Joyce Hatto; the greatest hoax in classical music?

Wishing all of you a very Merry Christmas and a wonderful 2013.

I watched Loving Miss Hatto on BBC 1 with great interest last night. The drama was written by Victoria Wood and inspired by the story of Joyce Hatto; the infamous concert pianist whose husband apparently masterminded many of her later recordings by using those of other artists. Whilst the play was beautifully written and no doubt fairly accurate, the overriding feeling was one of disappointment.

Joyce Hatto appears to have started out in the profession in the same way as many pianists; she was a promising young player giving lots of concerts, some of them in noted concert halls including the Wigmore Hall. She worked as an orchestral rehearsal pianist and made some early recordings including Sir Arnold Bax’s  Symphonic Variations conducted by Vernon Handley with the Guildford Philharmonic Orchestra.

Joyce married William Barrington-Coupe, a British record producer in 1956. Barrie, as he was known, seems to have been determind to make Joyce a star and set about this huge undertaking by arranging many concerts and recitals for her around the UK. Joyce achieved some success but increasingly taught the piano and was eventually diagnosed with cancer so stopped playing altogether. It was during this time that Barrie decided to revive his wife’s career by making her into a recording artist of note. Over 100 Hatto recordings surfaced, many to great critical acclaim.

Over time, suspicion arose about the authenticity of the recordings and it transpired that Barrie had used sections of various other celebrated pianist’s recordings and pieced them together; a very clever strategy but not one that would stand the test of time. Barrie maintained Joyce never knew about his endeavours, but many believe she was well aware of what was going on. Joyce succumbed to cancer in 2006.

Most artists would be mortified by such deception. Music is a hazardous career choice; disappointments are rife and a thick skin is very necessary. Hopes and aspirations sometimes blur the lines between dreams and reality. Hatto’s husband may have stooped to a new low in his fraudulent behaviour, but he did so to please his wife in the hope that he may finally make her happy. Success in this profession frequently depends merely on a lucky break; there are copious wonderful musicians who enjoy limited or little popularity.

Hatto has certainly entered the history books, although unfortunately for the wrong reasons; her career may eventually be known as the greatest hoax in classical music.


Melanie Spanswick has written and published a wide range of courses, anthologies, examination syllabuses, and text books, including Play it again: PIANO (published by Schott Music). This best-selling graded, progressive piano course contains a large selection of repertoire featuring a huge array of styles and genres, with copious practice tips and suggestions for every piece.

For more information, please visit the publications page, here.

One Comment Add yours

  1. Can't Play Won't Play says:

    Victoria Wood’s talents continue to unfold with this wonderful drama. However Channel 4 were first with a factual account entitled ‘The Great Piano Scam’ which included an interview with ‘Barrie’ indespersed with similar with music and technical experts giving evidence against him. Away from the ‘trial by television’ theme, this was a very detailed account of the life of Ms.Hatto and never once incriminated her personally. Getting in with the right crowd is an important philosophy of life, and it was most unfortunate Joyce Hatto never did.

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