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The Joyce Hatto hoax

The history of the ‘Hatto Hoax' is brief and dramatic.


Joyce Hatto (1928-2006) was a respected pianist, who gave up performing in 1970 because of illness.


But her career has had a second life through recordings she made, largely at home. These were issued on her husband's old-established ‘Concert Artists' label, mostly appearing since 2003. It is now alleged that some or all of these recordings are simply fakes; copies of discs by other artists, in some cases (of technically difficult music) speeded up.


Hatto's ‘artistry' attracted glowing reviews and accolades, not least from such unimpeachable sources as Bryce Morrison and Ates Orga. By the end of last year, her recordings had attracted something of a cult following; many now heard of her for the first time. But through two completely independent sources the alleged deception has come to light very swiftly by means of modern computer technology.


First, a couple of Hatto CDs, when put into players or computers that display the text information on the disc, as with iTunes, stated they were not by Hatto, but were known and catalogued recordings by other artists. Investigation using standard digital editing software (for example by analysing the wave-forms displayed on the screen) confirmed that indeed, the Hattos and those other recordings were identical.


Second, a research project based at Royal Holloway College, also involving staff from King's London and Sheffield University, was analysing every recording of Chopin's Mazurkas ever made. That research involved producing representations of the tempo and dynamics in different versions of the same piece, and it also uncovered, by coincidence and more or less at the same moment, that the Hatto version was identical to another, with the order of some pieces changed around.


What is a faithful recording? All aspects of this are much discussed.


What does live mean – does it include, for example, as it usually does, patches from rehearsals or after the concert, or a splicing together of several performances?


Is there any limit on how much editing is desirable, or credible, or permitted? What about enhancing the acoustic (again, invariably allowed these days)?


After all, these days, actors don't need to learn how to cry from drama school. The tears and expressions can be edited in later by the special effects team. Airbrushing, digital slimming and nose reduction are available for anyone with a computer.

But of course we all agree that passing off someone else's recording as your own is not on; like cheating in an exam, or gaining an Olympic and world 100m record through steroid use as did Ben Johnson.


Assuming that the prima facie case is correct, it does not, at first blush, reflect well on critics that they were completely fooled.


Even the most eminent have been taken in. What does this say about how much listeners judge the book by the cover, the recording (or the concert) by the reputation of the artist?


How did critics miss the implausibility (which sometimes they even alluded to) of recording schedules that stated the Hammerklavier and Chopin B minor sonatas were both together recorded in a single day, or the Op 10 etudes in part of a day devoted to Chopin-Godowsky?


How did they not consider that it was extremely unlikely that a pianist who had as a young woman been good, but far from superhuman, could suddenly, as an older invalid, play with such staggering technique?


How could they not tell that many different pianists had made these recordings, not tell one pianist from another if they had already listened to some of these CDs with different covers? It is hard to believe that could have happened with a singer?


Critics are no doubt removed from the realities of making recordings, and Hatto could never be heard live to compare with recordings. But, above all, critics and listeners wanted to believe in this uplifting myth, in the ‘indomitable' power of the human spirit to overcome all through art. They were caught up in the romance of the story, and the idea of resurrecting the career of an under-appreciated artist.


In defence of critics, we may argue that if one does not suspect the possibility of fraud, one is easily deceived.


Of course virtuoso music that has been artificially speeded up sounds incredibly impressive. These recordings were billed as having been made “at home”; they could be authentically ‘blurred' and further disguised. Most of the ‘originals' identified (though not all) so far have not been well-known discs.


Moreover, the idea of the deceived expert is common; that does not make the idea of expertise incoherent.

Hugh Trevor-Roper believed in the Hitler Diaries; a mistake, but that does not invalidate all his work as an historian. Many fakes in fine art (where unimaginably more money is at stake than in classical music) have posed as originals for many years. Some famous pictures remain heavily disputed. Aesthetics implies judgment. Judgment implies error as well as truth.


The human side of this story, no doubt now the subject of investigative journalism, will surely prove fascinating.


Ying Chang


Hatto Week 2 ; fictitious recordings and blind listenings

One week on, clarification, not explanation...


The story has been extensively reported in the mainstream (i.e. not just musical) news media, and now died down, leaving us not much the wiser as to matters of real psychological interest.

Indeed, the most generous speculation comes from Robert Bahr, head of BIS (whose copied Liszt Transcendental Etudes sparked off the story) – if Hatto's husband (says Bahr, pictured Geoff Pugh) did it from love, BIS would not be inclined to press charges.


Fictitiously attributed recordings have a long and largely legal history, in fact. For all sorts of good reasons, however, a record company may well license out a recording for which it has the rights, on condition that the performers are listed by pseudonyms. This may be to protect contract conditions of exclusivity (of either party), or not to cheapen famous performers' intellectual property.


If you go into a discount bookshop today, the CDs (especially from the German company Pilz) often have these fictitious performers, such as the conductor Albert Lizzio, or the Caspar da Salo quartet. The latter's Haydn's Op 64 set is highly rated; the real performers on that recording not yet identified; other works may feature different “Caspar da Salos” of course.


I have myself a fiery recording of Schumann's Piano Concerto where the pianist is listed as ‘Martha Bergerich.' Hatto's husband, William Barrington-Coupe (photo from The Telegraph) made many pseudonymous LP issues, once memorably calling a conductor ‘Maestro Havaguess', I ask you!


Nothing is implied as to their legality or otherwise; it is known however, that Barrington-Coupe served time in prison for business fraud unrelated to music.

He (and someone who at least signed herself Joyce Hatto, though always through a printed scan of a handwritten signature) corresponded extensively with those who bought or reviewed the ‘Hatto' discs. These letters and e-mails invariably expressed not only great appreciation of the listener's interest, but also offered plenty of anecdotes about
the deceased great and good of the musical past (it's all stuff like “Annie Fischer said this to me” etc etc). These anecdotes would have captivated their intended audience, perhaps been quoted in articles and greatly added to the aura of authenticity and mystique around Hatto.


What else do we now know? The weight of evidence has massively increased, with hourly attributions of the allegedly faked recordings. We know that the Gracenote/iTunes database that first precipitated the exposure is far from foolproof; on the other hand the Royal Holloway analysis group had probably arrived at its result about the Hatto Chopin Mazurkas some time ago, but waited until the story broke before making public conclusions with such inflammatory legal and moral implications.


Next, what light is shed on critical practice? The original judgments of Hatto discs have of course been re-examined. Hindsight is of course the most certain analytical tool there is, but the dramatic irony revealed is striking. One radio interviewer even says: ‘Hatto has no interest in the authenticity movement.' To take the two most distinguished of Hatto's reviewers, Bryce Morrison praised as one of Hatto's virtues, her ability to sound "radically different" from one recording to the next. And Ates Orga wrote presciently, “Playing Chopin she's a very different artist, another pianist even, from the one met in Brahms.”

Other critics have a bigger question mark over their own judgment.* Jed Distler, for example, has been widely criticised for a laudatory review of Hatto's Chopin Etudes and a very critical one of the identical, non-tampered original from which it was copied. Distler also achieved notoriety for ‘comparing' the significant changes in two Mravinsky Bruckner discs, when one had simply been printed with the wrong date and the two were actually identical, but by another curious irony, it was his computer that first alerted him, and therefore the world, to the alleged fraud.


So, could discs be reviewed completely blind – on the analogy of the orchestral auditions discussed in my article on judgment and intuition? No, although it would be easy to copy every disc onto a blank CD-R before giving it out for review. But the extra work (and extra person) involved and the need to secure the agreement of the record companies means the procedure would be impracticable. Besides, many discs are posted direct to reviewers with a record company address label; any new release appears in press material before it is available physically, so its identity can be easily guessed even from a blank.


If nothing else, ‘Hattogate' reminds us that music criticism is a fragile form of perception and writing.


Ying Chang


See update 26 February: 'I did it for my wife' – William Barrington-Coupe confesses

and its assessment below by our Ying Chang:


This morning, (February 27th, 2007) the papers all display plenty of column inches about the 'confession' of William Barrington-Coupe, Joyce Hatto's husband. The Telegraph tells us that, despite Mr Barrington-Coupe's admissions, "Hertfordshire Police said that they would take no action unless the copyright owners of the original recordings made complaints".

His admission (which leaves many unanswered questions) comes as a letter written by Barrington-Coupe to Robert von Bahr, the head of BIS [pictured], who had already come up with a possible human explanation for the hoax, sympathetically representing it as a possible effect of Barrington-Coupe's love of his wife.

It is almost as if Barrington-Coupe has clutched onto this, as a drowning man to a piece of driftwood. His letter at first sight reads very well. Yes, he did it for love. Yes, it started off quite innocently, when he remembered that once, no less than Kirsten Flagstad's high notes had been covered by Elisabeth Schwarzkopf. And it only arose because Hatto lived at the wrong time, when her cassette recordings were no longer of interest in the CD era. And the numbers involved were small, 5000-odd records last year, 3000-odd the year before...


I am not convinced.


When Barrington-Coupe writes that the initial impetus to fake was no more than to cover his wife's 'grunts of pain' when trying to re-record the repertoire, this is transparently a stupid play for sympathy.


Any record producer or engineer will tell you that covering small mistakes or extraneous noises is far harder than splicing in a whole separate take. The need to match the ambience means that the smaller the edit, the harder it is, and covering it from a different recording, where the piano, acoustic and microphone placement are all different, is impossible. So the idea that he proceeded from small patches to larger and larger ones is the reverse of what happens in real life in the recording industry. It is on a par with the myth he propagated for her obituaries that 'three weeks before her death, Hatto recorded Beethoven's Les Adieux (farewell- geddit?) sonata sitting at the piano in her wheelchair.'


Much more true to life is Barrington-Coupe's refusal to disclose what is authentic among the recordings (since the inference is likely to be that nothing is authentic) and his plea to be left alone.

It may be that record companies (and indeed, deluded fans) will think there is no profit in pursuing this. But there is no doubt that many innocent members of the public will have been swindled. Over 8000 records sold at 12 pounds each (to take the last two years alone) is one hundred thousand pounds; an amount not to be sniffed at.


But, as von Bahr also said, Barrington-Coupe has already had plenty of time to hide the money. 


Ying Chang


For full background of the breaking scandal, see: http://www.pristineclassical.com/HattoHoax.html

& http://www.charm.rhul.ac.uk/content/contact/hatto_article.html


*Also Christopher Howell at http://www.musicweb-international.com/classrev/2007/Feb07/Hatto_Howell.htm

and http://musicalpointers.co.uk/articles/generaltopics/musiccriticblinks.htm

- - the whole thing shows just how much critics are influenced by extramusical considerations. (Of course, most performers realise very quickly that the audience, in part, hear what they see.) A.S.

and watch for comments & further updates... [Editor]

see also Y.Ch's July 2007 summing up of Hatto: The End of the Affair

and lastly, Evan Dickerson on Music Web writes about the responsibilities of critics [Editor]