Hatto Week 2 ; fictitious recordings and blind listenings
One week on, clarification, not explanation. The story has been extensively reported in the mainstream (i.e. not just musical) news media, and has now died down, leaving us not much the wiser as to matters of real psychological interest.
Next, what light is shed on critical practice? The original judgments of Hatto discs have of course been re-examined. Hindsight is of course the most certain analytical tool there is, but the dramatic irony revealed is striking. One radio interviewer even says: ‘Hatto has no interest in the authenticity movement.' To take the two most distinguished of Hatto's reviewers, Bryce Morrison praised, as one of Hatto's virtues, her ability to sound "radically different" from one recording to the next. And Ates Orga wrote presciently, “Playing Chopin she's a very different artist, another pianist even, from the one met in Brahms.”
So, should/could discs be reviewed completely blind – on the analogy of the orchestral auditions discussed in my article on judgment and intuition? No, although it would be easy to copy every disc onto a blank CD-R before giving it out for review. But the extra work (and extra person) involved and the need to secure the agreement of the record companies means the procedure would be impracticable. Besides, many discs are posted direct to reviewers with a record company address label; any new release appears in press material before it is available physically, so its identity can be easily guessed even from a blank. If nothing else, ‘Hattogate' reminds us that music criticism is a fragile form of perception and writing.
See update 26 February: 'I did it for my wife' – William Barrington-Coupe confesses and its assessment below by our Ying Chang:
This morning, (February 27th, 2007) the papers all display plenty of column inches about the 'confession' of William Barrington-Coupe, Joyce Hatto's husband. The Telegraph tells us that, despite Mr Barrington-Coupe's admissions, "Hertfordshire Police said that they would take no action unless the copyright owners of the original recordings made complaints".
His letter at first sight reads very well. Yes, he did it for love. Yes, it started off quite innocently, when he remembered that once, no less than Kirsten Flagstad's high notes had been covered by Elisabeth Schwarzkopf. And it only arose because Hatto lived at the wrong time, when her cassette recordings were no longer of interest in the CD era. And the numbers involved were small, 5000-odd records last year, 3000-odd the year before...
Much more true to life is Barrington-Coupe's refusal to disclose what is authentic among the recordings (since the inference is likely to be that nothing is authentic) and his plea to be left alone.
Hatto – The End of the Affair
Over a hundred piano recordings were passed off as the work of the invalid Joyce Hatto, the fraud was extensively discussed and was widely reported in the national media. Yet, almost immediately after Hatto's husband, William Barrington-Coupe (WBC), confessed to being the perpetrator, further news and discussion diminished to zero.
In particular, WBC's desire to be left alone expressed in his confession has happened.
His hoax was morally and intellectually despicable in stealing the work of honest artists, even if it was kindly suggested to him he did for love of his dying wife.
But no legal action, as far as we know, is being taken. Why?
The short answer is that it is in nobody's interest to prosecute or sue WBC. Let us see who might have wanted to.The most obvious victims are the artists themselves, but, as often in the music industry, they are actually at the back of the queue. Artists seldom own the exploitation rights to their own work, and they often receive very small royalties. Except in a few cases, the artists and recordings WBC chose were not the best-known; the sales of these discs would not have been large. Any monetary loss would have been very small. As the ‘ Hatto ' recordings received many good reviews, it is even possible to argue that the real artists have received a small amount of positive publicity.
The actual rights holders of these recordings are record companies. But a record company in the classical sector (even the biggest) depends on the energy of a very small number of individuals – which, for example, explains the personal nature of the generous response by von Bahr (Bis). Not one of the companies is likely to have in-house lawyers (though the majors obviously have access to the lawyers working for the music group as a whole). From a public relations point of view, it does not look good to hound a recently bereaved man in his seventies. A record company might only be a single person, but it would still look like a big organisation, “such and such limited,” taking on a single old man.
Finally, there are the innocent CD buyers. Even here, there is a leap between being swindled and taking legal action. If you bought a disc and liked it, you may feel that it gave you some pleasure anyway. If you bought many discs, you may feel (as some have shared their outrage on discussion fora) that you have been punished for your credulity. Or you may look on e-Bay and see that some Hatto discs apparently trade nowe for more than you paid for them...
Now look at it from the other side. Any action, and certainly a class action, against WBC would win. But his own resources are unlikely to be so great either. All the victims could gang up together, but end up recovering very little, and probably not even their legal costs. There is no collective will or practical benefit in pursuing WBC.
So the only argument for legal action is actually the moral one. To serve abstract justice. Sadly, in a sector of the music industry which is changing so fast and is under such pressure, almost everyone is just looking out for themselves, to survive, and - if fortunate - to innovate.
Apart from a very few, those who are doing well are having to take on an increasing amount of management and marketing functions themselves – witness such luminaries as Sir John Eliot Gardiner and the Labeque sisters (July 07 reviews), not to mention most major orchestras, forced into running their own record labels.
Morals round the dinner table are fine, but they don't feature on the bottom line of the balance sheet.
At best, “ Hattogate ” was a salutary warning to listeners and critics. At worst, it is yet another example of the substantive unfairness of life. Unfair to artists, unfair to lovers of classical music, potentially unfair even to Joyce Hatto herself.
We can only be grateful that so much good work, with so much integrity, is being done in the field of classical music that it will not be long before “ Hattogate ” is a distant , anomalous memory.
For full background of the breaking scandal, see: http://www.pristineclassical.com/HattoHoax.html
Reader's comment: - - the whole thing shows just how much critics are influenced by extramusical considerations. Of course, most performers realise very quickly that the audience, in part, hear what they see... A.S.
August 1 2009 - last night the Hatto Hoax was televised by Channel Four - so far, we have not located an URL to re-run the programme, which we missed seeing.
But we have turned up this valuable study of the scandal: http://www.pristineclassical.com/HattoHoax.html