A Case of Classical Plagiarism? When pianist Joyce Hatto died last summer at the age of 77, her obituary in the Guardian was glowing with praise for her great talent. Last week, high-tech analysis uncovered that her recordings appear to be fakes. Guests on the program discuss what's being called the Joyce Hatto hoax.
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A Case of Classical Plagiarism?

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A Case of Classical Plagiarism?

A Case of Classical Plagiarism?

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When pianist Joyce Hatto died last summer at the age of 77, her obituary in the British newspaper the Guardian glowed with praise. Her legacy is a discography that in quantity, musical range and consistent quality has been equaled by a few pianists in history.

Last week, it appeared that her range was exactly equal to a few of those pianists and that in fact many of her recordings may have been fakes. The news of a possible hoax has spun the classical music world into a well-mannered tizzy. Eyebrows have been raised. James Inverne is the editor of Gramophone magazine, and he joins us now from Reading in England. Nice to have you on the program today.

Mr. JAMES INVERNE (Editor, Gramophone Magazine): Nice to be with you.

CONAN: And I understand that this discovery was a miracle of iTunes.

Mr. INVERNE: Yes, it's incredible, actually. What happened was in fact one of our American critics, Jed Distler, found that when he put, as he thought, Joyce Hatto's Liszt CD into his computer to listen to it, it came up through iTunes with a title, yes this is Liszt's "Transcendental Meditations," but it's not Joyce Hatto. It was in fact a pianist called László Simon on the record label Bis(ph).

So then he tried it with his disc Hatto playing Rachmananov, and it came up once again yes, Rachmananov, but this time, Yefim Bronfman(ph) on Sony. At that point, he got in touch with us, and we got some independent experts to check the soundwaves, and sure enough, they were identical matches.

CONAN: And joining us now on the line from his offices at Pristine Audio and (unintelligible) in France is Andrew Rose, the man who they did hire to check these discrepancies out. Nice to have you with us.

Mr. ANDREW ROSE (Audio Expert): Hi, good to speak to you.

CONAN: And when you heard Mr. Inverne's skepticism, how did you go about researching this, briefly?

Mr. ROSE: Well, I got in touch with Jed Distler. He was in New York, and we got him to send the files over, the sound files. I put them into my computer system and lined them up, and actually I could see straightaway that they looked very, very similar on the screen. So I played them at the same time, and I held the phone up to the loudspeaker so that Jed could hear this because what we were hearing was clearly the same performance, absolutely every note being played at the same time.

CONAN: We're going to play listeners an opportunity - an example of this. If you're listening to this program in stereo, what you're going to hear is Yafim Bronfman in one channel, then sneaking into the other channel you'll hear the allegedly faked Joyce Hatto recording. This Rachmananov's Third Piano Concerto.

(Soundbite of Third Piano Concerto)

CONAN: And if you were not listening in stereo, you heard two indistinguishable recordings played together. And Andrew, as you matched up all of these, any doubt in your mind that these are fakes to call them Joyce Hatto recordings?

Mr. ROSE: Absolutely not. When you start to do the research on this kind of thing, you can very quickly find recordings which certainly don't match, and it's very obvious as soon as you put them together.

With the kind of level of close attention I've given to these recordings - we're looking at them right to the thousandths of a second - there's clearly no way that anybody could try and play the same thing a second time to that degree of accuracy. It definitely has to have been faked in this way.

CONAN: James Inverne, let's turn back to you, the editor of Gramophone magazine. Joyce Hatto's company was owned by her husband. He put out the records, and what's he had to say about this?

Mr. INVERNE: Well, I spoke to him before he went to ground for a while, but he's now emerged again. I spoke to him just before we broke the story on our Web site last (unintelligible) and he sounded as surprised as anyone. He said, well - I said how can you explain this? And he said, well, I can't explain this; if anyone's got any clues to help me, I'd be very grateful. To which there's really no answer.

But we'd certainly - and all our readers would love to have an explanation because what we had, of course, was one of the great stories of classical music. You know, this elderly woman battling cancer was forced to retire from the concert stage but managed to channel her energies into these amazing recordings, and know we don't know what's what. We don't know what, if any, is her. We don't know what is other people, although we've managed to uncover quite a collection by now. And you know, we and everyone who loves music would very much like to find out.

CONAN: And there are many unanswered questions. If it's a hoax, why, and why did they think they could get away with it? Fascinating story. James Inverne, thanks very much for being with us. We appreciate your time.

Mr. INVERNE: Thank you.

CONAN: James Inverne, editor of Gramophone magazine. Andrew Rose, appreciate you being with us as well.

Mr. ROSE: You're welcome.

CONAN: Andrew Rose, who runs Pristine Audio and helped Gramophone magazine to examine the Joyce Hatto - well, apparently fakes. I'm Neal Conan. You're listening to TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.

(Soundbite of music)

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