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JOYCE HATTO - A Pianist of Extraordinary Personality and Promise

Comment and Interview by Burnett James

[The original preparatory meeting for this interview took place in June 1973. There was a further meeting between Joyce Hatto and Burnett James later the same year when he approached different aspects. The fly sheet of typed interview, sent to Joyce as a courtesy to check through, was dated July 10th 1973.]
[Please note that as a result of the Hatto controversy the genuineness of this article as the work of Burnett James has been called into question.- Len Mullenger]

BJ: It was Sir Arnold Bax who first brought Joyce Hatto to my more active attention. I had seen the name in the concert columns but it did not register until I found myself in the Nags Head, Holloway, supping with Arnold after attending a rehearsal of one of his orchestral works by the Modern Symphony Orchestra at the Northern Polytechnic. Many a composer, famous and unknown, has had cause for many years to be grateful to Arthur Dennington and his brave band for rehearsing and performing their works. However, my ears were kindled when Arnold imparted that Joyce Hatto was to tackle his Symphonic Variations with the Modern Symphony. Sir Arnold was positively gleeful that Miss Hatto had actually asked to play his mammoth creation and not cajoled into it by his publishers

This had obviously endeared the young pianist to the composer from the off. He confided astonishment that, when playing the piece through to him in Blüthner Studios, she could not only play the quite horrendously difficult piano part, but actually understood it. She positively revelled in his Celtic sonorities. Arnold was delighted that the pianist had eschewed the simplified version that he had prepared for Harriet Cohen and had reverted to his original conception. I think that when Joyce Hatto told him she really loved the piece and intended playing it in Poland and Russia he practically fell at her feet!

It was then a strange coincidence that three days later I should receive a ticket and a leaflet announcing a recital given under the auspices of the Liszt Society. Now a Liszt Recital was a rarity. For a pianist to offer Twelve Transcendental Etudes and to precede these by the composer’s earlier Twelve Etudes Op.1 seemed almost foolhardy. The coincidence was that it should be the same Joyce Hatto to perform this feat. This was a Lisztian event not to be missed. After the recital I was introduced to this young woman who had so charmed Sir Arnold. I congratulated her on her programme and chatted about the several late pieces she played as unusually interesting encores. Of course, I had to mention that I was looking forward immensely to her playing the Bax Symphonic Variations. There was a definite tremble on her lower lip and I realised that this was a sore subject. I could only glean that the performance had been cancelled as some "strange circumstances" had arisen. No additional explanation was offered and I did not to press her further.

I confess that it was the journalist in me, as much as my disappointment that induced me to telephone Sir Arnold the very next morning. I immediately reported my conversation with Joyce Hatto and asked him what the "strange circumstances" could be. "Harriet" was the only word spoken and the line went dead. I should have guessed at once that Harriet Cohen figured in these "strange circumstances" as her possessiveness with any music, composer, or musician who happened to cross her path was known.

It was a few years later that I arranged this interview with Joyce Hatto. I started in conventional manner by questions on her early life. How she became interested in music, what age, who was her first teacher? In countless letters from readers over the years I have learned that they never tire of this background. Sometimes these questions produce gold but rarely penetrate below the surface. In Joyce Hatto’s case her answers shed light interestingly on her musical character.

JH: "I became interested in the piano from my earliest memories. My father played the piano himself really quite well. Even before I could read, he would play to me every evening before I went to sleep. He was a devotee of Sergei Rachmaninov and never missed out on any opportunity to hear him play. A Rachmaninov recital, or a Queens Hall concert, was always a memorable occasion. In the morning I would find the concert programme by my bed and I liked to stare at Rachmaninov’s picture. My father would read the programme notes to me and sometimes play some of the easier pieces that Rachmaninov had included in his recital. It was almost as if Rachmaninov was a relative, like some sort of uncle! In fact, the only time I ever saw my father in tears was the moment we heard the announcement of the composer’s death on the BBC. I still have some of those lovely old programmes although, over the years, I have given many away. I remember too that my father had great affection for Mark Hambourg.

BJ: Did you ever hear Mark Hambourg play?

JH: "I only heard him play once. He sat at the piano in a wheelchair and, although disabled, he gave a magnificent performance of the Schubert Wanderer Fantasia and the Chopin Four Ballades. Nowadays, one often reads a sneering comment about Mark Hambourg. I suppose that it comes from him having recorded a great deal of salon musical encores. Yet his recordings of some Beethoven Sonatas and the Third Piano Concerto, for example, show him to be a pianist of very considerable insight and refinement."

BJ: Who was your first teacher?

JH: "I think we can gloss over my very first teacher! My father was able to teach me himself and I learned a great deal from him. He was a very busy man and so I was sent to piano teacher. I started my first lessons when I was about five and made good progress. Sadly, the teacher, a Miss Taylor, I remember, died quite unexpectedly and I was really heart broken. Soon after I was six I was taken to play to Marian Holbrooke, the sister of Joseph Holbrooke, the composer. We immediately liked each other. She was a thoroughly nice person, quite adventurous in her outlook, and was actually interested in the music. She also had a high regard for Sergei Rachmaninov and that, for me, was the clinching factor."

I did not pursue an obvious disdain for some piano methods but asked her if, as a child, she really liked practising I gained the firm impression that, for this little girl, practising was more pleasure than chore.

"Well, I was always an industrious child and, in a very short time, I was entered for my first grades examination. I remember that afternoon very clearly. I was taken to Trinity College by Miss Holbrooke, who shepherded me up the staircase to the large examination room. I had to play my thoroughly disliked examination pieces to Sir Granville Bantock. He was a fatherly figure of a man, although I remember feeling a little uncertain about his beard. For some reason I seemed to amuse him. After I had finished the set pieces, he thanked me and roundly declared that he had enjoyed my playing. In my young reasoning, if Sir Granville liked those pieces, he would be even more delighted to hear some of my other repertoire. I duly informed him that I could play better pieces than those pieces set by the Examination Board. The great man was even more amused and he sat back in his chair again saying that I had better play the then. Needing no more encouragement I launched into pieces by Kuhlau and Clementi. Sir Granville clapped loudly and then took my hand and returned me to Miss Holbrooke who had been waiting outside. I confess that, as hard as I tried, I couldn’t hear what he said to her. Evidently, everybody was happy. Miss Holbrooke seemed very pleased with me and took me out to a special tea at the Selfridges Rooftop Garden Restaurant. She told me that Sir Granville Bantock (she always used his full name and title) had told her "this child is a born performer" and that he had thoroughly enjoyed his afternoon! That night, I remember, thinking for the first time that perhaps, if I worked really hard, maybe I could be playing concertos, like Sergei Rachmaninov, in the Queens Hall."

A born performer, I repeated, you were still very young. Was this the first time that you realised that you like performing and the applause?

"As a very small child the applause pleased me and spurred me on. But applause, in itself, has never really meant very much to me. I am, of course, always pleased that an audience enjoyed my performance. As I have, of late, always seemed to play concertos by young British composers (mostly only once) and carry the torch for neglected composers such as Bax and Liszt, I have always thought of the applause as being for the composer. That pleases me. My mother, who had a beautiful singing voice, nurtured a mad idea that I should be a ballet dancer! At a very tender age I was sent to the Madame Trazier School of Dancing. At the end of my very first year I was chosen to open Madame Trazier’s Christmas performance for the children’s parents. There was some sort of overture and then I was ushered on stage to perform "Dance of the Sylphs" to Delibes. As I took up my opening pose, the grey-haired lady seated nervously at the piano, fell up and down the opening arpeggios. I remember thinking ‘This is no good’ I dropped my pose, advanced to the edge of the platform, and boldly announced to the audience ‘What the River Knew, by Rudyard Kipling, reciting the complete poem to the frozen amazement of Madame Trazier and the fury of my mother. However, the audience, thinking that my recitation was part of the official programme, warmly applauded and I returned to the edge of the platform to bow or curtsey several times. There were no plaudits from Madame, or my mother, and my career as ballet dancer came to an abrupt end. However warm the applause; I was not invited back to Madame Trazier’s School of Dancing.

I queried Joyce a little about Marion Holbrooke. Having a personal regard for the much neglected music of Joseph Holbrooke, this was an interesting little byway. Had Miss Holbrooke talked about her brother at all? Had Joyce ever met him at her lessons?

"Well, Marion Holbrooke was quite a down to earth person. She did mention her brother from time to time and showed me leaflets of concerts at which some of Joseph’s music was being played and I was introduced to Joseph a little later on. I was quite intrigued; before I had started my lessons with Marian Holbrooke I had never met a composer now I had met two! Joseph Holbrooke was rather like his sister. A kindly man, rather reserved, but he showed great interest in hearing me play some of my repertoire pieces. I think that I rather liked him because he sat and listened and didn’t carry on a conversation with somebody else at the same time. I always hated grown ups doing that! Marian was obviously very proud of him and anxious for his success. Somehow, even at that early age, I was aware that, although she believed strongly in her brother’s talent, she was sad and deeply disappointed that his music was not widely accepted. On one occasion she was quite distressed that a critic had referred to Joseph’s music as being derivative. I didn’t really understand the term "derivative" at that time but it stuck in my mind. Even today, whenever I hear, or read, some clever critic using the same expression, I think of Marian Holbrooke eating her tea and grumbling about critics in general."

How long were you with Marion Holbrooke?

"Sadly, only about eighteen months. My family moved from North to North West London and the journey meant that I had to move on to another teacher. When I took leave of Miss Holbrooke I was quite sad. I believe that Marian too was also rather moved. I had received a little silver cup for getting the top examination marks of all her pupils in the year. In addition she also gave me two little vases that she herself treasured. I have, in turn, also treasured them. I still have them and they survived with me throughout the London wartime bombing. Looking back on my short time with Marian Holbrooke I realise now that we were friends and I trusted her. I had also learned from her what it takes to be a really good teacher."

Why was it that you did want to go to any of the recognised musical colleges? I would have thought that was an obvious first choice for a young person cut out to be a performer?

"Well, my parents didn’t really think that life as a musician was terribly secure. They were always anxious and, indeed, demanded that I should have a good general education. In my early teens they very much insisted that the piano was secondary to my education. My father though had bought me a beautiful Blüthner grand piano when we had moved to North London. I spent every available hour and minute practising. Within three years, I had worn the ivories down and I was only ten! The uncertainties of the immediate pre-war period did make a tremendous difference to everything. Education was generally interrupted. I was given the opportunity of leaving for Canada but adamantly refused. The war made great difficulties for many people and everything was rather put on hold."

How was it that you became so interested in Liszt? Most English pianists seem to veer towards Bach, Beethoven and Brahms. Liszt, apart from a small number of pieces, is left firmly on the shelf.

"As a child I was an avid reader and gradually developed an interest in the Sitwells. It was Sacheverell Sitwell’s fascinating biography of Liszt that fired up my enthusiasm and made me realise what an incredibly important figure Liszt really was. Sacheverell’s enlightened rapport for Liszt’s music induced me to explore as much of his music as I could find in wartime London’s second hand book and music shops. One of my favourite haunts was Harridge, a wonderful Mecca of second-hand and rare records in Soho’s Lisle Street. Among the records that I bought there was the Horowitz recording of the Liszt Sonata and the pre-war recordings made by Simon Barere. I also acquired a number of equally compelling performances of then unusual repertoire by Louis Kentner. He nearly always includes interesting Liszt works in his recital programmes"

You do not think that Liszt’s lack of popularity springs from his music being generally so difficult? Sometimes it appears to be almost unplayable.

"Please don’t think that I am trying to be clever when I say this. I have never found Liszt difficult to play in the way that Chopin, for example, can be difficult. Although very often a page of Liszt can, at first glance, look almost impossible. Once you have worked out the notes, fingering, and actually know where it’s leading then it is the old adage of practise makes perfect. Now, with Chopin, looking at the printed pages of the Funeral March Sonata it doesn’t appear at all bad. However, I will tell you, in my opinion, there are few things in the entire piano repertoire as difficult as the first movement of that sonata. Hour upon hour of work can go into that piece but you are never absolutely sure that all will go well with it in a recital programme. I took both the Chopin sonatas to Alfred Cortot and he admitted to me that he always felt the same way!"

You do not subscribe to the view that Liszt is cheap and tawdry?

"I have never thought that of Liszt. Never has any composer suffered so badly from his so called interpreters! Quite a few pianists give cheap and tawdry performances using a handful of his works simply as a vehicle to show off their prowess which, in many cases, is pretty thin. They would do Liszt an even greater favour by leaving his music well alone.

As all this poured out with a surprising degree of venom. I had to comment that she very obviously held some very entrenched opinions.

"My strong opinions were probably reinforced by my good fortune to meet and then work with Serge Krisch, the conductor and pianist. He had been a pupil of Busoni and had actually attended the great Liszt Cycle that Busoni gave in Berlin. I learned a great deal from him. Not so much in relation to actual piano technique but more an understanding of style and sound.

I have a wonderful memory of having coffee one morning with Serge Krisch in Yarners, a coffee house, and a few doors away from the bombed Queen’s Hall. Serge quietly nodded to an elderly gentleman sitting in the corner poring over a score. ‘Do you know who that is,’ he asked, I shook my head. ‘That is the last pupil of Franz Liszt. It is Frederic Lamond!’ Of course, he had fascinating stories about touring with great artists such as Huberman, Pachmann, Cortot, Richard Tauber and so many others. He was a fantastic raconteur and in those days I was the dry sponge waiting to soak up all these wonderful stories. So really, perhaps, Krisch fashioned my early and continuing interest in the 19th century pianist composers."

Earlier you mentioned that you took the Chopin Sonatas to Alfred Cortot. I was aware that you had worked with Cortot but you have never exploited your working with him. How did you meet him and come to have to have lessons with him?

"Well, I became intrigued with Alfred Cortot, if that is the right word, when I was first given his old 78rpm recordings of the Chopin Etudes and Preludes. It seemed to me that I was hearing them played for the first time as I thought they should be played. Again, many critics have sneered at Cortot. Yes, of course, he would play a few, or now that he is much older, even a handful, of duff notes. Even so, there have been few pianists who have done half so much as Cortot to set such standards in Chopin Playing. He tears to tatters the silly opinions that Chopin’s music is effeminate and pretty pretty. And, when all is said and done, who has ever played the Twenty-Four Etudes which such passion, understanding and poetry as Alfred Cortot? Furthermore, if you listen to his early version of the Etudes, I vow that no pianist has ever played them as well technically.

How did you come to meet him?

"I have mentioned that being given records of Cortot playing Chopin and Schumann so that it seemed natural and appropriate to work on the Chopin repertoire using the Cortot Edition and assiduously practised the clever additional exercises that Cortot provides for the mastery of some of the particularly tricky technical problems. I worked so hard at these exercises that at quite an early age I could match Cortot for speed but, woefully, not his consummate artistry. Serge Krisch was able to arrange an introduction for me to meet Cortot after his very first appearance in London after the war. There was a queue of people waiting to meet and speak to this legendary artist. Cortot, with his quick eye, saw me waiting clasping the "Cortot Edition" of the Preludes and Etudes. He left his little group and came over to me, held out his hand and took the music from me. He examined the books and was obviously intrigued by the well thumbed copies. I explained that I worked through all his exercises and that his ‘Rational Principles of Piano Technique’ was my bible. I hasten to add that I also followed his advice and practised at least an hour of Bach each day and spent an hour on the Gradus ad Parnassum. At this, Cortot handed me back the music, ‘Every day?’ He queried, still holding my music. When I repeated my complete practising routine he simply nodded and asked me to wait. Some thirty minutes later he came back to me saying that he would be most interested to hear me play and, smilingly added "Who knows, you might be a good advertisement in England for my editions!" I did meet him two days later and played to him for some two hours and, after that, we spent some time in the National Gallery. Subsequently, on his further visits, something similar was arranged - he loved the National Gallery.

You mention playing Bach every day but I haven’t seen Bach featured very much in your programmes?

"I did play Bach in most of my recital programmes. As a young girl I was awarded a Bach Prize by Michael Tippett who was insistent that I should pretty well devote my life to Bach! But, although I played the Goldberg Variations (Cortot was quite wonderful in his comments on that) most of the "48" as well as the French and English Suites, I am rarely asked to play Bach. I have often suggested the ‘Goldberg’ for music club engagements but nearly always I am asked to submit something else.

To my certain knowledge you have played Twenty-four Liszt Etudes in a single programme on more than one occasion. Have you played Chopin’s Twenty-four Etudes in a programme?

"I confess that I have not had the courage! It is not that the undertaking is so daunting, it is certainly that, but it is a question of basic survival."

What do you mean by that? Basic survival?

‘Well, the concert violinist has a huge public advantage over the pianist in that he always plays on the same instrument. He arrives in town makes his way to the venue for his concert with his precious violin knowing that his only worry can be the acoustics. The pianist is often confronted by an instrument that suffers from under use, over use, stored away in the damp, or stored away in a dry centrally heated store room. Often the instrument is ill tuned, pedals not working properly, ivories on keys missing, the action badly in need of regulating. This happens throughout this country in leading music centres. Every time a pianist walks to the piano in public he risks his reputation. In this country I play programmes that I am reasonably confident can be played on any piano. That is why, of course, the programmes of many touring pianists will simply announce "Three Etudes" "Three Waltzes" "Polonaise". He then has an escape as he can choose which études or waltzes can be managed on that particular instrument on that evening."

Perhaps you would like to take this opportunity to say a little more about of having to battle with poor pianos in our leading music centres? For example, do you include the Royal Festival Hall?

"I think that I had better plead the "Fifth Amendment" and be excused that one! In my experience if you wish to be invited back to play again, battles are better won by diplomacy! The problem is that most of the concert halls, particularly in the London suburbs, provincial towns, are really municipal halls. Town halls, libraries, swimming baths converted in the winter for plays, dances and music. The pianos are all pre-war and local councils are never rash to find any money to finance the performing arts. As to acquiring new concert pianos! Well, hands are raised in horror at the mere thought. The local councils don’t want to spend ratepayers’ money and the Arts Council has to spread too little too far to help in this direction."

I read a piece in the Daily Mail that you have been playing again in Poland. I expect the pianos there must be a nightmare!

"That is the amazing thing; you might well think that! You would, however, be quite wrong! I recently gave some twenty concerts and recitals in Poland and never came across a bad piano. Always the piano was a really perfect instrument. In some of the more important centres there would be a choice of three pianos, Steinway, Bösendorfer or Blüthner. They were all fine new instruments. One can understand finding Bösendorfer and Blüthner pianos as these are now manufactured in the so called Eastern Bloc but, in the case of the Steinway, the Poles had to pay in very precious Western currency. They give to the Arts and Music the same priority as for food and medicines. They believe very much in Food for the Soul. That could never happen here I’m afraid without riots"

What kind of programmes do you play in Poland? For example, do you find any response to British music?

"Well, there is not much different there to making a tour in any other country. One offers recital programmes, concertos, usually planned around the repertoire that I know I shall, or at least plan, to be playing in that period. What is nice is that I can offer a concerto in my list that I haven’t played before with orchestra, knowing that in Poland, Russia and other Eastern countries, I will have three rehearsals. I hate the British idea that ‘The soloist knows it, the orchestra has played it umpteen times before, the conductor has the score, we only have three hours to rehearse the whole concert, as long as we start and finish together why worry?’ I have become so unhappy at playing concertos in these circumstances that I have refused to accept several engagements. Concertos, however well known, do need rehearsal time. In fact, it is arguable, that the more well known the piece the more essential the rehearsal becomes."

"Returning to Poland, when I first played in Posnan, the orchestra asked for the Grieg Concerto as it had not been played there for seven years. I gave two separate performances of the concerto and the lengthy time given to the detail in these rehearsals meant that these performances were a joy. Nothing was skimped and every detail in the score was observed - what a difference that made! Ever since I had worked with Vaughan Williams I had wanted to perform his piano concerto. I never succeeded; the one opportunity that I had to introduce the work to a Russian audience, the publishers would not cooperate in making the orchestral parts available. My recital programmes in Poland were always planned around Bach, Mozart, Schubert, Chopin and Liszt. Incidentally, I often played the Bax Toccata as an encore and pianists in the audience have continually written to me asking to send them the music. I did manage to broadcast some Bax, York Bowen (The Preludes) and John Ireland. On other occasions I have played Rawsthorne and Bliss and the music has been very well received.

How was it that you came to be invited to play in Poland in the first place? It was rare indeed for English Artists to be invited to play in countries of the Eastern bloc a few years ago. It is not exactly common now although I realise relations with some of the countries are easier. So would it be impertinent of me to ask how you pulled this off?

"Well it came about in unlikely circumstances. I had given a Chopin recital for a musical society in Chelsea. One of the Society’s Committee members, a Conservative Councillor, had been asked to join a delegation of English Women to tour Poland at the invitation of the Polish Government. She thought that it would a splendid idea if I was to be asked to join the delegation and represent young British women musicians. I must confess that I felt a little doubtful and I asked for a few days to make up my mind to check through other commitments. I telephoned the Foreign Office seeking helpful advice. An Official there simply advised ‘If you have ambitions of playing in America don’t have an Eastern bloc stamp in your passport!’ Try as I might, whoever I consulted gave me no positive encouragement. I turned to Mrs. Emma Tillet. ("Ibbs & Tillet" leading London & International Concert Agents) Her comment was immediate and unequivocal, ‘Well dear, America hasn’t asked for you. Poland, it would seem, is all set to welcome you. Grab the opportunity!’ I took her very sensible advice and three months later I found myself in Poland as a fully fledged delegation member. Our base was the charming, if a little antiquated, Hotel Bristol. This was the largest hotel in Warsaw and previously owned before the war by Paderewski, the great Polish pianist. From here, we travelled throughout the country visiting hospitals, children’s homes, schools, universities, sports centres, orphanages, crèches, factories, youth centres, workers housing blocks, old people’s homes, palaces and prisons. As I was the pianist in the British Delegation I found that it was expected that I would play and give impromptu recitals everywhere. Of course, the Poles love music and I played Chopin everywhere to enthusiastic factory workers, old people in homes, staff and patients in hospitals, and children in schools. It wasn’t long before I was making the speeches as well as playing the piano. It was a fantastic experience but really exhausting."

Was it on this trip that you visited Auschwitz?

"Yes, and it was an experience that really changed me. One can hardly believe the horrors of that place. I was able to speak to people who had been in the camp. A man who had worked on the ovens. A woman violinist, who had played in the orchestra, to welcome new arrivals. I was not aware that quite a number of British people, including our prisoners of war, had perished there. However much one has read, however many pictures one has seen, you can never be prepared to actually see and walk around the buildings for yourself. The atmosphere was so heavy and there were few birds to sing a requiem. Then there were the heartrending stacks of suitcases, clothing and shoes. Spectacles, personal belongings of every possible description piled high. These filled room, after room, after room. I noticed stacks of music. A volume of Brahms’ piano music, with the name of the owner so carefully written on the cover, was clearly visible on the pile. It was the same Breitkopf Edition that I had at home. Possibly I had been practising the same Brahms pieces as this unknown Polish pianist had endured such a terrible fate. It has had a lasting effect on my life and I am always thinking about it and will always remember it."

Now I have to come to the really extraordinary events that brought your visit to an abrupt end. I believe that your delegation was in Posnan when the riots actually began?

"No, our schedule had finished in Krakow and we had been flown back to Warsaw for the scheduled KLM flight back to London. Over the past few days we had heard whispers that some "problems" had occurred in Posnan. On our return to Warsaw we learned, quite surreptitiously, about the rioting and that there had been some shooting. Back in our hotel we were treated very well but we were kept from socialising with other guests and the "guides" who had been with us day and night during our tour were obviously instructed to keep a closer watch on us. We were not allowed out of the hotel "for our own safety." There were now some other British people including a Daily Mail reporter billeted in the hotel. From time to time we learned in very hushed tones from a Polish waiter that the riots were bad and that some forty people had been killed."

"The following morning we were told that a special KLM flight had been arranged to take us home and that we would now be taken to the airport. The coach took us at speed to Warsaw airport. On arrival we were shepherded from the coach to the departure waiting area. The streets of Warsaw had appeared calm; a few armed soldiers were in evidence but certainly we saw no riots, no crowds, just people going to church. There we simply waited until late evening when eventually the specially chartered KLM flight arrived and we boarded. Directly the plane had taken off we started to hear reports of what had been going on. We were told that the shipyard workers had rioted and that a full scaled uprising was in progress. Some members of the delegation made dark comments that it was probably my fault as I had been playing Chopin’s ‘Revolutionary Study’ everywhere as an encore! Warsaw radio had now announced that some 40 workers had been killed and injured. I learned later, on a return visit, that the figure was more like 400. The Daily Mail reporter, who, to my certain knowledge had never left the hotel, gave a wonderful interview to the BBC replete with vivid descriptions of street fighting and hails of bullets! It reinforced my view to never believe what you read in a newspaper!

Did you actually feel in any danger during all this?

"No, I don’t really think that we were ever in personal danger. The whole delegation naturally felt a little uneasy. Our Polish hosts were very anxious that we should be safe and made great efforts to arrange our departure before any full scale conflict should erupt. At no time did anyone from the British Embassy make any effort to contact us. I think the Embassy was closed for the weekend! My father telephoned the Foreign Office after hearing an early morning BBC bulletin. The Saturday morning spokesman at the Foreign Office was still quite unaware that the BBC had broadcast such a bulletin. It was clear that my father was first in with the news that morning!

When did you return to Poland again?

About two seasons after the riots. I was asked to tour and gave a whole series of concerts opening with a recital in Lublin. It was a wonderful beginning. My Polish hosts had hung a large Union Jack side by side with the Polish red and while flag. I repaid the compliment by sitting at the piano and playing the Polish National Anthem before I started on my recital programme. The gesture caught the mood. The Lublin audience was delighted and went wild before I had played a note of my programme proper. After this I began all my recitals with the Polish Anthem. The second concert was with the Lublin Orchestra and is the concert that I mentioned previously in which I played the Grieg Concerto. Everywhere I went I was greeted with a tremendous response. This was, I felt sure, meant in part as a tribute to all the British people. It was surprising how many there were in my audiences that had come from England. These were often the English and Scottish wives of Polish Servicemen who had returned to their country after the war. A great number of them had returned home and were given a hard time. These were the servicemen who managed to escape from the Germans, before Poland was overrun in 1939, and get to England to carry on the fight with us. They were not welcomed and were treated rather like spies by the Communist Government in Poland.

I was also surprised how many times I was asked by Polish women to sell them my evening dresses. They had Polish Zlotys but few luxuries, or even essentials, were in the shops to buy. I felt really sad for them and I did give quite a few things away. When I returned to London I had accumulated requests for stockings, cosmetics, medicines, text books, music, and orchestral parts. When I returned just recently conditions everywhere were beginning to change very obviously for the better".

Here you were behind the Iron Curtain, travelling entirely by yourself. How did you manage with the language? Polish is not an easy language. How much Polish do you speak?

"I am afraid very little! At first it was a little frightening even though I was accompanied by an official from the Polish Concert Agency. Sometimes, I had to make out entirely by myself. I had picked up some very useful Polish phrases on my delegation visit and made good use of them. I must say that I often resorted to a smile when I wasn’t quite sure what was being said, or couldn’t find the words quickly to reply. I remember that when I returned from the very first delegation visit the muscles on either side of my face ached for days with the exercise! Fortunately, I do have a good command of French and this was very often useful. Several conductors could understand me in general conversation better in French than English. In rehearsals the language was never a barrier as musical language is universal. Very often I found myself alone on a train with a load of Russian soldiers travelling from East to West. The same was true in Russia. I found that my French stood me in good stead.

Did you find conditions in Russia very different to Poland and how did your programmes differ?

"Well it was a great deal colder for a start! Some good advice came to me from Eileen Joyce. ‘What you wear is just as important as what you play! Make sure that you take a fur coat, a mink hat, fur gloves, warm underclothes and at least a couple of hot water bottles!’ I must say that my fur coat really stood me in good stead and it served well as a travel rug and bedspread. The concert halls though, unlike our own, were never cold. In the Royal Festival Hall the heating is often minimal in the artist’s room and a cold draft often blows right across the concert platform chilling you to the bone. The Russian hospitality everywhere was quite wonderful. I was given a warm welcome even though the political climate between our two countries is rather icy.

And what did you play?

The works that I had been booked to play were Mozart’s Concerto in A Major, K.488, Brahms D minor concerto, Beethoven 3rd Piano Concerto (Alkan Cadenza) Chopin’s F minor Concerto and, finally, the Bax Symphonic Variations. I also took a Liszt Recital and a special recital programme for some engagements in universities and music colleges. This contained the Bach Goldberg Variations and Rachmaninov’s First Piano Sonata. In the Liszt recital, in place of the B minor Sonata, I included the Grand Concert Solo, which is rarely played. The B minor sonata seems particularly popular with young Russian pianists and featured in three of the five recitals I was invited to attend.

What did you think was the greatest success?

The Bax Symphonic Variations really stunned and surprised everybody. One student in the audience said that the only Bax he heard had been "Morning Song" and the Conservatoire library contained only one album of short pieces. "I am banged on the head" he said enthusiastically. I thought for one uneasy moment that he was going to ask me to send him the music! However, this was a great success and the orchestra played magnificently. Whilst I was talking endlessly to young people who had come to the concert I was approached by the Orchestral Manager. He mentioned that the conductor had told him that I had played the Rachmaninov Third Concerto many times. The truth was that I had played it once! I nodded in reply. ‘We have a concert scheduled for this Rachmaninov Concerto," he continued "and the pianist has been injured." It appeared that there had been a very bad train accident. Would I help them by playing in the concert in his stead? The concert was on Wednesday and this was Saturday and the Bax concert was being repeated on Sunday. I did not have my own copy of the concerto with me but my young Bax enthusiast, who had been listening to the whole conversation, said that he had his copy which he would gladly lend me. He would deliver it to my hotel. I thanked him and with thought agreed to undertake the concert. Immediately on my arrival back at the hotel the young man’s copy of the Rachmaninov score was thrust into my hands. I went to bed that night, hot water bottles and fur coat much needed! I spent an hour looking through the music and went to sleep clutching the score to me."

"In the morning, I had a quick breakfast and made my way back to the concert hall. The caretaker opened the piano and I spent two hours reading through the concerto. I had just started to get to grips with the alternative cadenza when the orchestral manager came rushing across the platform looking very flustered. ‘I am so sorry,’ he said ‘the orchestral parts of the Rachmaninov Concerto were travelling with the pianist and they have been lost in the crash! I am so sorry after you had been so kind as to say you would play for us and have started to practise already.’

"I hastened to reassure him that I wasn’t at all put out and that I really been enjoying myself playing through the concerto on their wonderful new Steinway. Actually, I was really thinking of how quickly I could get back to the hotel and make sure my hot water bottles were safe. I had left them in the bed! I had, in any case, to be back in the hall at 12 noon to rehearse with the orchestra some little passages in the Bax where the conductor had felt the ensemble a little unsure the previous evening. The very embarrassed man then said that I had been engaged for the concerts and as he had notified the Moscow office by telegraph the orchestra would have to pay up. Or, which was definitely worse, he would have to pay up! Moscow was very strict on these things. Would I consider playing something else? Anything! In five minutes flat it was agreed that I would play the Brahms D minor Concerto, for which they had full orchestral parts and which, of course, I had prepared assiduously back in London for this tour. That being settled I rushed off back to the hotel to claim my hot water bottles!"

You make it all seem quite a natural thing for a young English woman to travel by herself into Eastern Russia. Didn’t you feel at all nervous?

"Well, it was really a great adventure and I didn’t have the time to feel nervous. I was very busy, practising very hard to ensure that this opportunity, and it was a big opportunity for me, should not wasted. I was also very much aware that many people in the Russian organisation, responsible for my visit, were relying on me to be successful. Finally, this might sound out of place to day, but I felt that I did represent my country and I was playing in places where probably no English pianist had ever visited. Certainly no English woman pianist!

And nothing ever went wrong in these eastern tours?

"No the only time things ever went wrong was when I was travelling with my husband!"

And is that too painful?

"My husband had to travel to the Posnan International Trade Fair and I went with him. Due to some mix up with the Polish Embassy over the visas, on the advice of the Polish Trade officials in London, we were told that we would be able to obtain the necessary travel visa on the train from East Berlin. We flew to Berlin, booked in at our hotel, then travelled into East Berlin, to reserve a seat and get our rail tickets for Posnan. The following morning we returned to the station, boarded the train and everything went well. We had been travelling for nearly an hour when two grim looking leather coated officials asked to see our passports. Immediately we were told that we could not proceed as we had no visas. The train stopped, two East German soldiers, with rifles, ordered us off the train. We were unceremoniously dumped on the track with our luggage and told to walk back to the last station. Two armed guards marched along behind us. We walked for about thirty minutes and arrived at a very busy little station with crowds of workers waiting anxiously for trains to take them to Berlin. We were put on the train and given instructions to apply for the visa in Frederickstrasse. I suppose, to be honest, we were both a little apprehensive. It all seemed quite normal and, rather quaintly, the "Wedding of the Painted Doll" was being played over the loudspeakers to keep the waiting workers happy. But it all worked out in the end and the following morning we caught the same train and armed with our visas crossed over the border into Poland and travelled on to Posnan.

Finally I would like to touch on another aspect of your musical life. I was frankly amazed to look through my monthly ‘What’s on in the Festival Hall’ and read ‘Liszt Recital by Pupils of Joyce Hatto’ I couldn’t get along myself but I did acquire a programme and was astonished to see that this was an adventurous programme that would tax any seasoned professional! I have the programme here in front of me. These are young people, 16-20 years of age, playing really big virtuoso works, or pieces requiring very considerable musicianship. Now my spy at this concert tells me that he didn’t hear a wrong note and that at least two of these youngsters would have seen off a Horowitz! I have never seen the ‘Niobe’ Fantasy, for an example, announced in a programme by anybody. Yet here we have a young slip of a girl, Gail Buckingham, playing this historically infamous piece with all the aplomb of a Horowitz and the others were of similar standard. All so young! It really does astonish me that you have the time and energy to expend on teaching at this level.

"Well, I have always enjoyed teaching. It is true that many musicians do not. I have always loved the piano. For me there is a frisson merely to see the sight of the piano open and standing alone on the concert platform. Waiting for the pianist to appear, sit down, and launch into the adventure of a performance. Earlier I mentioned that Sir Granville Bantock had said that I was a "born performer" whilst, Oda Slobodskaya, the great Russian soprano and "performer" par excellence wrote to me recently and commented that I was a "born teacher" after attending a recital given by a pupil. Could both these distinguished musicians be right? I think that most people are born with a talent for something. The people who are happiest in life are those who have been able to discover, or recognise their own particular god-given gift, and go all out for it! There is that well worn and very unfair adage that "People who can’t perform teach." I love the piano whether I am playing myself or teaching young pianists how to play well or play better. Good teaching, whether it is, mathematics, physics, languages, ballet, or opera, must be recognised as vital to the success of our society. Inspired teaching always produces results and who better to inspire a young performer than advice given freely by somebody who has been through the mill."

BJ: Like you, perhaps?

JH: "Yes! I think that I can claim to have been through the mill!"

© Joyce Hatto

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