The classical music world has been abuzz in recent weeks with a controversy that would appear to be more in keeping with corrupt corporate CEOs than with earnest classical artists and producers.
Well, perhaps it’s an overstatement to say the classical music “world” has been concerned with this scandal. I doubt that few classical music professionals, let alone average music lovers, had ever even heard of the late pianist Joyce Hatto outside of her native England. Until recently, that is.
That’s when it came to light that her rare and critically acclaimed recordings may have been faked by her husband. Details are available from a story at NPR’s web site. But suffice it to say that the performances CD reviewers in the English press had been gushing over appear to have been made by other artists, and simply copied onto CDs labeled with Hatto as the performer.
It’s tempting to poke fun at the gullibility of music critics and fans in this case, but the artists who have allegedly been plagiarized (if that term can be applied to musical performances) are artists who are actually well known, such as Vladimir Ashkenázy and Yefim Bronfman. They have long been earning rave reviews all on their own, without the poignant back story of Hatto, who struggled with cancer in her later years, even as her husband released these acclaimed recordings through his own company.
Still, the whole thing is a little reminiscent of the tale of The Emperor’s New Clothes, in which no one has the courage to tell the ruler that he’s actually naked, except for a little boy who doesn’t know any better. The contemporary twist on the tale provided by this case is that the “little boy” was reportedly the CD player on a personal computer. When a Joyce Hatto CD was loaded, the recording information displayed by the player was for another artist and recording altogether, arousing the suspicions of the listener and setting off the investigation.
For the record, WDAV does not have any Joyce Hatto recordings, and I personally had never heard of her before this story surfaced. I’d love to be able to claim that our acute critical discernment accounts for that, but the truth is, we just never received her CDs. WDAV gets most of its material from commercial distributors with whom we have established relationships. Increasingly over the past decade, small labels or the artists themselves also submit many of the recordings we get for consideration. If Joyce Hatto’s husband had known of us, chances are we’d have her CDs in our library and on our air, too.
Frank Dominguez is WDAV’s Program Director