Last week a reader contacted me with a story to tell about Joyce Hatto. I said I would publish the story without comment or editing. Here it is:
It is necessary to cast a slightly different light on the facts and myths, some of which even cast doubts on Hatto’s very existence (The Times). Joyce Hatto was a brilliant pianist, a great teacher, a very highly informed and well-read person, but above all an inspiring human being. I first encountered her purely by chance when, as an immigrant fresh off the boat from India, desiring to make a career as a pianist, badly trained, impoverished, alone and penniless, she took me on as a pupil in 1965.
As her pupil, I lived from one encounter with her to the next. Each encounter was, for me, a fresh experience – reflecting her constantly repeated admonition, “You may have played this a million times, but for the audience, it has to be as though it is the first listening.” Her ability to impart her knowledge – both of technique and of interpretation – were beyond question. And she knew how to draw out of each pupil what she saw as his or her latent qualities. The series of Pupils’ Concerts that she set up in the Purcell Room attest to this: the range of performances, from Claire Walton’s ephemeral performances of Impressionist composers, to Jacqueline Fairhead’s brooding Schumann and Gail Buckingham’s dramatic flair (Lizst), only served to reflect the chameleon-like qualities that later detractors now ascribe to her. This can be verified by listening to Gail Buckingham’s Lizst “Early Works and Operatic Transcriptions” recorded under Joyce’s encouragement for RCF (005).
Joyce achieved this by rarely speaking of herself, but by always looking closely into the hearts of her pupils. When playing the first two notes of the Lizst Twelfth Rhapsody at one lesson, she stopped me, looking into my eyes and asking, “Tell me, is God dead?” Shocked, I replied, “As a matter of fact, he is.” This opened up a long discussion on literature, of which she clearly knew much.
Joyce was a devoted teacher who cared deeply about every pupil. The only time I saw her looking at all distressed when was a pupil had disappointed her. When she learned of my own intention to go into teaching, she hammered one sentence in: “You have no right to teach, unless you believe deeply in the ability of every pupil.” This is something that has echoed through my mind throughout my own long (and generally considered successful) career as a teacher both in London and in Israel.
As I read of the family history, one of the things that strikes me sharply is that despite the distress she must have encountered in the late 60’s over Barrington-Coupe’s difficulties, she never displayed a sign of it. Just as, at the audition with her, she had said, “Do not come and spill the beans over my carpet,” (my playing was “emotional” but totally lacking in discipline), she never gave the slightest clue as to what was going on in her personal life. Rather, she always looked her best, smiled warmly and welcomed one with a befitting elegance and grace.
She did make occasional references to the music world – whether referring to the cut-throat atmosphere that exists between competing artists, the cruelty of certain critics, the “philistine” attitude to Art in some establishments, the difficulties of recording when building works might be taking place nearby or when an aeroplane flew over during a session. But such critical comments were few and far between. On the contrary, when I had told her of how worthwhile it had been to hike all the way to Edinburgh in order to hear Annie Fischer play at the Festival, she received the comment as though it was a compliment to her own playing.
Although I had tried, in vain, to get in touch with some of my fellow-pupils from the late 60’s in order to see what had come of them musically, although I have not been able to communicate with them since the Hattogate Affair made the headlines, I am sure that my fellow pupils will relate to her in the same vein. If there is only one thing that makes me glad about her demise, it is that she has not been exposed to some of the statements now being made about her.
In fact, if there is anything to be learned from the affair, it is that the commercialization of music-making has taken on such proportions that there are innumerable potential Ashkenazis who live a life of oblivion because of marketing and purchasing practices that now dominate music making. If Joyce Hatto suffered in her lifetime, she never showed it, but would have suffered from this.
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