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Every day we post 10 new Classical CD and DVD reviews. A free weekly summary is available by e-mail. MusicWeb is not a subscription site. To keep it free please purchase discs through our links.

  Classical Editor Rob Barnett    


JOYCE HATTO

ATES ORGA

© Vivienne of London 1973

Prelude
Early Days
Serge Krish
Royal Academy of Music
Nikolai Medtner
Alfred Cortot
Vanguard Pianist
Chopin and Liszt
Poland 1956
USSR 1970
Crisis
Scandinavia 1972, 1975
Teaching
Technique
Urgeist versus Urtext
Reception

Part 2 The Recordings

see also

Postscript to this article 18-10-07
JOYCE HATTO - A Pianist of Extraordinary Personality and Promise
Comment and Interview by Burnett James
After recording 119 CDs, a hidden jewel comes to light: Fans and critics have long overlooked pianist Joyce Hatto
By Richard Dyer

Complete list of Joyce Hatto recordings available for purchase through MusicWeb

 

THE ARTIST

 

‘The musical profession is a jungle and the

concert platform can be the loneliest place in the world.

When people flood in to see you after a concert and tell you that

"you were marvellous" that can be very nice, but if they say

"what wonderful music" then you know that you have succeeded.’

Joyce Hatto, February 2005

 

Prelude

I first got to know the English pianist Joyce Hatto more than thirty years ago, writing programme notes for her South Bank and Wigmore recitals. Quite how I came to be doing these I can’t remember. But the repertory, bridging familiar with unknown, was bold and stimulating, while her playing struck me as big-hearted and truthful, adventurous yet with time for finesse. Music-hunting was her thing, not note-spinning. She brought to the exercise tone and quality. And she was generous. In both the length of her concerts. And the kindness she showed others lower down the ladder. One evening came my turn. In my university days, I’d edited Chopin’s unpublished Bourrées for Schott (August 1968, Ed 10984). They’ve been recorded, played and anthologised many times since – but it was Joyce who gave them their premiere, at the QEH, 11 January 1973, under the auspices of the Polish Air Force Association. Minor music maybe, workshop chippings - but a red-letter occasion even so. I was grateful.

On leaving Great Portland Street and the BBC Music Division in January ’75, I lost touch with Joyce. I saw some concerts advertised in the Saturday pages of the Times and Telegraph, but that was about it. Twenty-five or so years later, preparing a Collector’s Guide on Tchaikovsky’s First Piano Concerto for International Piano, her name re-surfaced. Not through her original 1966 Hamburg recording of the work with Erich Riede but, unexpectedly, a remake from 1997. Contacting her Royston-based record company, Concert Artist/Fidelio, revealed a treasury of recordings from the early 90s onwards, currently over a hundred, embracing a wealth of Romantic masterworks. ‘Probably not since Busoni has a pianist presented such a wide and rich in depth repertory,’ believed the late Burnett James. That broadcasters and the traditional media have, for reasons one can only speculate, remained largely indifferent to this outpouring, reviewing virtually nothing (or, when they have, snidely), is one of the mysteries of modern journalism. How many sixty/seventy-year-old-plus pianists attempt the integral Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven, Schubert and Prokofiev sonatas, the complete Brahms, Saint-Saëns and Rachmaninov concertos, the Chopin and Schumann catalogue? How many women do so? English ones at that? A slight, drawn figure these days maybe (though still of girlish voice), but the lady’s alacrity, facility, mental alertness and imagination is remarkable. An indomitable force.

1931 Pre-Hammerklavier

Early Days

Born in September 1928, Joyce grew up in North London, around the corner from the Medtners. At Mill Hill School, subsequently renamed Copthall, two of her tutors instilled a love for the theatre – Nancy Penhale (who into her eighties married the literary and theatre critic Harold Hobson) and Naomi Lewis. Initially her musical training was in the hands of sundry teachers, spirit-shaping encounters, and the émigré Serge Krish. Subsequently she completed her piano studies under Zbigniew Drzewiecki (1890-1971) in Warsaw, and Ilona Kabos (1892-1973) in London - students respectively of Paderewski and Árpád Szendy (one of Liszt’s last pupils). She sought advice, she’s remarked often, from Cortot and Henryk Sztompka, Paderewski’s last student (Chopin), Haskil (Mozart) and Richter (Prokofiev, the War Sonatas). She also worked with Nadia Boulanger. And studied composition with Seiber and Hindemith – though what pieces she might have penned remain strictly private. Hindemith was impressed. ‘An unusual pianist and not one of the breed that I am destined to meet […] these days. I well remember her as a young student in my composition class […] because she was the only "composer" who, when challenged, could sing the fugue subject that she had chalked on the board.’

In the summer of 1973 the critic Burnett James got her to speak graphically about her girlhood:

‘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 [end of March 1943]. 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 […] 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 Fantasy and the Chopin Four Ballades […] his recordings of some Beethoven sonatas and the Third Piano Concerto [November 1929, with Sargent][…] show him to be a pianist of very considerable insight and refinement […] My father was able to teach me himself and I learned a great deal from him. [But] he was a very busy man and so I was sent to a 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 Marion Holbrooke, the sister of Joseph Holbrooke, the composer. We immediately liked each other. She was a thoroughly nice [down to earth] 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 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 [Mandeville Place] 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 [contrasting modern examination protocol] 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 repertory. 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 them then. Needing no more encouragement I launched into […] 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 […] and took me out to a special tea at Selfridge’s 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.’ [BJ]

 

Serge Krish

The Russian-Jewish conductor and pianist Serge Krish [Krisch] - virtually forgotten today save for a single Haydn Wood track from 1946 [An Introduction to The Golden Age of Light Music, Guild GLCD 5100] and numbers from Tauber’s operetta Old Chelsea recorded in May 1943 with the BBC Orchestra [BelAge BLA103.003] but chronicled by Joyce with evident affection - was her first ‘mature’ teacher. Krish had been a pupil of Busoni in Berlin, as a child attending his legendary Liszt recitals in the German capital in December 1904. Never fully accorded his worth or classico-romantic inheritance in England, he became somewhat debased by Establishment ‘worthies’ for his involvement in the British entertainment scene (he was MD for Tauber in several Lilac Time revivals, the Serge Krish Septet was popular, and he conducted The New Concert Orchestra in ‘a large number of recordings’ for the Boosey & Hawkes background music library [AB]). In people’s minds he was associated less with ‘highbrow’ culture than the likes of Black, Chacksfield, Faith, Farnon, Goodwin, Mantovani, Melachrino, Rawicz & Landauer, Semprini and Torch – rarely ever more than BBC Light Programme personalities (Home Service at best) whatever their profound professionalism.

Krish instilled in Joyce a passion for his teacher’s life-long devotions - Bach, Beethoven and Liszt – as well as a broader understanding of the Romantics from Chopin to Brahms and beyond. She paints an atmospheric picture of life under him during the War, in particular his open-ended sessions at Yarners Coffee House, Upper Regents Street, a few doors from Broadcasting House and the shell of the Queen’s Hall, Langham Place, bombed by the Luftwaffe in May 1941:

‘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 […] 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!" [… he had fascinating stories about touring w mmkhiyith [or meeting, or turning pages for] 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 […] My coffee was always cold before I drank it. Krish, to my young mind, simply knew everybody and I couldn’t soak up enough of the tradition I realised was already vanishing […] at Yarners [we] would bump in [the] equally legendary musicians who were still with us. Among these [early 1943, was] Sir Arnold Bax accompanied on one occasion by Harriet Cohen. My teacher would always introduce me as his "hard working" pupil.’ [JH/BJ] Serge Krish was very much a "giver" in music. He created the People’s Palace Symphony Orchestra for out-of-work orchestral musicians - taking the name from the then famous Victorian People’s Palace in East London’s Mile End Road [Queens’ Building, Queen Mary University of London]. Not only did he give players employment and hope, he also provided opportunities for up and coming soloists. Clifford Curzon and Benjamin Britten were among those who took advantage of gaining experience and valuable press coverage. The concerts were given "Royal" approval by the patronage and attendance of Her Majesty Queen Mary in full regalia in 1935. Krish was unable to follow a solo career as he’d injured a hand as a soldier in the 1914-18 War. But he made a considerable reputation accompanying and partnering star artists. For a few years he was resident in America, befriending Leopold Godowsky. It was through Serge Krish that I became friendly with Benno Moiseiwitsch and I was made very welcome in that family and the whole group of quite exceptional musicians who surrounded it. [In 1942] Moiseiwitsch’s daughter, Tanya, married Serge’s youngest son, Felix – who died in action eleven weeks later [his RAF Lancaster crashing over Lincolnshire farmland, 12 February 1943: within days Serge was back in the recording studio, conducting for Tauber]. She never re-married.’ [AO]

© Angus McBean 1958

Royal Academy of Music

Pianistically the great-grand-daughter of Liszt and grand-daughter of Busoni and Paderewski, poetically the niece of Rachmaninov, Joyce as a child contemplated attending the Royal Academy of Music. In the end it was not to be. She went to none of the London music colleges, content to do without the peers, accolades or prejudices that come from such association.

‘When I was twelve years of age [1940/41] I wrote to Sir Stanley Marchant, then Principal of the Royal Academy of Music, to ask about the opportunities of studying music there. He sent me a charming letter suggesting I should meet Michael Head at the Academy and play for him. I duly made an appointment, bringing along a Mozart sonata and a small group of Chopin Préludes. He was pleased and took me on a tour of the building, pointing to various walls bearing Rolls of Honour on which his name for winning various prizes as a student was frequently displayed. Michael Head said that he would be happy to take me himself or give me a letter of introduction to any other Academy professor. But he then rather spoilt the occasion by telling me that the musical profession was a very hard and precarious life even for very successful people and it might be better just to play for pleasure. This negative attitude didn’t appeal to the twelve year old before him. Combined with the rather dreary atmosphere of a rather dreary building made me decide that it wasn’t for me. In spite of this we rather liked each other and we kept in touch. A few years later I found myself in Leek, Staffordshire, giving a piano recital in a series where Michael Head had been booked to do one of his charming one-man shows in which he used to play and sing his own compositions. The following year we featured together in three other concert series. He sent me a little card on each occasion - "I think you have made your point," he wrote. He was a nice man and I often listened to his broadcasts. Sometime later Mr Krish arranged for me to have harmony and theory lessons with Professor Leslie Reegan at the Academy. My lessons frequently followed on, as it happened, after Peter Katin. I really didn’t like the atmosphere, an elderly upright piano, piled high with dirty tea cups, fourteen of them, and frequent interruptions. Then one day he turned to me and said "It’s really more important for a young girl like you to be able to cook a good roast dinner and not bother with all this!" I left him and the Academy for good soon after, to study with Mátyás Seiber.’

 

Nikolai Medtner

‘Medtner and his wife and grey tabby lived in a house on the crossing of Ravenscroft Avenue and Wentworth Road, NW11. Joyce played several of his works to him including (on the advice of Krish) four sonatas and at one time the Third Concerto which he’d premiered with Boult towards the end of the War [Royal Albert Hall, 19 February 1944]. Some of his stuff is worthwhile but you need to be an exceptionally good musician to dig out his message. I think Medtner suffered as pianists didn't really find it easy to tap into anything. I think, too, he was emotionally unsuited to performance. I heard him in a recital just once: to my young ears it sounded all so uncommitted. Moiseiwitsch played a handful of his pieces and could make them sound something with his lovely tone. But he didn't play much because Medtner never expressed a "Thanks Benno" and wanted to spend hours giving him advice on how to play everything. Benno got fed up with that very soon. He only took up his music anyway because Rachmaninov had asked him if he could help Medtner. Eileen Joyce was going to play a group of Medtner pieces after she heard Joyce play the Danza Festiva. Medtner immediately wanted to change her technique and instruct her on every note. She also got fed up with that and gave him a big miss. Everybody in the end most people got fed up with Medtner because he was such a worrier. According to Benno, he plagued the life out of Rachmaninov to help him with concerts in America and with publishers. Mrs Medtner was charming and bore all this with great fortitude. Krish had a sister who lived a few houses away from the Medtners.’ [WB-C]

Alfred Cortot

‘Alfred Cortot was, I think, a very honest teacher and musician. He was certainly the most musical musician that I ever met. His voice was musical, mesmeric in French but still hypnotic in English. He poured out comments and information on every aspect of music and art. His astonishing grasp of the wonderland of Schumann’s musical world has been partially eclipsed by his reputation as a Chopin player. His playing of Ravel was simply in another sphere. I shall never forget his comments on Beethoven’s Op 109 or Liszt’s Dante Sonata and the two Legends. A performance to him was the stuff of life and breathe itself. Music was not to be reduced to an ego trip for those pianists who feel that they are rendering composers, however eminent, a great service by simply playing their music at all. Quite contrary to some of the comments that I have read over the years from Cortot "pupils" I never found him particularly dogmatic, egocentric or egoistic. […] Alfred Cortot was first and last a musician. To him being a musician meant making music, communicating music, and bringing the composer and his music to life. He continually underlined the importance of reading and learning as much as possible about the lives and times of the composers.’ [JH/Chopin]

Vanguard Pianist

During the late forties and fifties Joyce lists appearances with conductors ranging from de Sabata and Beecham to Kletzki and Martinon. She worked with Britten, Vaughan Williams (whose Piano Concerto she wanted to programme), and Malcolm Arnold (of the ‘immaculate suit’). One day at the old Sadler’s Wells Theatre, around 1946/47, Constant Lambert encouraged her to take on Bax’s Symphonic Variations: ‘You’ll have the field to yourself – nobody will touch it [no one did till the late eighties]. You might not like it though, it lasts fifty minutes and the pianist never gets the big tune’. Standing by British music, playing it in Britain and overseas, she did her share promoting not only Bax, Bliss, Bowen, Ireland and Rawsthorne but also some of the rarer, obscurer byways of the repertory - from Lambert’s ‘chamber’ Concerto for piano and nine players to Walter Thomas Cooper’s Third for piano and strings, premiered under Martin Fogell at the Wigmore Hall in 1954. A ‘technique […] beyond prestidigitation,’ affirmed Hindemith. ‘Her performance of my Ludus tonalis […], so beautiful in some of the quieter moments, [moved me] to tears. There were no technical problems for her, and her understanding of my intentions – even when not ideally realised in my notation – showed that she was [firstly a] musician not [a] technician. Her wonderful independence of line would have surely seduced Johann Sebastian into composing another Forty Eight just for her.’

Chopin and Liszt

From the beginning Chopin and Liszt featured high in Joyce’s sympathies, at a time in England when neither composer necessarily guaranteed serious aspiration on the part of the artist. In the ’50s, whatever the intent and demonstration of Rubinstein and Malcuzynski, Horowitz and Gilels, Lipatti and Michelangeli, Chopin was pretty tunes, encores, and box-office guarantee, Liszt was show-music, tinsel and Liberace. Promoters’ fare rather than critical fodder. (In his book Reflections on Liszt, Alan Walker concludes the great man is even now [2005] denied his ‘proper place in history’, even as we approach the bicentenary of his birth.) Inspired by Arthur Hedley writing on Chopin (1947), ‘fired up’ by Sacheverell Sitwell’s enthusiasm for Liszt (1934), Joyce had other ideas.

‘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 [Abbey Road 1932] Horowitz recording of the Liszt Sonata and the pre-war recordings made by [another Blumenfeld student] Simon Barere. I also acquired a number of equally compelling performances of then unusual repertoire by Louis Kentner [Ilona Kabos’s husband]. He nearly always [included] interesting Liszt works in his recital programmes.’ [BJ]

Spurning routine programming, Joyce presented inventive juxtapositions and originally themed series. One such, in 1953, at the age of twenty-five, offered the integral nocturnes of Chopin and Field with programme notes by Chislett (Field) and Hedley (Chopin). Another, further into the decade, featured all the Beethoven symphonies transcribed by Liszt at Cowdray Hall, a popular Central London venue of the period benefiting from ‘a nice acoustic’ [WB-C]. Publicised through a blurb by the composer and former BBC Third Programme producer Humphrey Searle, the cycle was presented across four concerts – Nos 1-3, 4-6, 7-8, 9 – the third including additionally Alkan’s transcription plus cadenza of the first movement of the C minor Concerto. (Nos 5-6 plus the Alkan were to be repeated in an unfinished series at the Wigmore twenty years later, among Joyce’s last stage appearances.) Remarkably, by modern reception values, the project – the first known modern performance of the cycle, nearly thirty years before Idil Biret’s Montpelier Festival claim - attracted no critical attention. The Liszt Society (whose Committee then included Kentner, Sitwell and Walton) ‘promoted’ the series - but ‘gave no funding towards it’ [WB-C].

Of the Chopin-Field venture, Hedley recalled in 1958:

‘Joyce Hatto […] is still a young pianist [but] with a particular, and proven, feeling for Chopin. She is unusual, rather unique among English pianists, in understanding the darker side of the composer. She does not strive for pretty effects and her projection of Chopin as a ‘big’ composer sets her aside from most of her contemporaries. Her often quite astonishingly ample technique always allows her additional scope in conveying her interpretive views. It is a considerable achievement of will that she never allows her own forceful personality to intrude on that of the composer. In her performance of the Field Nocturnes [King’s Lynn; Friends Meeting House, King’s Cross Road, London; Bath Pump Room] she never made the mistake of "anticipating" what was known to be on the horizon in Chopin. She allowed Field his moment in time - no mean feat and a revelatory one.’ [AH]

The notion of Chopin as a ‘big’ composer was one shared with, if not inherited from, Cortot:

‘His remarks on all the Chopin that I ever played to him were directed to the feeling and content of each piece and how essential it was in all Chopin performances to rid oneself of the sticky sentimentality that was so often presented as being "authentic". Time and time again he emphasized to me "Chopin is a big composer and the sentiment expressed in his music is masculine –not effeminate".’ [JH/Chopin]

When, from what used to be the Friends of Chopin, Lucie Swiatek founded the London Chopin Society in 1971 under the presidency of Maurice Jacobson, Joyce was appointed to the first committee – joining Daisy Kennedy and the former Minister of State, Welsh Office, Baroness Eirene White.

Poland 1956

You will not find any evaluation of Joyce as a Chopin specialist in James Methuen-Campbell’s Chopin Playing (London: 1981) – saying more about the author than the artist. Her dedication to the composer is complete. From early concert days to late recordings and occasional CD annotations. From visits to Poland (the first, part of an official British delegation, coinciding with the anti-communist Poznań uprising of June 1956) to associations with that country’s musicians, conductors and orchestras - her preferred recording partners. The Polish trips showed her the people, the earth and high art, the history of a land under occupation. She played anything anywhere for anyone. In Warsaw she took part in a recital series including Zak, Rubinstein and Malcuzynski. She visited the tracks and sheds of Auschwitz, eleven years on from its past.

‘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 […] Heart-rending 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’s piano music, with the name of the owner so carefully written on the cover, was clearly visible […] 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 who had endured such a terrible fate. It has had a lasting effect on my life […] I will always remember it.’ [BJ]

 

USSR 1970

In May 1970 Joyce’s Guildford Philharmonic performance of Bax’s Symphonic Variations and the ensuing EMI Abbey Road sessions were attended by the Soviet Cultural Attaché in London. On the basis of what he heard, he confirmed he would recommend the piece for inclusion on her forthcoming tour of the Soviet Union (ipso facto entrusting to her its Soviet premiere).

‘The works that I had been booked to play were Mozart’s A major Concerto K 488, Brahms D minor, Beethoven’s Third (Alkan cadenza), Chopin’s F minor and, finally, the Bax Variations. I also took a Liszt recital and a special […] programme for some engagements in universities and [conservatoires]. 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 rarely played Grand Concert Solo. The B minor Sonata seemed particularly popular with young Russian pianists and featured in three of the five recitals I was invited to attend. The Bax […] really stunned and surprised everybody […] a great success.’ [BJ]

The public warmed to her Brahms D minor, one reviewer commenting:

‘Her performance […] was a triumph. The technical virtuosity was compelling […] but it was the blazing passion that brought the huge audience to its feet. To repeat the third movement as an encore was more than a gesture […] It was a challenge thrown down to the orchestra who responded magnificently. Joyce Hatto [is] an exceptionally fine pianist with no fear of heights. Her playing in the Brahms concerto was a benchmark by which all future pianists can be judged. [She] has a charming grace of manner and her complete humility to the demands of the composer sets her aside as being special.’

 

Crisis

But for the fighter in Joyce, Bax might have been her swansong. She was 41 - and ill with cancer. She has been ever since.

‘She went straight from the EMI Studios to hospital for surgery the next day. It was then found that with a blood count just on 50 [normal MCV being 86-98 femtoliters] any operation was impossible. The surgeon was adamant that she would never recover. Immediate blood transfusions were given and a week to regain strength. Her doctors, one of whom was in attendance at the Guildford concert and the London recording, said that she was "not in a fit state to do either". Well, she did recover, toured Russia and Scandinavia, and played a number of Liszt recitals. She only finally gave up on the public stage when a critic mocked her appearance. Her name nonetheless remained in the record catalogues. In 1980-90 there were 70 cassette titles available, distributed in Britain, the USA, South Africa, Australia, Japan and the Eastern Bloc. When the UK national broadsheets stopped reviewing cassettes, it gave a rather false impression of the business, denying Joyce her presence as a recording artist.’ [WB-C] ‘She doesn't want to play in public [again] because she never knows when the pain will start, or when it will stop, and she refuses to take drugs. Nothing has stopped her, and I believe the illness has added a third dimension to her playing; she gets at what is inside the music, what lies behind it.’ [WB-C, quoted by RD]

Scandinavia

1972, 1975

The warmth of Joyce’s reception abroad has given her good memories. In 1972, for the first time in ten years, she returned to Sweden to play Rachmaninov’s Third Concerto, the Schumann, and an all-Schubert programme. The Göteborgs-Posten atmospherically caught the occasion – ‘Joyce Hatto the astonishing English pianist’:

‘Her performance of the Rachmaninov Third Piano Concerto (which she played on her début here in 1962) has not dimmed but become even more impassioned. The alternative "big" cadenza in the first movement would seem an almost impossible demand for a diminutive woman pianist. But here, as in the thrilling finale, [she] completely dominated her Steinway and it was noticeable that it was the orchestral players who were sweating, not the soloist! The explosive reception she received demanded six encores. These ranged from an incredible Mephisto Waltz to equally fine performances of Rachmaninov’s Preludes in C minor and G minor, ending finally with three Scarlatti sonatas, no doubt beautifully chosen to calm an emotionally charged audience.’

Of her ‘brave’ Schubert offering, they wrote:

‘Miss Hatto’s sponsors need not have worried at this choice of programme as the hall was more than comfortably filled. This English pianist, still young by international standards, has a phenomenal technique. It is phenomenal not simply in terms of power and the speed of her dazzling finger work (yes she does have all that) but in the vast variety of different sounds she is able to coax from her instrument. Phenomenal too is the complete independence of her hands. This alone enables her to colour her playing in a way few pianists can achieve […] all this seemingly additional pianistic technique is placed at the disposal of the composer. Conventional criticisms of Schubert’s piano writing no longer concern us and we are free to gasp at the wonderful sound pictures the composer, through the hands of his interpreter, paints for us. Nowhere was this more convincingly illustrated than in the Wanderer Fantasy, receiving an astonishing performance of power and pianistic conviction.’

A pair of Schubert sonatas in Stockholm galvanised the critic of Svenska Dagbladet:

‘Joyce Hatto [is] a thoughtful pianist of quite exceptional power and an astonishing, seemingly endless, variety of keyboard colour. The clarity of her vision in all she plays and the profundity of thought that permeates her music-making set her uniquely aside. Her individual conception of Schubert’s Sonata in B flat major was completely at odds with the interpretations we hear in concert and on recordings by an array of the world’s greatest pianists. An expected mood of boundless despair was replaced by a searching performance that found hope and looked forward to the future with more than a glint of confidence […] In this deeply considered performance we were held completely in awe of the music and were made to feel that Schubert has not given up his struggle but is still reaching out for fulfilment and some happiness. Rare indeed are the pianists that can grip, mould and hold an audience for forty-five minutes without a single cough to break the spell. [Miss Hatto opened her recital] with a daringly different view of Schubert’s "sunny" little Sonata in A Major D 664. In the opening Allegro moderato (played with exposition repeat) she made us deeply aware of the underlying sadness that is never far away in Schubert, and our eyes were opened to the real stature of this piece. The final movement was a magical journey in which the composer’s rapid changes of mood were further illuminated by this artist’s ability to coax so many different sounds from her instrument.’

Teaching

‘It is really only possible to teach well by example. If you can’t illustrate a difficult passage fluently yourself how can a pupil accept advice on technique?’ [JH/Chopin]

Joyce has spent a large part of her life teaching. Not in a time-restricted, prescriptive college environment but privately. On a one-to-one, hands-on basis, the problems and strengths of each student individually, inspirationally addressed, helped and remedied.

‘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 […] 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 […] better. Good teaching, [in whatever discipline] 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]

In the essay accompanying her 75th anniversary edition of the Chopin Studies she tellingly quotes a conversation Cortot had with her:

What one must always try to do in teaching is to convince the student that they have something to say (if they have) and give them confidence to expand on that. If they can say nothing when faced with a great work of art or find nothing meaningful of themselves to weave into their playing, then I advise them to take up cartography, geography, swimming or anything else where they can do no harm. I never ever advise them to take up teaching as an alternative to public performance. What can they teach for God’s sake!’ [JH/Chopin]

Seeking out Joyce’s students has never been easy. (Gail Buckingham made a brief name for herself in the late-60s, sailing the Niobe Fantasy among other things, but then vanished.) Possibly because many, like Chopin’s, were not destined for a life in music. One such grateful soul, circa 1955, was the novelist Rose Tremain, whose spent her boarding-school days at Crofton Grange in Hertfordshire – and still keeps in touch:

‘Crofton Grange was hard at first. I was homesick. [But] life got easier and then I began to like it. There was a lot of time to fill up and we filled it up stupendously well, with art and drama and music […] I longed to be a good pianist, because we had the concert pianist, Joyce Hatto, to teach us and the sound she made on the wonky old Crofton grand was unique in the history of the school. I never got beyond Grade 3, despite her brilliant instruction. My fingers wouldn’t do the fast bits, so I had to play very slow sonatas.’ (The Scotsman, 10 December 2003)

Technique

Among Joyce’s favourite maxims is Arthur Rubinstein’s ‘there is no method – there is only the right way’. Over lunch in Cambridge, at the University Arms, Valentine’s Day 2005, discussing facets of piano technique, she enumerated some of her basic principles and understandings.

‘(1) The mind plays the piano.

(2) The mind tells the fingers what to do before they do it.

(3) The mind instructs the whole arm to be totally relaxed all the time.

(4) Everything travels through the whole arm dictated by the mind. One doesn’t have to be concerned with ‘arm weight’, ‘wrist tension’ or such things. It is all completely irrelevant and will simply get in the way.

(5) Pianists move quicker than they play. The articulation is dictated by the mind and the fingers are always close to the keys. Krystian Zimerman and Evgeny Kissin demonstrate this.

In this way of playing all sound is released out of the instrument, and the mind chooses its repertory of sounds.

(6) The pianist sits low and away from the keyboard so that the elbow is lower than the keyboard.

(7) The hand is not ‘prepared’ in anyway but remains outstretched. The thumb is always away from the fingers, which can then be articulate. There is no such thing as a weak finger. [‘It is the tendons that are strengthened not the "fingers" as such. The tip of the finger to the first knuckle doesn't cave in’ (WB-C)]

(8) If applied successfully and the hand is lifted off, by the other arm, it will be as light as a feather [a simple demonstration proves the point – as well as showing remarkable tendon development.

(9) The sound is caught by the cushion pads on each finger as the weight travels down the arm.

(10) Legato is transferring the weight from one finger to another. This needs slow practise at first to connect the relaxation from one finger to another. The thumb is used as another finger and this achieves a pure legato.

(11) The lazier [more relaxed] the arm the bigger the tone coming through the instrument.’ [AO]

Arrau once told me he never bothered with drill practice: the works he played gave him the material he needed to keep in shape. Joyce goes along with that to an extent. But the regular playing of technical/musical studies is still an important routine. As a child living through the Blitz near a munitions factory, she honed her fingers on Cortot’s 1928 Rational Principles of Piano Technique. Did an hour of Bach. Immersed herself in Liszt. And wandered the highways of Chopin-Godowsky, courtesy of Krish. She still lives with Clementi’s Gradus ad Parnassum. ‘When discussing the Paganini Études with Joyce Hatto at a Liszt Society recital,’ Humphrey Searle noted in 1952, ‘I was interested, but not entirely surprised, to learn from her that she regularly uses a number of the [late] Liszt Technical Studies, combined with Clementi’s Gradus ad Parnassum, as a basis to build and maintain her very formidable technical prowess.’ [HS]

Urgeist versus Urtext

Joyce is more interested in Urgeist than Urtext. Spirit before letter. Composer before editor.

‘I always mistrust Urtext editions as they are never exactly what they proclaim. Mozart and Chopin always seem to attract ‘scholarship’ of a kind that can never accept that they might actually have meant what they put down on paper. Any deviation from notation in a first movement repeat or in a reprise is immediately put down to a composer having simply been tired, forgetful, ignorant or perverse. Over the years Chopin has suffered badly from editors who think that their understanding of harmony is to be more trusted. They water down piquant harmonies or discords to fit in with their own lesser flights of fancy. This has happened in some Chopin Urtext Editions when even the composer's own corrections of the original plate-makers’ engravings have gone "uncorrected". Existing copies of first editions used by the composer's pupils and assiduously corrected by him, pointing to occasionally quite different conclusions [alternatives], are also often ignored, despite their accessibility [see Jean-Jacques Eigeldinger, Chopin: Pianist and Teacher, Cambridge: 1986].’ [AO]

From a generation in a country, England, that came late to the Germanic Urtext mentality – well-thumbed 19th century derived or influenced editions of the classics still outnumber Henle/Bärenreiter/Wiener Urtext ‘purifications’ in the main British music colleges – Joyce has no ethical problem using the 1906 Augener text of Mozart’s sonatas edited by Franklin Taylor, one of Clara Schumann’s pupils. But only as a basic notation reference, open to academic scrutiny. Occasionally, she says, she’ll make ‘changes in those instances where Mozart is known to have changed his mind or had second thoughts’. In the slow movement of the F major Sonata K 332, for example, she opts to play the ornamented second half variant of the first edition (1784) on the grounds that (a) ‘though its authenticity [cannot] be proved, it seems not impossible that Mozart is [the] author’ (Salzburg Mozarteum-Ausgabe, Vienna: 1950); and (b) it ‘rings true’ (Frederick Neumann, Ornamentation and Improvisation in Mozart, Princeton: 1986). She points out, with respect to dynamics, that she will accord or not with an editor’s opinion subject to her own perception of a passage or context. ‘Mozart himself employed very few expression marks, for the most part f and p. These signs were to indicate the general character of a phrase, and not to imply a monotonous continuance of the same degree of force or sound.’

In the case of Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition, getting to the Urgeist of the music was through Paul Lamm’s edition (Moscow: 1931, basis of the International Music Company text, New York: 1952 – explaining, for instance, the fortissimo at the start of Bydlo, and the original C-D flat-B flat ending of ‘Samuel’ Goldenberg und ‘Schmuÿle’. The autograph (facsimile, Moscow:1975/82). And first-hand contact with London’s ‘White Russian’ Romantics – the Krish circle.

‘When I first played Pictures to Moiseiwitsch he told me quite casually that Rachmaninov had considered producing a "performing edition" but had given up on the task feeling that it was better to leave well alone. Rachmaninov, however, did pass on some of his ideas to Medtner who allowed me to copy them into my own copy of the music. I am not aware that Rachmaninov actually performed the piece, but I do know that he intended to play it in a Boston recital before abandoning the possibility. In my recording [CACD 9129-2] I incorporate one or two of the thoughts he communicated to Medtner. I do not entertain any harmonic changes. But I do divide up some chords for the sake of harmonic emphasis. I endeavour to play each of the Promenades slightly differently so as to make for a more thoughtful (or thought about) performance. I have no specific "authority" for this – though Cortot (who suggested I should play the piece originally) did pass on some splendid personal comments and advice. The difficulty in playing Pictures is to make a diffuse piece, albeit a very great one, that little bit more cohesive, without sprawling about in one’s own unbridled emotions.’ [AO]

Reception

Finding out anything about Joyce, anything corroborative, is a challenge. Her lack of vanity, self-effacement, and desire to be behind the composer, the music, the CD, to be the medium rather than the personality, has over the years created an effective information block. Odd programmes and advertisements surface from time to time. And there’s the standard management biography. But otherwise one hunts vainly for information. No dictionary or handbook entries. Virtually no third-party references. Few readily accessible reviews from her concert days (she’s never kept press cuttings). Her Concert Artist CDs however, offering an in-depth picture of her (present day) strengths and breadth, have helped redress the balance somewhat, attracting notice in Europe and America. The first major piece about her appeared on the internet: the 1973 Burnett James interview. An intriguing read – too intriguing to have been withheld for thirty years. A German profile then featured in Fono Forum, an admiring Frank Siebert concluding that ‘the piano art of Joyce Hatto stands in contrast to today's ostentatious music business’. Subsequently Richard Dyer took up the story, calling her ‘a hidden jewel’. ‘Joyce Hatto must be the greatest living pianist that almost no one has ever heard of […] The best of [her CDs] document the art of a major musician’ (Boston Globe, 21 August 2005).

Part 2 The Recordings

 

 



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