Joyce Hatto .....All a sham?

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Frogm@n henry (Frogm@n henry), Friday, 16 February 2007 17:14 (fifteen years ago) link


Masterpieces Or Fakes? The Joyce Hatto Scandal February 15 2007
It was already one of the strangest stories the classical music world
had witnessed. But the discovery of the late English pianist Joyce Hatto
as the greatest instrumentalist almost nobody had heard of, appears to
have taken a bizarre, even potentially sinister turn.

It was around a year ago that Gramophone’s critics began to champion
this little-known lady, whose discs – miraculous performances, released
by her husband William Barrington-Coupe on the tiny label Concert Artist
– were notoriously difficult to get hold of. Such was the brilliance of
this pianist across Liszt, Schubert, Rachmaninov, Dukas and more in a
dizzying range – that it was worth making the effort to seek out Concert
Artist to get these discs, and they became much sought-after. By the
time she died in June 2006, Joyce Hatto was not only a sudden widespread
success, she was a cause celebre. To love Hatto recordings was to be in
the know, a true piano aficionado who didn’t need the hype of a major
label’s marketing spend to recognise a good, a great, thing when they
heard it.

But at the same time as the cult of Hatto was burgeoning, there were
persistent rumours on the internet as to the true origins of the
recordings. How, wondered the doubters, could one woman – especially one
who had battled cancer for many years – have mastered a range of
repertoire and recorded a catalogue that arguably makes her more
prolific than even the Richters and the Ashkenazys.

However, Gramophone critic Jeremy Nicholas published a letter in the
magazine asking anyone who had any evidence of any wrong-doing to come
forth. Nobody did, and the matter rested. Until now.

Several days ago, another Gramophone critic decided to listen to a Hatto
Liszt CD, of the 12 Transcendental Studies. He put the disc into his
computer to listen, and something awfully strange happened. His iTunes
player identified the disc as, yes, the Liszts, but not a Hatto
recording. Instead, his display suggested that the disc was one on BIS
Records, by the pianist Lazlo Simon. Mystified, our critic checked his
Hatto disc against the actual Simon recording, and to his amazement they
sounded exactly the same.

In then went a recording of Hatto playing two Rachmaninov Piano
Concertos and, sure enough, iTunes listed it as another – by Yefim
Bronfman, conducted by Esa-Pekka Salonen, on Sony. Again, the critic
compared, and again he could hear no difference.

Gramophone then sent the Hatto and the Simon Liszt recordings to an
audio expert, Pristine Audio’s Andrew Rose, who scientifically checked
the soundwaves of each recording. They matched. “Without a shadow of a
doubt,” reported Rose, “ten of the tracks on the Liszt disc are
identical to those on the Simon.” Of the remaining two, he now feels
that he has identified a further one – which he identified as being,
again “without a shadow of a doubt” from a CD entitled “Nojima Plays
Liszt”, a 1993 release from Reference Recordings. Furthermore, his
partner – who is based elsewhere with his own equipment – agrees.

More astonishing revelations were to come. The pair then checked a track
from a Hatto disc of music by Godowsky, and found that it sounded
strange, as if the sound had been tampered with. After running checks,
they found that if the music had indeed been manipulated – the time had
been stretched by an “audacious” 15.112% (such an extreme stretch
accounted for the odd sound) to alter the tone, but that if the stretch
was reversed it became clear that the track was identical to that played
by the pianist Carlo Grante on a CD issued by Altarus.

Rose even created special pages on his website, showing the soundwaves
for both the Godowsky and the Liszt side by side with those they match.
The listener can compare the tracks simultaneously.

It would take many weeks of intensive work to examine all of the Hatto
recordings, but it seems clear that at least some of these great
performances are identical to other performances available from other
recording companies. Contacted for his comments, Barrington-Coupe – who
acknowledged that he produced well-nigh all of his wife’s recordings -
was at a loss to explain the similarity.

Are the Hatto’s fakes? If so, how many? This, it must be suspected, is a
story that won’t go away until the full truth is known.

Frogm@n henry (Frogm@n henry), Friday, 16 February 2007 17:16 (fifteen years ago) link

I appreciate that link for showing how classical newsgroups Net geeks are indistinguishable from the rest of us geeks.

Ned Raggett (Ned), Friday, 16 February 2007 17:20 (fifteen years ago) link

i don't understand how itunes would have identified a track as being by someone else unless the entire cd were lifted from the other cd; isn't that how gracenote works?

akm (akmonday), Friday, 16 February 2007 17:26 (fifteen years ago) link

"Contacted for his comments, Barrington-Coupe – who acknowledged that he produced well-nigh all of his wife’s recordings - was at a loss to explain the similarity."


Alex in SF (Alex in SF), Friday, 16 February 2007 17:29 (fifteen years ago) link

Isn't this a little like those tests that show that, say, blindfolded wine experts can't tell the difference between red and white at room temperature? It's quite something to have an appreciation of a classical pianist so, umm ... so intimate that you wouldn't even be able to tell her performances were by various other people.

Although maybe that was part of the appeal: "Her interpretations are so varied! She's almost chameleon-like, constantly growing through new modes of playing and thinking!"

nabisco (nabisco), Friday, 16 February 2007 21:26 (fifteen years ago) link

I think that was the point of her appeal. At least that's the impression I got from reading "(s)uch was the brilliance of
this pianist across Liszt, Schubert, Rachmaninov, Dukas and more in a
dizzying range" anyway.

Alex in SF (Alex in SF), Friday, 16 February 2007 21:31 (fifteen years ago) link

hatto's cd of chopin's etudes (the etudes or the preludes anyway!) was very nearly selected by radio 3's building a library prog as the best version. pollini just won out in teh end.
course this is all pretty funny, but loads of music consumers were defrauded....ok that's still funny.

Frogm@n henry (Frogm@n henry), Friday, 16 February 2007 21:46 (fifteen years ago) link

Depending on how much the CDs were, they probably weren't even being badly defrauded! I mean they obv got a pretty high quality solo piano performance. It was just "ghost played" by someone else haha.

Alex in SF (Alex in SF), Friday, 16 February 2007 21:49 (fifteen years ago) link

But there's something pretty amazing about managing to pass off an existing product not only as a different product, but as a superior one. (There is a joke here about the Walk the Line soundtrack, but it just won't straight itself out in my head.)

nabisco (nabisco), Friday, 16 February 2007 21:56 (fifteen years ago) link

I mean, it's like if Milli Vanilli didn't just use studio singers, and their whole album were actually just a compilation of forgotten Rockwell and Oran "Juice" Jones singles from the mid 80s.

nabisco (nabisco), Friday, 16 February 2007 21:58 (fifteen years ago) link

Haha but that's not really comparable though. I mean it's not like those Rockwell and Jones singles have been recorded a million times by a million different singers and someone had to match the Milli Vanilli single to one random version out of a zillion.

Alex in SF (Alex in SF), Friday, 16 February 2007 22:02 (fifteen years ago) link

I mean I think the thing that is obvious here is that regardless of the quality of the performances on the Concert Artists discs that it was the mystique of this "unknown, unfound genius" which made the performance seem so special and different.

Alex in SF (Alex in SF), Friday, 16 February 2007 22:04 (fifteen years ago) link

Well okay, granted, those Rockwell and Oran Jones singles would have to be long-running standards like "My Funny Valentine," or something.

I think this is mostly interesting to me because I assume serious classical listeners are hearing individual nuances in the ways musicians perform/interpret that are lost on me, and while that's obviously true, I think I overestimate just how great of an effect that sort of thing can have. I mean, people are playing pieces old enough that even their possible interpretations have been standardized, on an instrument that's comparatively low down the scale of different players having different sounds on it, in a field where there are plentiful recordings of any given piece -- I guess it's not that surprising that you could dig up a good performance and impress people with it as your own.

nabisco (nabisco), Saturday, 17 February 2007 00:13 (fifteen years ago) link

the classical world is so outright starving for a new virtuoso with a good backstory and a hook that'll maybe sell a few records - it's an "I Want To Believe" scenario like JT LeRoy

Jaufre Rudel (Jaufre Rudel), Saturday, 17 February 2007 03:21 (fifteen years ago) link

i'm surprised nobody took akm's post up! he makes a good point!

vahid (vahid), Saturday, 17 February 2007 03:38 (fifteen years ago) link

Apparently CDDB works (in part) by matching song time length and that's how the tracks were identified.

Alex in SF (Alex in SF), Saturday, 17 February 2007 03:57 (fifteen years ago) link

Its also a need to desperately discover something completely new in the music of that romantic/classical period - if there ws a way to manafacture a discovery in the archives of an unknown composer from that period (to give it the authenticity and aura, of course) and get 50 recordings out of it..Bach ws ignore for a while, innit?

Been following this from another board since yesterday and yeah its amazing (or not) that just one person (Peter Lemken on that board) had his listening to that level of being able to spot stylistic inconsistencies to say that the same person couldn't play two composers such as Prokokiev and Mozart the way it apparently ws claimed. Plus some basic questioning of this back story.

xyzzzz__ (xyzzzz__), Saturday, 17 February 2007 10:18 (fifteen years ago) link

i thought cddb worked by multiplying # of tracks times total album length to make a big unique number?

something is kinda fishy here

a mediocre black-and-white cookie in a cellophane wrapper (hanks1ockli), Tuesday, 20 February 2007 19:59 (fifteen years ago) link

like is he saying cddb claimed it was an previously-unknown comp of various tracks from other albums?

a mediocre black-and-white cookie in a cellophane wrapper (hanks1ockli), Tuesday, 20 February 2007 20:00 (fifteen years ago) link

yeah it makes no sense. I call bullshit on that.

akm (akmonday), Tuesday, 20 February 2007 20:06 (fifteen years ago) link

i thought cddb worked by multiplying # of tracks times total album length to make a big unique number?

That algorithm sounds kinda fishy!

David RER (Frank Fiore), Tuesday, 20 February 2007 20:08 (fifteen years ago) link

is the joyce hatto sham a sham?

a mediocre black-and-white cookie in a cellophane wrapper (hanks1ockli), Tuesday, 20 February 2007 20:11 (fifteen years ago) link

from wikipedia:

How CDDB works

CDDB was designed around the task of identifying entire CDs, not merely single tracks. The identification process involves creating a "discid", a sort of "fingerprint" of a CD created by performing calculations on the track duration information stored in the table-of-contents of the CD. This discid is used with the internet database, typically either to download track names for the whole CD or to submit track names for a newly-identified CD.

Since identification of CDs is based on the length and order of the tracks, CDDB cannot identify playlists in which the order of tracks has been changed, or compilations of tracks from different CDs. CDDB also cannot distinguish between different CDs that have the same number of tracks and the same track lengths.

Critics charge that the field listings for CDDB are inadequate for the inclusion of proper identification of classical music recordings. So far, this issue has not been adequately nor uniformly addressed.

a mediocre black-and-white cookie in a cellophane wrapper (hanks1ockli), Tuesday, 20 February 2007 20:12 (fifteen years ago) link

From what I've read of that thread an entire CD of [x] pianist's playing ws lifted from his own CD to another and claimed as a Hatto.

xyzzzz__ (xyzzzz__), Tuesday, 20 February 2007 20:17 (fifteen years ago) link

guys check this:

what a wierd story.

urghonomic (gcannon), Tuesday, 20 February 2007 20:21 (fifteen years ago) link

okay, I re-read it and it does sound like the entire disc (of Lizt work) was identified as a different disc.

akm (akmonday), Tuesday, 20 February 2007 20:49 (fifteen years ago) link

the main thing that is freaking weird about this is that it took THAT LONG for someone to stick this in itunes. I guess classical music fans aren't much for the ipods.

akm (akmonday), Tuesday, 20 February 2007 20:53 (fifteen years ago) link

also, Barrington-Coup is the fakest name ever

akm (akmonday), Tuesday, 20 February 2007 20:57 (fifteen years ago) link

"is the joyce hatto sham a sham?"

That would be awesome.

Alex in SF (Alex in SF), Tuesday, 20 February 2007 21:32 (fifteen years ago) link

doesn't look like a sham to me, looks like an unbelievably blatant attempt at deception

the main thing that is freaking weird about this is that it took THAT LONG for someone to stick this in itunes. I guess classical music fans aren't much for the ipods.

from reading that link, it looks like most of the Hatto editions were either subtly or not-so-subtly timestretched, resulting in slightly different track lengths, which is enough to fool cddb. no reason to do this other than to fool people, and I guess they just forgot to do that for this one Liszt CD.

Julio, if you can find a link to the other forums discussing the performances I'd love to look over those.

milton parker (milton parker), Tuesday, 20 February 2007 21:43 (fifteen years ago) link

Yeah, this is fascinating. So when did folks start going nutso collector for her stuff?

matt2 (matt2), Tuesday, 20 February 2007 21:58 (fifteen years ago) link

Did she make anyone's Jackin' Pop ballot last year?

Mark (Mark R), Tuesday, 20 February 2007 22:39 (fifteen years ago) link

the part about time-stretching is strange to me. i would think that someone w/ perfect pitch (good sense of pitch, even) or someone who knew what keys these pieces are supposed to be played in would have noticed right from the get-go that something was up.

6335 (6335), Tuesday, 20 February 2007 22:59 (fifteen years ago) link

You'd think they could just add a little silence to the beginning or end of the CD, which would change it enough to fool CDDB. And 15% time stretching is kind of a lot. It probably did sound weird to people.

Chris H. (chrisherbert), Tuesday, 20 February 2007 23:20 (fifteen years ago) link

It's also possible to time-stretch without pitch alteration - IIRC Soundforge supported this within certain limits, and there are Freeware programs that will do it too.

Rombald (rombald), Tuesday, 20 February 2007 23:23 (fifteen years ago) link

her star rose fast, one of the earlier articles from late 2005.

times obit from last year

times coverage following up Gramophone's announcement

and one last point, I've already read a few posts in other places about how this proves how classical music fans aren't big on iPods if it all it took was someone sticking a disc into iTunes... since most of the 119 Hatto discs were timealtered, and it's only been about one and a half years since people started waking up to her mail-order-only catalog -- this seems like it was caught reasonably quickly.

online classical sales are way, way up over physical sales.

this is a pretty great story. it's a little nerve wracking to see how casual people are getting about attribution in the digital age, and it's telling to see how _shocked_ people are that something like this could have happened -- 'don't those experts know their stuff?' -- well yes they do, and they caught it reasonably quickly, considering. we're all living with this endemic fuzziness.

I remember a dinner party where someone was proudly playing a leak of the yet-to-be-released Boards of Canada album that were pretty clearly fake, and when I politely expressed doubt he brusquely got up from the table to bring the iPod over to show me the tags & prove that I was wrong... wow that's some confidence

milton parker (milton parker), Wednesday, 21 February 2007 01:23 (fifteen years ago) link

Perhaps another reason it took a while to be found out is because I've put CDs in my computer and have had different CD names pop up, but rather than find it curious or worth investigating I chalk it up to coincidence, as there are so many albums out there that once in a while I expect to find another CD with the same/very similar structure. Also, I'm so accustomed to finding errors and inconsistencies when using auto-taggers that I would think it's an error on Gracenote's part. I guess people like myself are helping out these fraudsters by not being more vigilant, shame shame etc.

musically (musically), Wednesday, 21 February 2007 02:10 (fifteen years ago) link

I'll bet more than a few listeners simply shrugged off the iTunes ID tags before a critic who also happened to have the other Liszt disc already in his collection happened to notice. that's the thing, we all think we're being alert but we go numb to it. I'm a lifelong Cluster fan, but when that 'Cluster & Eno Live 1977' mp3 made the rounds last month, I listened uncritically and posted to old-ILM giving it the thumbs-up. But there are doubts that there was ever even a single Cluster & Eno live gig -- got to be more careful now than ever before.

linked via Rambler, one of the more ardent Hatto reviewers Christopher Howell writes about his correspondence with Hatto & husband, and touches on the role of the critic --

milton parker (milton parker), Wednesday, 21 February 2007 20:57 (fifteen years ago) link

You're probably going to be more aware of the odd identification if CDDB pulls up the composition played by someone who is not Hatto, as opposed to some reggae CD or something obviously incorrect.

coz larry (bundgee), Wednesday, 21 February 2007 21:10 (fifteen years ago) link

definitely. but some people might be just as likely to shrug it off, others might simply suspect the occasionally error-prone CDDB, and the subset of those leftover might lack the dedication to track down the other disc if they didn't already own it.

that Howell correspondence with Barrington-Coupe over the details of the performances is unbelievable. it's hard not to admire a hoax taken to a level like this, beyond the financial resources needed to press 100+ physical CDs, this guy really knew how to talk shop. this is so great, I hope I can still order a few of these discs.

milton parker (milton parker), Wednesday, 21 February 2007 21:20 (fifteen years ago) link

& condensing the timeline laid out by this article, because in conversation some friends still seem unclear as to how quickly this all unfolded

- Hatto's career begins in late 50's
- Records Bax's 'Symphonic Variations' for EMI at Abbey Road in early 70's, among other releases & concert appearences
- Retires in late 70's with onset of illness
- Husband begins releasing private pressings of CD's at an amazing rate in 2003 & sending out to reviewers. Liner notes indicate recording dates from late 80's to present day.
- First mainstream articles & coverage in late 2005 - early 2006
- First doubts posted to in January 2006, shouted down by ardent fans
- March 2006 issue of Gramophone - Jeremy Nicholas' article 'Piano Dreams', followed by publication of several sceptical letters to the editor in following issues
- June 30, 2006 - Hatto dies, glowing obituaries in the Times, the Guardian, MusicWeb
- July 2006 issue of Gramophone -- Nicholas responds, challenging anyone to back up their accusations with solid legal evidence -- doubters go silent, reviews continue
- 15 February 2007 - goes online with evidence of forgery

wikipedia's linked the main articles as well

milton parker (milton parker), Wednesday, 21 February 2007 21:37 (fifteen years ago) link

I looked at the FT article before seeing this thread today.

Can anyone explain my question in the comments page - is cddb just not that good in the first place at id (so if 10/12 tracks are lifted instead of all 12) xp

xyzzzz__ (xyzzzz__), Wednesday, 21 February 2007 21:40 (fifteen years ago) link

All of which immediately provokes two questions.

First, has classical music now reached a saturation point of recording when not even professionals have the ability to recognise identical versions of famous pieces?

Second, should these professionals perhaps stop putting us all on that they can distinguish the subtle nuance they say they can and do something more useful than complain about the “flat colouring” of the soprano section in the second act of a three-champagne opera?

Posted by tracerhand on Wednesday, February 21st, 2007. Share This

first -- yes, definitely. would love to see anyone try and tell 50 different recordings of Debussy etudes apart after 5-30 years of professional reviewing without the packaging. and nowhere is the background story of a performer more a part of listening than in classical.

second -- yeah, see this is exactly the kind of perception of this story that I'm trying to fight -- the headline looks bad, 'iTunes uncovers fraud that stuffy classical experts missed, they should just go listen to Radiohead' -- but anyone who looks into it can see why so many were unprepared for a con game taken to a level like this. not that it isn't fun to read a thread that is basically identical to a ILM flamewar thread at a 'higher' level of discourse (gets really good around page four), but maybe think about this for more than 2 seconds before throwing garbage

julio -- there are aspects of cddb that are still a bit of a mystery to me. I've had it ID discs that were not redbook clones of the commercial disc. I've had a friend _swear_ that CDDB successfully ID'd a vinyl rip of an album he personally made as the released disc -- the times are _not_ identical overall, but somehow -- it was close enough? I didn't believe him, but... well... it may be trickier than I'd originally thought. perhaps 10/12 tracks is enough to have iTunes throw out a similar disc as a suggestion. I need to ask around about this.

& on a purely speculative note -- perhaps in late January, someone in the know personally uploaded cddb tags of the Hatto disc with tags pointing to the Simon? I'm just having fun now, but the internet's a big place

milton parker (milton parker), Wednesday, 21 February 2007 22:41 (fifteen years ago) link

"not that it isn't fun to read a thread that is basically identical to a ILM flamewar thread at a 'higher' level of discourse (gets really good around page four)"

I ws thinking of saying something 'if you think ILM is bad then you oughta read this!' :-)

But actually the couple of classical boards I'm on (linked by Henry above) aren't so bad (r3ok. board ws only created last week). That board has only the odd - "OMG its all decadence post Schoenberg!!" - type poster.

I don't know if 'professionals' ever claim they can distinguish subtle nuances in that way. Some (and only some), like Max Harrison (who used to write for wire a few years ago) ws able to listen to a new recording of a work to tell if the performer is giving it a new 'view', then communicate as to whether they think that is something worth seeing, I suppose, while doing the whole compare/contrast with previous recordings from years ago. But yeah the market doesn't need to be so saturated with performances on CD so that you can read someone doing all this work in the first place.

But the classical recording industry can't face recording some of today's composers and ensembles - that gets a big fat NO!

xyzzzz__ (xyzzzz__), Wednesday, 21 February 2007 23:17 (fifteen years ago) link

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