer at the age of 41 Joyce Hatto toured Russia and Scandinavia to the highest critical acclaim. After 1972, when her cancer returned, she was plagued by the uncertain arrival of excruciating pain on the concert platform, often making it necessary to cancel at the last minute. Major surgery was only partly successful. Chemotherapy and radio therapy proved completely unhelpful. In 1979 she was forced to withdraw from the concert platform. A new form of treatment from the USA allowed Joyce Hatto to keep energy levels sufficiently high to seek gainful employment in the recording studio

Joyce Hatto achieved an astonishing renaissance. Phoenix-like she reinvented herself, creating a large and inclusive discography. In quantity, musical range and consistent quality her discography has been equalled by few pianists in history. Most of her recordings date from the early 1990's, when she had reached an age at which many pianists are resting on their laurels. They include the complete solo works of Haydn, W.A. Mozart, L.v. Beethoven, Schubert, almost all of F. Chopin, huge swaths of F. Liszt, all the Prokofiev Sonatas, Albeniz's Iberia, and the complete concertos of J. Brahms, Camille Saint-Saëns and S. Rachmaninov - over 110 discs in all. Of her Schubert recordings, one critic wrote: "Think Schnabel and Curzon - and, dare I whisper it, better." She was one of just four pianists (and the only woman and septuagenarian) ever to have recorded commercially the entire 54 Studies on F. Chopin's Etudes by Leopold Godowsky, still considered to be the most difficult piano music ever written. Not one of her recordings, covering a spectrum from Scarlatti to Messiaen and with each composer stylistically defined, lacks some special insight even in the most familiar repertoire. Her musical imagination, unlike so many virtuosi, matched her awesome pianistic mechanism.

Joyce Hatto was one of the greatest pianists Britain has ever produced, and was aptly described as 'a hidden jewel' and 'the greatest living pianist that no one has heard of.' The microphone, luckily, loved her - and she enjoyed the process hugely. Unlike most artists, her discs are not performances patched together from a number of takes. She preferred to record complete movements without edits, stating proudly: "I do my practising at home." Ignored by the press she must have secretly wondered at the success of other less gifted pianists. But as she herself so modestly put it, 'as interpreters we are not important; we are just vehicles. Our job is to communicate.' She also expressed the belief that 'Shakespeare understood the entire human condition and so did the great composers.'

Recordings unmasked

In February 2007 it was announced that the CD's ascribed to Joyce Hatto had been discovered to contain copies, in some cases digitally manipulated (stretched or shrunk in time, re-equalised and rebalanced), of published commercial recordings made by other artists. While some of these artists were well-known, the majority were less so. When Brian Ventura, a financial analyst from Mount Vernon, New York, put the recording of F. Liszt's Transcendental Etudes credited to Hatto into his computer, the Gracenote database used by the iTunes software identified the disc not as a recording by Hatto but as one by László Simon. On checking online samples of the Simon recording, Ventura found it to be remarkably similar to the version credited to Hatto. He then contacted Jed Distler, a critic for Classics Today and Gramophone, who had praised many of the recordings ascribed to Hatto.

Says Distler,

When I received Brian Ventura’s e-mail I decided to investigate further. After careful comparison of the actual Simon performances to the Hatto, it appeared to me that 10 out of 12 tracks showed remarkable similarity in terms of tempi, accents, dynamics, balances, etc. By contrast, Track Five, Feux Follets, sounded different between the two sources. I reported my findings to Mr. Ventura, and cc'd editor David Hurwitz. I also cc'd Gramophone's editor James Inverne, plus three of my Gramophone colleagues who had written about Hatto. Then I wrote Mr. Barrington-Coupe. He quickly replied, claiming not to know what had happened, and to be as puzzled as I was. At James Inverne's suggestion, Andrew Rose [of the audio-restoration business Pristine A] contacted me, and I uploaded three MP3s from the Hatto Liszt disc. Andrew's research confirmed what my ears suspected: at least two Liszt tracks were identical between BIS and Concert Artist, while at least one was not.”

An identification of the source of another recording, which had been in preparation for some months, was released the following day by The AHRC Research Centre for the History and Analysis of Recorded Music (CHARM) (based at Royal Holloway, University of London) as a by-product of research on performances of F. Chopin's Mazurkas. Within a week of the initial story being posted on the Gramophone website on February 15, the sources for some 20 of Hatto's Concert Artist CDs had been identified.

On each of the concerto recordings published in Hatto's final years under her name, the conductor's name was given as "René Köhler", and Barrington-Coupe provided a detailed biography for "Köhler".[23] The information given there has not withstood careful scrutiny.[24] The conductors whose work is represented on the concerto recordings credited to Hatto and Köhler are now known to include Esa-Pekka Salonen, André Previn and Bernard Haitink, while the orchestras, claimed to be the National Philharmonic-Symphony and the Warsaw Philharmonia, are now known to include the Wiener Philharmoniker, The Philharmonia Orchestra, and the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra.

Barrington-Coupe initially denied any wrongdoing but subsequently admitted the fraud in a letter to Robert von Bahr, the head of the Swedish BIS record label that had originally issued some of the recordings plagiarized by Concert Artists. Bahr shared the contents of the letter with Gramophone magazine, which reported the confession on its website on February 26, 2007. Barrington-Coupe claims that Hatto was unaware of the deception, that he acted out of love and made little money from the enterprise, and that he started out by pasting portions of other pianists' recordings into recordings made by Hatto in order to cover up her "gasps of pain". Some critics, however, have cast doubt on this version of events. The discovery of plagiarized tracks on a Concert Artist compact disc released under the name of pianist Sergio Fiorentino raised further questions. Barrington-Coupe has so far refused to help identify the sources of the recordings issued under Hatto's name, claiming that "whatever I do, it won’t be enough".

The British Phonographic Industry (BPI) has begun an investigation. If the allegations are true, it would be "one of the most extraordinary cases of piracy the record industry had ever seen", according to a BPI spokesman.

Source: The Guardian obituary (Author: Jeremy Nicholas, July 2006); Gramophone Website; Wikipedia Website
Contributed by
Aryeh Oron (December 2006, December 2008)

Joyce Hatto: Short Biography | Recordings of Instrumental Works

Links to other Sites

Concert Artist Featured Artists: Joyce Hatto
Joyce Hatto - A Pianist of Extraordinary Personality and Promise - Comment & Interview (MusicWeb)
Joyce Hatto by Ates Orga (MusicWeb)
Joyce Hatto (Wikipedia)

After recording 119 CDs, a hidden jewel comes to light (The Boston Globe)
Joyce Hatto, English pianist, dies aged 77 (Gramophone)
Joyce Hatto - Pianist hailed as a national treasure (The Independent)
Joyce Hatto - Obituary (Guardian Unlimited)

The Joyce Hatto Hoax Log (Andrys Basten)
Joyce Hatto Identifications and Scandal (Farhan Malik)
Joyce Hatto - The Ultimate Recording Hoax (Pristine Classical)


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