Wednesday, March 14, 2007

The Hatto Sonnets

My blogger profile mentions that reading Douglas Hofstadter's Le Ton beau de Marot changed my life. How? Aside from provoking my ongoing fascination with the art of translation, it also resulted in a completely unexpected desire to write poetry. One of my favorite chapters explores a variety of attempts to translate Eugene Onegin, Pushkin's great novel-in-verse, into poetic English. I have since enjoyed reading this translation several times and, like many before me, have found the "Onegin"-style sonnet to be irresistible. There's now a little piece of software running in my brain that starts up every now and then (I think that's called a virus) and tries to convert interesting stories into Pushkin's delightful pattern. Given all that, the following was pretty much inevitable:

The Hatto Sonnets
by Michael Monroe

There's nothing like a stirring story
to make our list'ning ears believe
an artist scaled the heights of glory;
and so what better way to weave
an eager critical reception
than with a web of bold deception?
You see, this tale, upon review,
is wonderful, it's just not true.
But let's go back now and revisit
Joyce Hatto's curious career,
the one that once did not appear
to be suspicious or elicit
much int'rest from the British press.
That's how it started, more or less.

Her bio seemed a good predictor
of greatness since her teachers were
the likes of Krisch, Cortot, and Richter,
to name some to whom she'd refer.
She says she played some big recitals
that featured such imposing titles
as all the transcendental Liszt
(assuming that she did exist).
We're pretty sure she once recorded
a big concerted work by Bax.
There aren't a lot of other facts
from independently reported
news sources on which we can draw.
Her bio has that little flaw.

An illness meant she had to exit
the stage; she never would return.
Who knows if ever she regrets it,
but there was music still to learn.
There must have been a great profusion
of practicing while in seclusion
with Mr. Barrington dash Coupe,
her husband, for she would regroup
and start recording decades later.
Whenever ready, she could go
record in his own studio.
And what emerged was something greater
than anyone could comprehend.
She played the rep from end to end.

Complete surveys of each composer
soon found their way onto CD.
In every case, the playing shows her
to be a master; all agree.
Reviewers also all extol her
concerto discs with Maestro Köhler.
It's hard to say just who he is;
he's unknown in the music biz.
But skepticism’s overshadowed
by awe at what this woman's done.
She's outdone almost everyone.
So through discography Joyce Hatto'd
attained the fame she'd been denied
and left a legend when she died.

In death her name continued growing,
for art recorded still communes
with all who hear, and there's no knowing
just where we'd be without iTunes.
Computers don't succumb to stories
but they can access inventories
of discs from all around the globe.
A perfect match set off a probe
which showed her work was László Simon's,
and once that cover had been blown,
it seemed that nothing was her own.
I guess the lesson is that diamonds
that we discover in the rough
are more than likely other stuff.

But do not let this grim conclusion
to Hatto’s notoriety
result in general disillusion.
Remember it's a mystery
just what she knew about the scandal.
Perhaps it's true she couldn't handle
the truth her husband tried to hide.
(No doubt, he took us for a ride.)
And yet for those whose art was grifted
we need not shed a single tear
since all this means that more will hear
the evidence that they are gifted.
[That doesn’t mean that you are free
to steal my poem. Don’t Hatto me.]

I only started it yesterday afternoon, so I'm sure there will be revisions. I guess I wanted to be sure to get this out there before Jeremy Denk produces something similar. And yes, I know I'm probably butchering the correct pronunciation of László Simon's name with my tortured rhyme. Maybe I should go download his Liszt as an act of repentance.

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