In Which Charles Keil Eggs on His Peers in Musical Education
by Charles Keil
Dear Friends and Colleagues:
Mr. Barrington-Coupe, “Barry’ to his friends, put out over 100 CD recordings between the mid-1980s and circa 2002 (roughly a 15-year period?) that passed off over 90 other piano players as his wife, Joyce Hatto. On one CD, 11 piano players contribute 13 tracks as Joyce Hatto. No prof hears the differences that make a difference; no critic can hear who is who; and no piano player says, “Hey, that’s me” or “That’s not Joyce, it’s either Eugen or Sergio.” No conductor notices something wrong, not even “Herman Havagesse” (one of Barry’s cute pseudonyms). Some orchestral player might have said, ”Hey, that’s us. And we never played with Hatto.” Barring some mitigating evidence, I have to conclude that everyone in the Serious Music World who ever listened to a Joyce Hatto CD was earless, phony, pretending to hear what they can’t, in fact, hear—i.e., “feeling,” “touch,” some “emotions” and “meanings” that performers supposedly inject into the written music as they play it and as they record their faster or slower, more or less impassioned, “version” of it for posterity.
I realized in November 2008 that the “Hatto Potato” was not a big deal in the music departments of the world, nor a hot topic at the SEM (Society for Ethnomusicology) meetings. Similarly, the Caracas Maracas, or revival of through-composed music [music that is relatively continuous, nonsectional, and/or nonrepetitive, or that is composed chronologically (from beginning to end, in order) without a precompositional formal plan—ed.] by the grooving youth of Venezuela is not the big buzz item I expected it to be. Perhaps the simultaneous collapse of consumer capitalism and commodified “serious music” is just a coincidence, no big liberation, no cause for great celebration.
Perhaps there is a positive spin that “serious music” people can put on all this: the aspirations of all the great white male composers have been realized, the appeals of their syntax, their through-composed structures and explicit instructions, have finally been realized and universalized; any competent piano player is as good as another in realizing the godly composers’ intentions. Composers and their performers are both perfectly interchangeable parts in channeling God’s gifts to mankind. But if the universality and perfectibility goals have been realized, and one performance is as good as or no different from another, then we don’t have to waste any more resources on new CDs or on music departments focused on “serious music.”
I want to celebrate in poetry and songs-about-wrongs the shabble-dabble, the flimflamfoolery, the dog-eat-doggerel absurdity of the “classical” world, the weirdness of all this. I’m asking for help. I want to embarrass the music teachers who turned off millions of kids over the past two centuries with “no talent” talk, or “if you can’t read you can’t translate the greats” or “you’ll never be a professional” thoughts, or “not enough moonlight in your moonlight sonata” comments. What are the folks over at the Center for History and Analysis of Recorded Music (CHARM) doing? How and why do they turn recorded mazurkas into blue isosceles triangles that reveal Joyce Hatto is “Eugen Indjic”? And also “Sergio Fiorentino?” Questions about “identity” and “authenticity” are raised, but we’re not hearing much from traditionalists or modernists—even the pomo (post-modern) people seem to be in slomo. Is this the “feminine ending” of Serious Music, or isn’t it? Since Mark Singer wrote about Hattogate in The New Yorker in September 17, 2007, there’s been no big wake or funeral for Serious Music and its interpretation or reenactment in performance. No other articles that explain the inexplicable or try to eff the ineffable have come to my attention. Where’s the big festschrift [anthology of essays—ed.] for Barrington-Coupe, who seems to have almost single-handedly put the music departments in the crapper once and for all?
I’m not particularly interested in adding to the list of 91 ripped-off piano players, the detective work involved, but more interested in the lack of auditory skills, auditory tools, acoustimological finesse; how did written music, music theory, etc., close so many ears, shut down so many minds across the spectrum of professors, teachers, judges, adjudicators, accreditors, critics, scholars, performers? In painting, experts look at brushwork under a microscope, compare notes, and can say with a degree of confidence who did what. Don’t seem to be any comparable skills, accumulations of shared experiences, in the “serious music” field. Civilization’s dead hands strangle completely, but the zombie of western music keeps walking. To be honest, I always thought that there was a kind of folk groovology, an “ethnogroovology,” perhaps, going on in the music departments, shared ways of talking about how you put more “moonlight” in the Moonlight Sonata, etc., but I seem to have overestimated their folk wisdom, assumed more insight or ability to detect differences that make a difference, than was actually there.
Turns out it wasn’t just Stockhausen and Cage serving imperialism (C. Cardew) with their phony anarchism and “chance operations” but, rather, the whole kit and caboodle of “music people” can’t communicate, can’t detect feeling, can’t find meaning but still impose this nonsense on everyone else anyway.
Starting points for contributors to future editions of Hatto Potato might be reading Mark Singer’s New Yorker piece (9/17/07, http://tinyurl.com/3x7jlc) on the web. Listen to a chat between Mark and Matt Dellinger, 15 minutes. There are websites that specialize in detecting and establishing who was ripped off (Wikipedia has a list at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Joyce_Hatto). There are clues to what Barrington-Coupe did as a producer of CDs. Is someone working with Barry on an autobiography or memoirs?
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