Some ten or fifteen years ago a previously little-known pianist named Joyce Hatto, a woman in her seventies who had not appeared in public for more than twenty years, came to the notice of music buffs thanks to a series of extraordinary recordings put out by her husband’s Concert Artists’ label.
Hatto, it seemed, although terminally ill, had devoted six years to these recordings, and what performances they were. One of the greatest pianists Britain has ever produced, said The Guardian.
Oh no, she wasn’t. The recordings were fabricated by her husband, William Barrington-Coupe, cutting and splicing performances of other great pianists. There was a little bit of Joyce there, but not much.
It’s still unclear how much Joyce knew of what her husband was doing. And why was he doing it? Not, he says, for the glory, the publicity or the money, which wasn’t much anyway. The best he can say is It was all about getting things to sound right.
What a subject he’d make for a novel, as would A.D. Harvey, an English academic who for thirty years deceived a range of scholarly journals and magazines with articles written by Stephanie Harvey, Graham Headley, Trevor McGovern, John Schellenberger, Leo Bellingham, Michael Lindsay, Ludovico Parra and the poet Janis Blodnieks. This community of scholars analysed, supplemented and even ruthlessly criticized each other’s work, and the fact that all of them were A.D. Harvey may never have come to light if an American academic, Eric Naiman, had not become suspicious about a supposed meeting of Dickens and Dostoevsky in London in 1862, a meeting described by Stephanie Harvey in The Dickensian in 2002 and accepted as fact by the Dickens biographers Michael Slater and Claire Tomalin.
Why would anyone put so much time and intellectual effort into a 30-year-long hoax? It’s been put down to the frustrated ego of a man who feels he’s never got his just recognition in the academic world. Or perhaps he finds the world as written by Stephanie Harvey, Graham Headley and the others, preferable to the world as it is. Maybe that’s what it’s about for Joyce Hatto’s husband too – getting things to sound right.
Gert loves these stories where the borders of the “real” and ideal world merge and dissolve. In Frauds (freuds) 2 we’ll look at the extraordinary physical feats of Donald Crowhurst and Peter Treseder.