JOYCE HATTO - A Pianist
of Extraordinary Personality and Promise
Comment and Interview by
[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
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
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
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
"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
"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
How long were you with
"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
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
"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?
‘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
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
"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
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
"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
"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
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
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
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
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
"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
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
"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
"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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