Friday, July 17, 2009

Faking it

Lots of entertaining talk is filling the Internet about an upcoming BBC documentary about the Joyce Hatto scandal. That is Hatto pictured above. She is the British pianist whose many recordings were later proven to be fakes.

The New Yorker ran what I consider to be the definitive account of the whole fantastic story which you can read here.

In this piano group on Yahoo! that I peek in on now and then, everyone is wrangling about whether this documentary should be made. The fakes were perpetrated by Hatto's husband, William Barrington-Coupe, and the question is whether the documentary glorifies what are, in effect, his criminal actions. Another question is whether Barrington-Coupe, now a sick old widower, should be prosecuted.

I am not interested in sorting all this out. I do know, working for newspapers, that a good story is a good story and this is certainly one.

Another thing, I think the scandal did nothing but good for the pianists whose recordings were cribbed. The one mentioned the most is the Hungarian pianist Laszlo Simon. He records on Naxos and because there are so many recordings to get through, I do not know if I looked at some of them twice. I sure will now!

What fascinates me is that Barrington-Coupe and Hatto were just so flagrant about this. Asked about how she could invariably do her recordings in one take, Hatto would huff, "I do my practicing at home." And it kills me how Barrington-Coupe, on the CD covers, would name orchestras and conductors who did not exist. It is like what we used to do in high school, writing term papers! We would make up books and authors who did not exist.

People are slinging around a lot of blame now, saying critics a long time ago should have known something fishy was afoot. I don't know, I tend not to blame them. You have a lot to listen to, you trust that the recording is genuine, nothing like this had ever happened before. These critics did what critics are supposed to do: They gave the music an honest listen. If all critics did simply that, the world would be a better place.

Here is what I am wondering about. I wonder if we will see more fakery in competitions.

I saw the movie "The Competition" ...

... only once a long time ago, but one thing I remember is that Amy Irving's teacher makes the recording that is sent in and gets Irving the spot in the competition. After that, Irving wins it on her own, but my point is, she gets in because of this scam.

All I can think is that with increasing reliance on the Internet, we will be seeing more of this kind of faking.

They will also have to figure out ways to guard against scams in e-competitions.

All kinds of things to wonder about, as you enjoy your Hatto recordings.

Now I am sure wishing I had one!


  1. What about all the spurious pieces of music that so many in the music world, for so long, thought were authentic? I have the score of an alleged Romanza in A flat by Mozart. It was in an old collection. Apparently it's a forgery, but a good one.

  2. How amazing to contemplate this.

  3. Larry, yes, it is amazing! That is a good story, about Mr. and Mrs. Barrington-Coupe.

    Prof. G, is that Romanza any good? There is also the Christmas carol "Schlafe mein Prinzchen" that people said for years was by Mozart. I always liked it.