BROOKE GLADSTONE: And now another faker. For classical music fans in the late '90s, it seemed almost too good to be true - a virtuoso pianist with a compelling history emerging seemingly from nowhere.
But what began as a topic in Internet chat rooms became a global phenomenon when taste-makers like Gramophone and The Boston Globe weighed in, The Globe calling her, quote, "the greatest living pianist that almost no one has ever heard of."
In June of 2006, Joyce Hatto died at the height of her fame. But then in February of this year came the news that her bio was not real and her recordings, some 100 of them, not hers. Her husband, manager and co-conspirator, William Barrington-Coupe, was left to try and explain.
Mark Singer recently recounted Hatto's so-called brilliant career in The New Yorker. MARK SINGER: Well, Joyce Hatto had a real career as a pianist. As a soloist she played recitals in London in the '50s and '60s, a middling sort of career - no great distinction - and then disappeared. She doesn't really re-emerge until the 1990s, and at that point very indirectly, through recordings that are issued by Concert Artists, which is William Barrington-Coupe's label.
They were at first talked about very quietly in some Internet groups and there were little excerpts from these CDs that were uploaded, and people were hearing them, but hey weren't really being marketed aggressively at all. But the word of mouth spread through the Internet. BROOKE GLADSTONE: Let's talk about the role of the Internet in all of this. It seems as if she couldn't have taken off like the phenomenon she was if it hadn't been for the communities that coalesced around her recordings online. MARK SINGER: I cannot imagine this having happened in a pre-Internet age. I think she and her husband both recognized that there was this virtual world where they could influence opinion about her, and they did it in very targeted ways.
They would see who was communicating in these chat rooms, they would get in touch with them and then strike up a conversation, in effect, through email.
Every time she would issue a new CD there would be a new buzz on the Internet about these things. And there would be a few detractors, but mostly people were pushing her, because she wasn't getting recognition in the world outside the Internet yet. BROOKE GLADSTONE: What was her breakout number? MARK SINGER: Well, there was a recording of a Liszt piece, The Mephisto Waltz, that was posted on one website that a lot of people fell in love with. [MUSIC EXCERPT: THE MEPHISTO WALTZ] BROOKE GLADSTONE: So who was really playing that Liszt? MARK SINGER: You're asking, actually, the question du jour because the artist on that recording has just been discovered within the last 24 hours. But for a long time, that wasn't the relevant question. It was — this is Joyce Hatto, have you heard her? [MUSIC EXERPT: THE MEPHISTO WALTZ] BROOKE GLADSTONE: And those of us outside the online classical world might have first heard of her when the classical music press jumped on the bandwagon. You note in your piece that there are a couple of embarrassing moments. MARK SINGER: The major publication in the classical music world is the Gramophone, and they hadn't published any reviews of her work until, I think, 2005, and then reviewed her in every issue.
And there was one example of a very distinguished critic who reviewed one of her CDs of a Rachmaninoff concerto and described it glowingly. And it was discovered, after the hoax was exposed, that he had reviewed the same music - the literal same performance - by the artist who was plagiarized - quite unfavorably 15 years earlier. BROOKE GLADSTONE: What were the elements of Hatto's story and repertoire that appealed particularly to classical music aficionados? MARK SINGER: I think the fact that she was a woman in her seventies who was recording this really extraordinary range of music that one doesn't normally assume one pianist can master. Concert Artists issued under her name 100 CDs. There was the fact that it was discovered at a certain point that she had retired from concert performance because she had cancer. It was just a romantic story.
For example, there are these accounts of her having toured in Poland and in the Soviet Union during the Cold War, and there's no documentation. But the reason this con was such a wonderful work of art in and of itself was because Barrington-Coupe produced translations, both in Swedish and Russian, and in English, reviews of these performances that she might never have performed.
And there was another thing that went into this, which was there was a fictitious conductor and orchestra that Barrington-Coupe invented - Rene Kohler and the National Symphony Philharmonic Orchestra. BROOKE GLADSTONE: A Holocaust survivor? MARK SINGER: Who not only was a Holocaust survivor but then spent 25 years in the Gulag. He gets captured by the Russians after he somehow survives Treblinka. This was someone who never existed, but Barrington-Coupe created an entire biography for him. And because he was a Holocaust survivor, how was anybody going to challenge that? BROOKE GLADSTONE: The same kind of coldhearted person that would attack a woman suffering from cancer. And I guess that leads to the next question. There were some skeptics fairly early on. Why weren't they heeded? MARK SINGER: There was one in particular - Peter Lemkin was the name of the agnostic - a German conservatory graduate who did ask those questions. But when the hoax was really exposed, it wasn't because of Lemkin. It was because of technology.
Someone in New York took a Joyce Hatto CD, put it in his computer to download it into his iPod and was told, yes, this is Liszt's Transcendental Studies but it's not Joyce Hatto playing. It's someone else - Laszlo Simon. So he went to Amazon and he started listening to what he had downloaded from this CD and what Amazon had available, and he said, my gosh, this is the same exact performance.
Then there was a perfect storm happening, actually, because there was another group of people in London who were analyzing some other recordings, and they discovered that there were two Chopin mazurkas that were ostensibly Hatto that were, in fact, another pianist.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: You tracked down the hoaxer, Barrington-Coupe himself. Seems to have been an odd sort of guy. Cheerful and apparently completely unwilling to recognize that he's committed such an elaborate fraud. MARK SINGER: William Barrington-Coupe is a con man. Con artists are charming people. You can look this up in the DSM and you can ask yourself [BROOKE LAUGHS] where does the line from, you know, sociopathy stop and some other syndrome kicks in? I'm not able to diagnose what he has. But he does believe that he can charm you, and he doesn't seem to really care too much about the consequences, either.
And in that sense, he's right. There hasn't been any consequence for him, other than that his name is ruined. Nobody's going to sue him. And the reason they're not going to sue him, by the way, is because you have to prove damages. And Laszlo Simon perhaps sold 50 CDs the year before the hoax was exposed, and then it's exposed and people say, wow, that guy's great. [BROOKE LAUGHS]
And so they go out and they buy his CDs, so rather than having been damaged, he's actually benefited. BROOKE GLADSTONE: Are we all susceptible to really good narratives? Is that why the skeptics didn't really get the floor for so long? MARK SINGER: I am susceptible to good narratives. And this had a lot of people wanting this to be true. In fact, Brian Ventura, who is the fellow in Westchester County who discovered this, said to me, even when I realized what had happened, that she had probably plagiarized this recording, I didn't want to bring this story down. It was such a wonderful story. BROOKE GLADSTONE: Mark, thank you very much. [MUSIC UP AND UNDER - MEPHISTO WALTZ] MARK SINGER: Thank you, Brooke. BROOKE GLADSTONE: Mark Singer is a staff writer for The New Yorker. [MUSIC UP AND UNDER - MEPHISTO WALTZ] As he mentioned earlier in the interview, Hatto's breakout performance, Liszt's Mephisto Waltz, has just been properly identified. It was actually performed by Janina Fialkowska.