Be Not Deceived

Article by   February 2007

It's been called the greatest hoax ever played on the classical music recording industry. Several years ago, a British pianist that hardly anyone had even heard of, and who had recently died, Joyce Hatto by name, had, so we were led to believe, been in the recording studio shortly before she died. CDs emerged of works by, among others, Beethoven, Chopin, Liszt, Rachmaninov, and Brahms. The Gramophone, billed as the world's leading classical music magazine (I have been a subscriber for over forty years!) billed one of these CDs as their "CD of the Month" - a highly acclaimed award guaranteed to ensure that the CD sells many more copies of what, in this case, was an unknown label with poor distribution and therefore difficult to get. Prestigious critics, an elite band of often hard-to-please veterans, began to give undiluted praise to Hatto, that is, until a few weeks ago when doubts began to surface as to the authenticity of the recordings.

According to the Wikipedia version, Joyce Hatto was born in 1928 and for most of her life was a relatively unknown piano teacher who occasionally gave concerts. In the mid-1970s her career ends and following a lengthy battle with cancer Hatto died in June of 2006. Since her death, more than a 100 recordings have appeared on the relatively unknown English label, Concert Artists Records run by her husband W. H. Barrington-Coupe, who spent (it has now emerged) 8 months in prison in 1966 for tax evasion. The repertoire released by Concert Artist under Joyce Hatto's name included the complete sonatas by Beethoven, Mozart and Prokofiev, the concertos of Rachmaninov, Tchaikovsky, Brahms and Mendelssohn, and most of Chopin's compositions.

Critics gave the recordings the highest praise, which is just as well, since they now appear to have been fraudulently copied from recordings by leading pianists of the caliber of Vladimir Ashkenazy, Mark Andre-Hamelin, Yefim Bronfman and Laszlo Simon. Audio research of a fairly non-technical variety can show clearly that the Hatto recordings are identical to CDs produced by these pianists with only slight changes to pitch and in some cases, the left and right channels switched. Other tweaks include re-equalization and rebalancing. Needless to say, music journals and newspapers (The Boston Globe in particular) have been following the story with keen interest and not a little embarrassment. In cases where the recordings have been of piano concertos involving conductors and orchestras, the case is even more bizarre. While it was conceivable that Hatto had recorded in a studio, with relatively few people present and no official proof, how was it possible for the National-Philharmonic Symphony and Warsaw Philharmonia under the baton of one René Köhler to perform without the members of these orchestras recalling that any such recording had ever been made? It now turns out that the alleged pirated orchestras and conductors were in fact the Vienna Philharmonic and Royal Philharmonic under the baton of André Previn and Bernard Haitink! Meanwhile, Barrington-Coupe insists he's innocent and, as they say, "the jury's out." Officially, that is, pending legal ratification. The music industry, however, seems to have made up its mind and we have witnessed one of the cleverest spoofs of all time - at least, in the secluded world of classical music.


To fall foul of a hoax is nothing new, of course. Eminently famous scholars have done so more than once. The historian Hugh Trevor-Roper, for example, was temporarily taken in by the "Hitler Diaries" written in point of fact by Konrad Kujau. A letter hangs on Kujau's office wall in which he is given authority to "compile" the Führer's diary after his death, for posterity. The letter was, of course, a fake, a comical text created by Kujau. The Diaries were originally bought by the German current affairs magazine Stern but sold to Newsweek and published by The Sunday Times in Britain, and fooled the world at first viewing in April 1983.

Then there is the case of Frank Abagnale, made even more famous by the film "Catch Me If You Can," in which Frank is played by Leonardo DiCaprio. It is the fascinating story of an astonishingly successful young imposter and bad check artist who moves from one profession to another, passing himself off as an airline pilot and doctor.

No forgeries in history have been more spectacular than those of William Henry Ireland, at the end of the 18th Century, and those of John Payne Collier, some 50 years later. Why? They certainly were not experts at the craft of forgery. The reason lies in their discovery of documents alleged to have been written by William Shakespeare. Nor are they the only ones. There is an entire study of Shakespeariana - spoof documents purportedly from the pen of "The Bard."

Gullible Christians

Nor, alas, have Christians been spared the humiliation of deception. Indeed, it might be argued that Christians are among the easiest targets of a hoax. A Christian's belief in the sinister nature of evil makes him a ready target for the latest conspiracy theory. History, for a Christian, is purposeful and behind it lies both the power of God and the machinations of a powerful foe. But as C. S. Lewis noted elsewhere, we can make both too much and too little of Satan. There is a mindset that wants to see his schemes under every rock and pebble.

Why are Christians so gullible? Weekly, some e-mail will land in the in-tray (Junk mail if it's a good day) having been "forwarded" by some alarmist Christian that thinks I need to see this immediately. Most, if not all of these, appear to be false as a quick visit to will reveal.

My favorite is the keyless entry phone scam. It goes like this: if you lock yourself out of the car, call home on your cell pone and if a member of your family at home with a spare key presses the unlock button next to their cell phone and you hold your cell phone about a foot away from the door of the locked car, it will open! Don't bother attempting this. Join AAA!

When it comes to eschatology, however, Christians are "easy-pickins": in Manchester, Massachusetts lives one Laney Thompson who believes the Rapture of the church is imminent. In her eagerness to get to heaven as fast as possible she purportedly purchased 215 shares of a bio-metrics company, Lazer-I. "The company is pure evil," she admits with some sense of joy. Lazer-I makes equipment which scans fingerprints and eyes, which vendors have begun using in place of credit cards. Her interest in this company stems not from a desire to make a quick fortune; rather, like a growing number of market-savvy Christians, Thompson hopes to speed Christ's appearing by investing in technologies she associates with the Last Days: micro-chip implants, international banks, bio-metrics, even GPS tracking devices. One mutual fund company has created something called Last Days Funds, or LDFs, which group together companies whose "products are likely to foster conditions consistent with the Last Days, as described in the Bible." Alison Chambers of Pittsburgh, a mother of two, checks her family's LDF investments daily, adding that she sees nothing wrong with helping to speed up the world's collapse into Armageddon. Christians like her can feel the rapture coming when their shares increase in value!

Derek Thomas is the Editorial Director of reformation21.

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