The Music Thief

Hatto HoaxThere’s a new low for crime and a new high for technology: Joyce Hatto’s stolen recorded performances.

In a recent Festival Story, we covered the breaking news of the apparent theft of recorded performances by relabeling them as those of Joyce Hatto, a British pianist, who died last June at the age of 77. Hatto had a concert career until the mid-seventies, when she stopped giving public performances because of cancer. Nonetheless, to all appearances she was keeping extremely busy. Her private label, Concert Artist, run by her husband William Barrington-Coupe, turned out more than one hundred recordings of her solo and concert work from their studio in Cambridge.

Problem is, these recordings are performances by other artists.

For some time there had been chatter on a Usenet group (rec.music.classical.recordings). These non-professionals were hearing a hoax. How could she be creating all these incredible performances? The professional critics, especially a few for some of the major publications, ridiculed the questions. Most of our trusted guides were only hearing beauty, refinement, and worshipful mastery. The Guardian’s Jeremy Nicholas: “one of the greatest pianists Britain has ever produced.” The Boston Globe’s Richard Dyer: “Joyce Hatto must be the greatest living pianist that almost no one has ever heard of.” To be fair, they weren’t that wrong in hearing great performances, albeit for the second time: one of the recordings was actually created by Vladimir Ashkenazy, and another by Yefim Bronfman.

The plot to steal performances began to unravel when the critic Jed Distler began to play a Hatto recording of Liszt. His digital reader attributed the recording to Laszlo Simon. Distler got in touch with Gramophone editor, James Inverne. Inverne, who had been aware of the Usenet postings, contacted Andrew Rose of Pristine Classic. By analyzing sound waves, Rose has confirmed seven (so far) of the performances that have either been lifted exactly as previously recorded, or manipulated just a bit to try to distinguish them from the original recording.
[Want to see how this was done, and hear the tests? Check out Rose's work. He also includes a guide to how the hoax was executed -- please, don't try it at home.]

Despite the evidence, husband Barrington-Coupe denies any thievery, and claims all the recordings were made by Hatto under his supervision. Critics now hear the similarities. Gramophone promises more to come in their April issue.

This could be a new low in crime, at least artistic crime.

However, this certainly is a new high for the power of the PowerBook. Not only did technology capture the titles (courtesy of the catalogued online database, CDDB, and made available by services like iTunes), and reveal the sound waves to make the case: the story was driven by individuals coming together as an online community.

Marx was right: there’s real music in the masses.

- Bill Reichblum

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One Response to “The Music Thief”

  1. Bill
    February 27th, 2007 12:27
    1

    This just in: “I did it for my wife.”

    Husband confesses.

    Gramphone has the story: http://www.gramophone.co.uk/newsMainTemplate.asp?storyID=2765&newssectionID=1

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