Friday, September 14, 2007

The Really Strange Story of Joyce Hatto

Now here's a fascinating and sadly human tale: the story of Joyce Hatto (right), a middling concert pianist who, with her music publisher husband, fabricated a brilliant career for herself by literally passing off other musicians' recordings as her own. What's weird is 1) the couple wanted to do it at all, 2) that they thought they could get away with it, and 3) that they did get away with it for several years, fooling the world's classical music aficionados into believing Joyce Hatto was a genius whose talents, up til then, had simply and strangely gone unrecognized. The story's wonderfully told in this month's New Yorker, but it appears in other places as well.

Probably the strangest bit of the story involves Hatto's husband, a lonely London suburbanite who, even after her death from cancer, still maintains that the recordings are hers (well, essentially; he acknowledges a little digital tweaking on his part during the publishing process). And this even though he himself brazenly stole copies of other musician's performances, cobbled together CDs, sent them out to friends and correspondents under his wife's name, and happily watched the internet buzz grow. And it is stranger still that despite the audacity of his lies, he remains a sympathetic figure. That's the human part. He and his wife wanted success so badly that together they were willing to risk humiliation and scandal to get it, even though they had to know it would all catch up with them.

I suppose there's a chance that the hoax wasn't born of some pathetic longing to be something they weren't; perhaps it was just a lark that got out of hand, a little joke that grew and grew until they couldn't find a way out of it. Since he still can't tell the truth - can't or won't - we'll never know.

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