WE NEED TO TALK ABOUT . . . JOYCE HATTO: The classical genius who wasn't

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WE NEED TO TALK ABOUT . . . JOYCE HATTO: The classical genius who wasn't
As many politicians and Milli Vanilla would attest, the problem isn't just what you did in the first place, it is the lying afterwards which compounds matters.

When the lies are revealed what follows is scorn, contempt and public opprobrium.

You get fired, the work dries up, friends and neighbours shun you . . . and sometimes you can only see one way out to end the ridicule and shame.

British classical pianist Joyce Hatto – hailed in her lifetime for her exceptional recordings of Beethoven, Mozart, Liszt, Chopin and other big guns – died in 2006, six months before the scandal which broke.

And in truth it wasn't her who was the misguided villain in this story, it was her producer husband William Barrington-Coupe who insisted his wife knew nothing about the “jiggery-pokery” he had done, although some doubt that is true.

And what William had done fooled classical music critics who hailed Joyce's records in magazines as illustrious as Gramophone. Other pianists also acclaimed Joyce's albums.

Except they weren't by Joyce.

Screen_Shot_2023_01_18_at_10.56.00_AMBefore her death at age 77, there had been some doubts cast about whether the recordings – so many from a woman who had ceased performing in 1976 – were by Hatto but then things took a serious turn when software allowed close analysis of Hatto's discs.

And the truth came out, although Barrington-Coupe initially denied it: these were sonically manipulated and edited recordings of other artists – mostly reasonably obscure – which he'd done in the studio.

And he knew what he was doing, he'd worked with Joe Meek and was the engineer on the Tornados' Telstar.

Most of the recordings appeared to contain some of Hatto's playing but Barrington-Coupe insisted all he did was insert passages from other sources to iron out some problems in her playing, brought on by her illness, he said.

The case against him was not just fraud but also piracy.

When he finally admitted what he had done – some eight months after his wife's death – the floodgates opened and scores of Hatto's albums were analysed and found to be by other artists, among them Ashkenazy, John O'Conor and Lazlo Simon on labels such as Naxos, Hyperion, Telarc and Decca

Despite that and because of his advanced age when the truth was revealed, Barrington-Coupe was never prosecuted for what he did.

B_CoupeHe lived quietly thereafter, lost his friends and felt most acutely the damage to his late wife's name and reputation. He died in 2014.

The Hatto/ Barrington-Coupe swindle has been called “the greatest ever music fraud” and has been the subject of a BBC documentary, a 2012 television film Loving Miss Hatto by Victoria Wood (starring Francesca Annis, Roy Kinnear and Alfred Molina) and the basis of a couple of novels.

A remarkable fraud which caught out the classical music critics and made Joyce Hatto famous . . . for all the wrong reasons.


The doco below takes two minutes to start and there is a similarly lengthy break in the middle


For other articles in the series of strange characters in music, WE NEED TO TALK ABOUT . . . go here.

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