Saturday, March 17, 2007

Joyce Hatto as a Heroine

I have the ingredients, let me cook (originally from

When I first read Denis Dutton's article on Joyce Hatto (IHT, Febr.26. 07) I thought this is it: The Granny is a heroine and a symbol for much of the cultural production of our era. I tried to make a link to the original article but it does not really work,(oh thanks Denis Dutton, he sent me the link :) That was kind) because they have a policy of 7 days only access. So let me summarize it: Born in 1928 to a music-loving London antique dealer, Joyce Hatto was a mediocre pianist throughtout her career. She had few moments of glory, but then, when in 1972 she was diagnosed with cancer, she retired with her recording engineer husband to a village not far from Cambridge. In 1989, she surprised the critics for the CDs she started releasing through the small record label run by her husband. Nobody would have expected so much passion and late talent from her. The phenomenon continued growing and the CDs became numerous, restless granny. Everybody was touched by the astonishing burst of musical energy that the old pianist was experiencing once her health got undermined by cancer. Articles and notes started appearing. Her last recording was supposedly done in 2006, from a wheelchair, few days before her death, at the age 77. Of course the last opus could not but be exceptional: it was "Les Adieux" (Farewell) of Beethoven.
She was said to set an example concerning the magical and slippery notion of talent and how it proceeds in an unexpected way. Middling-grade in her maturity, she became a superb pianist, with a message, in her late years. "Do not give up, talent may shower you with grace just two step before the tombstone". It is a positive message, for sure.

Now, for her bad luck (and her husband's) somebody noticed the similarity of her interpretation with the one of a Hungarian virtuoso (Lazlo Simon). And indeed when they checked it through the iTunes library, they found it identical. It was stolen then, and the recording engineer husband just modified it a bit. This way, from one check to the other, they found out that she had not recorded a tiny single piece, but everything was a "copy and paste" achievement. What was her trick? She chose not very well known to the West interpretations, delivered by semi-unknown but very talented musicians. Then she mixed them with recorded world famous orchestras, so that it would give the perfect result. Of course the critics got humiliated and reacted with exaggerated anger and disgust against the plagiarist couple.

Plagiarism (the action of copying some one's work and claiming it to be your own) is very well known in art, science and humanities. It is so common, that the artists and researchers spend considerable amount of time in proving that they did not steal from anybody (take a look at the ridiculously lengthy bibliography and annotation part of a PhD and you will know what I mean. Out of them all, the researcher was benefited from the 15%- maximum).

What are the foundations for this practice? The considerable ignorance of the general and specialized public. The urge to deliver, for practical reasons, while the person has no real interest at this stage to work with his/her heart/mind. The power of melodrama: "wow, look at her! she is terminally ill and God gives her immense power to accomplish her mission". But on the other hand, I do not believe that much of what we do is genuine, something of our own. Like the cows in the green fields, we ruminate, we ruminate, we ruminate.

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Blogger Denis Dutton said...

It's all at:

Interesting comments from you. Thanks.

Denis Dutton

11:02 AM  
Blogger Vas said...

i liked your article a lot. Your account is a suitable start for brainstorming.

11:09 AM  
Blogger Denis Dutton said...

Seems to have gotten Anthony Tommasini going too....

9:06 AM  

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