Joyce Hatto - the other story

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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Unknown said…
It's eloquently written, but I cannot help but smile at this :

"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."

All the same, I'm glad someone decided to post something which could give us a more complete picture of the person Joyce Hatto. I spoke with others who had heard her play live and the general feeling was negative, but they didn't comment on her person.

Walter Ramsey
Unknown said…
What makes you think this person is for real? Barrington-Coupe invented an entire fictional biography for Joyce Hatto's conductor "René Köhler". Something like this, without even a name attached to it, is considerably easier to fake.
Pliable said…
Gergio, due to the intrusive actions of the media I didn't identify this pupil of Joyce Hatto's. I am quite satisfied about their identity, and will forward any serious correspondence to them.

Anonymity is sometimes useful, which is why is why I guess your Blogger profile does not reveal your identity.

Sometimes some help and understanding is needed.
Unknown said…
Pliable, that's all very well, but where such an intricate web of lies has been built up around a person as in this case, I think many of us will feel that scepticism is justified. See for example Christopher Howell at . Perhaps you would feel less forgiving if you had yourself been conned by Hatto and her fraudster husband.
Pliable said…
Sometimes some help and understanding is needed.
Davis Mavis said…
The style of this piece entirely resembles the style of the fraudulent biography of 'Rene Kohler' on the crimnal Concert Artist website. Why post it at all? It is plainly a fake and easy to work out who faked it.
It is entirely possible to have technique, talent, but not have the ability to perform in public under the intense scrutiny of the press and all the rest of the fluff that goes along with life as a public perofrmer.

Look at the number of so called great performers who retired from public performance? Yeuhudi Menuhin comes to mind. How many many performers refuse to be put into the crucible of the recording studio? Martha Argerich and Sviatoslav Richter come to mind.

People who no long wish to, or for some reason are not suited to being performers even though they have the understanding and musical talent often make good teachers. This may well have been true of Joyce Hatto.

This account sounds authentic to me. It sounds authentic enough to me that I wish other students of hers would come forward so we may understand this story completely. Somehow, I have the feeling that the complete story has not been told yet.

The discovery of these fakes was a great feather in the cap of some of the academics who made and confirmed this discovery. Don't count that out as a motive for wanting the story to be larger than life. Lets listen long enough to learn the truth sans all the egos involved.

I have favourite performers who, when I mention their name, people just look at me as if I was crazy ... they've never heard of them. One that immediately comes to mind is Imogene Cooper who's Schubert recordings are amongst my favourites.

Those who sit in the privileged seats as critics for major publishing outlets have no corner on truth or the discernment of beauty.

John said…
I love the "Is God is dead" part. These are the sort of subject-changing, catch-you-off-guard ruminations Barrington Coupe is famous for, and I have little down between that and the sentence structure and grammar that the post came from him. He is still trying to rehabilitate not her, but his reputation.

I once suspected a literary web site was being gamed by sock puppets of one author who very badly wanted to win a literary prize, a prize based on popularity. Almost all the praise this author got read the same way. I drew the attention of this to the site's administrators, as well as the fact that these comments all had ISP addresses from the same section of the country, Dallas, TX. The administrators told me they had analysed the messages carefully and knew factually that they were from different and traceable people, though how they did that they did not explain. They assured me when they had created the website they made it so that no one could "game" it. So I created about ten sock puppets of my own and posted in praise of me over the next month, and they never caught on. So much for thoroughly-vetting the identity of a poster. Btw, I won the prize, too, but refused it for this very reason.
Anonymous said…
I have the Gail buckingham 2 x Revolution records LPs of Liszt; are quite good pianism .Also 2 of the Challis, a very real pianist, Liszt in the same BC series, "Liszt Recorded Edition". How far did this series(1970/1)get?: i have only the first 4 and a couple of Fiorentinos plus Challis playing Moscheles. Ok, BC caused lots of problems but not everything he did was bad: some great artists on Delta, for instance.These Revolution LPs are nicely presented and play well, a bit harsh on climaxes/high frequencies. Challis is particuarly good and his Moscheles Lp prefigures Schumann in parts. Steve

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