Saturday, March 03, 2007

Joyce Hatto And The Alternative Scammers

Readers of The Second Sight may not be familiar with the current flurry in the classical music world concerning Joyce Hatto. Stephanie Delacey provides a good overview of the controversy.

Joyce Hatto, at the time of her death in July last year, was hailed effusively by the Guardian as:

Joyce Hatto, who has died aged 77, was one of the greatest pianists Britain has ever produced. [...] Her legacy is a discography that in quantity, musical range and consistent quality has been equalled by few pianists in history. Most of her recordings date from the early 1990s, when she had reached an age at which many pianists are resting on their laurels. They include the complete solo works of Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven, Schubert, almost all of Chopin, huge swaths of Liszt, all the Prokofiev Sonatas, and the complete concertos of Brahms, Saint-Saƫns and Rachmaninov - over 110 discs in all. Of her Schubert recordings, one critic wrote: "Think Schnabel and Curzon - and, dare I whisper it, better." Joyce was one of just four pianists (and the only woman and septuagenarian) ever to have recorded commercially the entire 54 Studies on Chopin's Etudes by Leopold Godowsky, still considered to be the most difficult piano music ever written. [...] Unlike most artists, her discs are not performances patched together from a number of takes. She preferred to record complete movements without edits.

Suffice it to say that such a high level of artistry, at such an advanced age, across such a wide range of music, seemed miraculous. It has now been found that those recordings were in part, or wholly, not hers but rather other artists' recordings pirated and rebadged.

The Gramophone, who promoted Joyce Hatto unquestioningly, now has an article where the "creator" of these discs, William Barrington-Coupe, prevaricates at length. Initially he argued that the discs were solely the work of his wife. Now that position has become untenable, Barrington-Coupe argues that the musical plagiarism was justified:

Barrington-Coupe explains that he did indeed pass off other people’s recordings as his wife’s, but that he did it to give her the illusion of a great end to an unfairly (as he terms it) overlooked career.

He argues that the deception was only minor (and hence, by unstated implication, acceptable):

He began searching for pianists whose sound and style were similar to that of his wife, and once he had found them he would insert small patches of their recordings to cover his wife’s grunts [of pain due to the cancer she was suffering].

There's also the argument that he didn't actually make a lot of money from the trickery:

He also claims that he has not made vast amounts of money from what he has done

Finally, when asked to prove which recordings are really by his wife, and which are fake, he responds:

he didn’t want to go down that road, adding, "I’m tired, I’m not very well. I’ve closed the operation down, I’ve had the stock completely destroyed, and I’m not producing any more. Now I just want a little bit of peace."

These are all the excuses of the classic conman: it's real, it was for a good cause, it wasn't a big con, he didn't make a lot of money from it, and he doesn't have the time or ability to prove anything further.

Of course, these are also the classic excuses of psychics, homeopaths, dowsers, purveyors of miracle medical machines and assorted alternative geniuses when they're also asked for proof, taken to task over their claims, told to produce the evidence, or offered a $1,000,000 prize.

Is there a difference? EoR can't see it.

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