|Umělec magazine 2012/1 >> Manifest Destiny||List of all editions.|
Manifest DestinyUmělec magazine 2012/1
Pablo Helguera | expansion | en cs de
American history is filled with stories about how to hide chauvinism and expansion behind lofty ideals of inevitable fate, of a manifest destiny to settle paradise; how to endlessly, shamelessly, and by force expand the boundaries of one’s garden. Joyce Hatto, too, had a nearly unbounded approach to reality, making nearly 120 recordings of piano concerts in her life. One of England’s greatest female pianists – or maybe not?
MANIFEST DESTINY was first performed at the HAU Theater in Berlin, on January 19, 2008. Its final version, with three actors, was performed on January 27, 2009, at Cooper Union in New York. The setting is one screen with rotating slides, and a variety of selections of American and Mexican XIXth music, classical selections credited to pianist Joyce Hatto, and early twentieth century American music.
In November 1839 American journalist John O‘ Sullivan published the following words in The United States Democratic Review:
O’Sullivan’s ideas provided the intellectual grounding for the notion of Manifest Destiny, a phrase that would have great traction among politicians who wanted to see the Jeffersonian dream of continental expansion realized. Advocates of Manifest Destiny believed that expansion was not only good but obvious (“manifest”) and certain (“destiny”).
One supporter of the idea was James Polk, a Jacksonian Democrat who became president in 1844. The United States was then a small country. Texas had not yet become part of the nation, the Oregon territories were not yet annexed, and to the Southwest the country ended with Missouri and Louisiana, which had been recently purchased from the French. Polk had a vision of expansion that would alter the history of the continent.
On June 30, 2006, the pianist Joyce Hatto passed away in a placid countryside town in England. The next day newspapers around the world mourned her passing. The Guardian wrote, “Joyce Hatto, who has died at age 77, was one of the greatest pianists England has ever produced,” and added, “Her legacy is a discography that in quantity, musical range and consistent quality has been equaled by few pianists in history.” In the last years of her life she had gone from being a nearly unknown pianist to a superstar of the keyboard.
Most of her recordings date from the early 1990s, when she had reached an age at which many pianists have retired. Her production was breathtaking: it includes the complete solo works of Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven, Schubert, and Liszt, almost all of Chopin, all the Prokofiev Sonatas, and the complete concertos of Brahms, Saint-Saens, and Rachmaninoff. She was one of just four pianists (and the only woman in her seventies) ever to have recorded all fifty-four of Chopin’s Etudes, still considered to be the most difficult piano music ever written.
Born in 1928, Joyce Hatto was the daughter of a London antiques dealer. As a teenager, she said, she kept practicing during the war, hiding under the piano when the bombs were falling. Ms. Hatto made recordings from the 1950s until 1970—some Mozart and Rachmaninoff—but usually easier works. For the most part, she was considered a good pianist, but through those years she remained in the regional obscurity of a few local circles.
Her career was already in decline when she was diagnosed with cancer in the early 1970s. She retired to a village near Cambridge with a piano and her husband, a recording engineer named William “Barry” Barrington-Coupe.
What came afterward was to take the music world by surprise. Starting in 1989, Joyce Hatto began recording CDs for Concert Artist, a small record label run by her husband. She began with Liszt, went back to cover Bach and all of the Mozart sonatas, and continued with the complete Beethoven sonatas, then on to Schubert and Schumann, Chopin, and more Liszt. She played Messiaen. The complete Prokofiev sonatas were tossed off with incredible virtuosity. In total she recorded more than 120 CDs with impressive speed and accuracy; with her husband as producer, Hatto tackled a prodigious repertoire. It was an unprecedented undertaking for an older woman, made even stranger by the fact that the records were hardly promoted.
Joyce Hatto was something unheard of in the annals of classical music: a prodigy of old age—the ultimate of late bloomers, an unknown music master.
In 1861 the United States was not yet one hundred years old. The Civil War had not yet taken place. It was the year of the birth of a man who would chronicle the past of this country and in that way become the most popular and biggest-selling artist in its history.
Wallace Nutting was born in Rockbottom, Massachusetts, on Sunday, November 17, 1861. He studied at Harvard and at the Hartford Theological Seminary, graduating from the former with the class of 1887. He became a minister, but because of poor health was forced to give up the pulpit at age forty-three. Like many men of his time, he developed a hobby of taking photographs, which were becoming more available commercially, and he was fond of taking trips through the countryside for this purpose.
Nutting’s America was a country experiencing rapid change. The turn of the century had brought industrialization to the United States. Cities were transforming quickly, and people were leaving rural areas. Immigration from other parts of the world had increased, and the presence of newcomers was rapidly changing the landscape of America.
It was on one of his strolls in the countryside that Nutting had an epiphany. He stopped by a little creek, next to an old New England farm, and sat down under a tree with his camera. At that moment he felt a strange sense of nostalgia. “All these landscapes are fading away,” he thought. “All this which is so truly American. I will save these images for the world.” That was the beginning of an extraordinary journey. Without knowing it, Nutting became the first man to visualize the United States as a country with a history. With his photographs, he gave birth to the idea of Old America.
The United States had expressed an interest in expelling the British Empire from North America. But when it failed to do that in both the American Revolutionary War and the War of 1812, Americans started fearing British expansion elsewhere in North America.
This fear became a recurrent theme of Manifest Destiny and the main argument for the invasion of Mexico.
In 1836 the Republic of Texas declared independence from Mexico and later sought to join the United States as a new state. This was the ideal process of expansion advocated by figures ranging from Jefferson to O’Sullivan: newly democratic and independent states would request entry into the United States, rather than the United States extending its government over people who did not want it. The annexation of Texas was controversial, however, since it would add another slave state to the Union.
Before the election of 1844, Whig candidate Henry Clay and the presumed Democratic candidate, ex-president Martin Van Buren, both declared themselves opposed to the annexation of Texas. This led to Van Buren being dropped by the Democrats in favor of James Polk, who favored the annexation and went on to win the election.
Mexico had gained independence from Spain in 1821 and had inherited the territories of Alta California, New Mexico, and Texas. But the Mexican government was bankrupt and had a hard time governing the lands in the north, which were thousands of miles away from Mexico City.
After Polk was elected, Congress approved the annexation of Texas. Polk moved ahead to occupy a portion of Texas that was also claimed by Mexico, paving the way for the outbreak of the Mexican-American War on April 25, 1846. With American successes on the battlefield, by the summer of 1847 there were calls for the annexation of “All Mexico,” particularly among Eastern Democrats, who argued that bringing Mexico into the Union was the best way to ensure future peace in the region.
This was a controversial proposition, mainly because the annexation of Mexico would mean extending American citizenship to millions of Mexicans. Senator John C. Calhoun of South Carolina was opposed to the annexation of Mexico for racial reasons. In a speech he said,
We have never dreamt of incorporating into our Union any but the Caucasian race—the free white race. To incorporate Mexico, would be the very first instance . . . of incorporating an Indian race; for more than half of the Mexicans are Indians, and the other is composed chiefly of mixed tribes. I protest against such a union as that! Ours, sir, is the Government of a white race. . . . It is a great mistake.
In 1845 President Polk sent diplomat John Slidell to Mexico City in an attempt to purchase Mexico’s Alta California and Santa Fe de Nuevo Mexico territories. Polk authorized Slidell to forgive the $4.5 million owed to American citizens for damages caused by the Mexican War of Independence and pay another $25 to $30 million in exchange for the two territories.
“Everyone is badly educated,” Wallace Nutting once wrote. “Most of what we ought to know is not taught.”
Nutting became determined to record, revive, and preserve the best in old America, that which he saw was fading. He began to picture what he described as “America the beautiful,” in and out of doors. He took up to twenty thousand pictures on platinotypes of typical countryside American scenes from different states.
In 1904 he opened the Wallace Nutting Art Prints Studio on East 23rd Street in New York. After a year he moved his business to a farm in Southbury, Connecticut. He called this place Nuttinghame. His hand-colored pictures soon became so sought after that he had to hire colorists to help him.
Nutting was inspired by the transcendentalist literature of his time, the writings of Thoreau, for example, that tried to recover the connection between man and nature. He saw his own work as a sort of spiritual restoration for the spirit of a country that he felt was fading away.
With the rise of industry in the United States, there was an increase in the variety and abundance of goods, there were department stores and mail-order catalogues. Nutting figured that he would take advantage of these advances to make his photographs available to everyone and through that process help restore the knowledge of the beauty of Old America.
On April 25, 1846, a two-thousand-strong Mexican cavalry detachment attacked a sixty-three-man American patrol that had been sent into the contested territory north of the Rio Grande and south of the Nueces River. A few survivors returned to Fort Brown. Polk’s message to Congress on May 11, 1846, stated that Mexico had “invaded our territory and shed American blood upon the American soil.” A joint session of Congress approved the declaration of war, with southern Democrats in strong support because they saw the annexation of Mexico as an opportunity to increase the number of slave states. Only a few voted against the measure, including Reps. Abraham Lincoln and John Quincy Adams.
Adams thought that the war with Mexico was another way for the southern states to expand slavery. “In the murder of Mexicans upon their own soil, or in robbing them of their country, I can take rest on others. I will not participate in them,” he said. The United States declared war on Mexico on May 13, 1846. On January 9, 1847, they fought the Battle of La Mesa which resulted in the fall of California. But it was determined that war could not be won unless the United States army marched all the way to Mexico City.
A few weeks after Hatto died, a participant in a Yahoo! music newsgroup posted the following message:
Most of Hatto’s recordings listed an obscure conductor, Rene Kohler, and the National Philharmonic-Symphony Orchestra, which didn’t appear anywhere else.
A biography of Kohler, provided by Hatto’s husband, eventually appeared online. It described Kohler as a Polish-French-German Jew, a survivor of Treblinka with the bad luck to spend twenty-five years in the Soviet Gulag—but there was no mention of him or the orchestra in any reference book. The conductor’s bewildering biography only generated more questions. Was Kohler real? And if Kohler and the National Philharmonic-Symphony Orchestra were ghosts, then who was the conductor and the performers of those recordings?
A German music fan, Peter Lemken, tried to explore the matter further, making skeptical insinuations on the Internet. Lemken’s suspicions about Hatto were based mostly on his incredulity at Rene Kohler’s biography. According to Hatto’s husband, before the Second World War Kohler had studied music at Jagiellonian University, in Krakow. Then, the bio reads, “In the Polish capital, unable to join the Conservatoire because of his Jewish faith, he studied privately with the pianist Stanislaw Spinalski. In 1940 his left hand was crushed irreparably by a young German officer. He survived the Ghetto but in the summer of 1942 was deported to Treblinka.”
Except that, as Lemken learned when he sent a query in early 2006 to Jagiellonian University, no record existed of a student named Rene Kohler. Furthermore, the university never had a music department. In a Usenet discussion, Lemken wrote, “What kind of frame of mind must one possess to invent a fake Holocaust survivor biography?” The final resolution of the Hatto mystery came when, a few weeks after Joyce Hatto’s passing, Brian Ventura, a music fan in Mount Vernon, New York, slid one of Hatto’s CDs into his computer. The piece was Liszt’s Transcendental Etudes. The iTunes music library identified the recording as belonging to another performer, the Hungarian pianist Laszlo Simon. The reader brought this matter to the attention of Jed Distler, editor of Gramophone magazine. A further comparison of the recordings showed that they were identical.
At the same time, at the Centre for the History and Analysis of Recorded Music (CHARM), at the University of London, musicologists Nicholas Cook and Craig Sapp had been making a comparative study of performances of selected Chopin mazurkas, using software that depicted the similarities between recordings with colored graphics.
Although Cook and Sapp weren’t familiar with Hatto, they included her in the study because she was among the few pianists who had recorded the complete mazurkas. They entered two tracks from her CD Chopin: The Mazurkas into their database. Digital analysis of the recordings was profoundly revealing: the Hatto version and a 1988 recording by Eugen Indjic, a Belgrade-born soloist, were identical. A Google search confirmed that both pianists were demonstrably real—Hatto had existed, and Indjic had recently played in Poland—which left the unavoidable implication that one was a plagiarist. The contextual evidence pointed unavoidably toward Hatto.
As Hatto’s reputation collapsed, Barrington-Coupe did what he could to deny the scam. When confronted by James Inverne, another editor at Gramophone, he said he’d been warned that the magazine was working on a story and was aware of the Laszlo Simon duplication but couldn’t explain the similarities. Since then, studies by professional sound analysts have confirmed that the entire Joyce Hatto oeuvre recorded after 1989 was stolen from the CDs of other pianists. It is a scandal unparalleled in the history of classical music.
Ms. Hatto usually stole from younger artists who were not household names. Her recording of Chopin mazurkas seems to be by Eugen Indjic; her interpretation of the extremely difficult transcriptions of Chopin studies by Leopold Godowsky are actually recordings by Carlo Grante and Marc-Andre Hamelin; her Messiaen recordings are by Paul S. Kim; her version of Bach’s Goldberg Variations are at least in part by Pi-Hsien Chen; the complete Ravel piano music she released is by Roger Muraro. As reports come in, the rip-off list grows.
Nutting turned his obsession with the American colonial past and the natural landscape of northern New England into a commercial enterprise. Despite his religious training, Nutting had a very strong business sense, and from very early on he copyrighted his images. As early as 1904 he started publishing catalogues of his photographs. He always wrote in third person: “Wallace Nutting’s pictures had their origin in the love of an amateur for the beauties of our incomparable countryside.” In 1908 he made another catalogue, and in 1910 and 1912 even larger catalogues appeared. This last catalogue had eight hundred pictures. At the height of his business, in the 1920s, he had two hundred colorists.
Joyce Hatto’s husband, Barry Barrington-Coupe, forcefully denied the accusations of plagiarism, saying that his wife’s recordings were authentic. She was the “sole pianist on those recordings,” he declared in an interview to The Daily Telegraph, and added that he was present “at all the important sessions” in his capacity as recording engineer. “If it was all a fake, why would I put my wife’s name on it?” he added. “I would have put someone else, some Russian name, and we would have sold ten times as many. The English don’t like success.”
Barry’s tone started changing after the Daily Mail dug up a 1966 conviction for tax fraud, for which he’d been fined and sentenced to a year in prison. At the time, the judge admonished him and four co-defendants, saying, “These were blatant and impertinent frauds, carried out rather clumsily, but such was your conceit that you thought yourselves smart enough to get away with it.”
As his previous misdemeanors came to light, Barry gave a near confession in a letter to the head of the Swedish label that had released Laszlo Simon’s Liszt recording. He said something along the lines of “I did it for my wife”—as if they were both victims. He said he borrowed bits of other recordings to solve technical problems. According to Barry, Hatto had played all the pieces herself, but the recording had captured various involuntary grunting noises prompted by the pain from her advancing cancer. So he had searched for recordings by artists with similar styles and spliced patches into her work. “My wife was completely unaware that I did this,” he wrote. “I simply let her hear . . . the finished editing that she thought was completely her own work.”
As a matter of fact, Barry had actually been involved during the 1950s and 1960s in a type of musical scam that was common in England and America at the time. It consisted in stealing authentic recordings and re-releasing them under a new discount label with fictional names of interpreters and orchestras. The performers of such recordings, which sold for around a dollar apiece, had artful pseudonyms—Paul Procopolis, Giuseppe Parolini, the Cincinnati Pro Arte Philharmonic, the Munich Greater State Symphony—and Barry is credited with coining the wittiest of all: Wilhelm Havagesse (conducting the made-up Zurich Municipal Orchestra playing Rimsky-Korsakov’s Scheherazade).
In order to make up for his wife’s insufficient talent, Barry used his to concoct the perfect pianist, displaying her mastery in more than one hundred CDs, giving to the imagination a master for the ages.
President Polk sent a second army, under General Winfield Scott, to the port of Veracruz by sea to begin an invasion of the Mexican heartland. A group of twelve thousand volunteer and regular soldiers successfully offloaded supplies, weapons, and horses near the walled city, which responded as best it could with its own artillery. The effect of the extended barrage destroyed the will of the Mexican side to fight against a numerically superior force, and they surrendered the city after twelve days under siege.
Scott then marched westward toward Mexico City with 8,500 troops, while general Santa Anna set up a defensive position in a canyon around the main road at the halfway mark to Mexico City, near the hamlet of Cerro Gordo. Due to strategic mistakes, however, Santa Anna and his troops were routed. The United States army suffered four hundred casualties, while the Mexicans suffered over a thousand deaths and three thousand taken prisoner.
In September, Mexico City was laid open in the Battle of Chapultepec and subsequently occupied. Winfield Scott became an American national hero after his victories in the Mexican-American War, and he later became military governor of occupied Mexico City.
The toll of the war was enormous for Mexico, which lost nearly half of its territory during that conflict. The Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, signed on February 2, 1848, by American diplomat Nicholas Trist, ended the war and gave the United States undisputed control of Texas, established the U.S.–Mexican border of the Rio Grande River, and ceded to the United States the present-day states of California, Nevada, and Utah, and parts of Colorado, Arizona, New Mexico, and Wyoming. In return, Mexico received $15,000,000—less than half the amount the United States had offered Mexico for the land before the opening of hostilities—and the U.S. agreed to assume $3.25 million in debt the Mexican government owed to American citizens. The acquisition was controversial at time, especially among those American politicians who had opposed the war from the start. A leading United States newspaper, the Whig Intelligencer, sardonically concluded, “We take nothing by conquest. . . . Thank God.”
Congressman Abraham Lincoln attacked President Polk, saying that the war had been “unnecessarily and unconstitutionally begun by the President of the United States.” Ralph Waldo Emerson rejected war “as a means of achieving America’s destiny,” although he added that “most of the great results of history are brought about by discreditable means.” General Grant, who led the troops during the war, later said, “To this day I regard the war as one of the most unjust ever waged by a stronger against a weaker nation. I have always believed that it was on our part most unjust.” Grant also expressed the view that the war against Mexico had brought God’s punishment on the United States in the form of the American Civil War: “The Southern rebellion was largely the outgrowth of the Mexican war. Nations, like individuals, are punished for their transgressions. We got our punishment in the most sanguinary and expensive war of modern times.”
Wallace Nutting died in 1941. At the time of his death, he had built one of the most successful decorative-arts empires in the United States. According to his records, he had sold ten million original photographs, likely the highest figure ever reached by any artist, commercial or not, of any era. Today, many samples of “colonial furniture” that Nutting produced, which mostly were bogus fabrications of supposedly authentic historic styles, are now worth more than the actual pieces that truly belong to the colonial period.
But his impact went much beyond the commercial success. Nutting continued preaching morality through his images, turning the lens of the camera into his pulpit. He preached about an America that never existed, one that he wished had existed. His
photography prescribed the traditional modes of behavior and decoration that built suburban America, spread distrust for the new immigrant, and invented a collective memory for a nation that was too young yet to have any. Nutting was the father of Americana, of that peculiar and prevailing romantic notion in the United States that the national past is benevolent, that the development of America is a beautiful fairy-tale. His legacy is still felt in many successful businesses that cater to American suburban ideals of beauty. (Screen shows an image of Martha Stewart magazine.)
After Hatto’s death from cancer on June 30, 2006, at the age of seventy-seven, obituaries and tributes recycled the most striking superlatives (“as completely satisfying a pianist as anyone in the history of recorded music,” “a national treasure”). Her funeral took place at a crematory in Cambridge, a secular ceremony organized by her husband. Mourners listened to music—Bach, Brahms, Chopin, Debussy—from a Hatto sampler CD issued by Concert Artist a few months earlier. Humility was the theme of Barry’s prepared remarks, beginning with an apology to his wife that a service was being held in the first place, contrary to her wish to avoid a ceremony, “her final public appearance.” As an artist and a teacher, he said, “she would say . . . there is God, the composer, and then you. Nothing comes between composer and the listener. With Joyce you will seek vainly for ostentation, no grand ‘Hatto’ moments, simply the music.”
O’Sullivan finished his 1839 article as follows:
What is it about those images that we construct about ourselves, and the way that we go about taking over the world to promote them?
Be it violent or benevolent, the virus of utopia has a way of infecting us with hopes and ideals that may be false, unfounded, and rooted in fantasy or denial, but their common denominator is that they appeal to something that we want to exist, to our unexpressed desires, helping us project a sugar-coated reality.
We want them. Sometimes they bother us, or we are suspicious of them, but they are so tempting that we usually succumb to their attraction.
And once we do, we become part of them, we become co-conspirators, enactors of their proposed fictions.
We allow our world to be constructed with dubious means, but we try to justify it to ourselves because that is the way things are, because that is how things were before we arrived,
and who are we to individually take on an entire system of deception? We are very small, and it is so overpowering.
When we accept that, we also accept the divorce of cause and effect and past and present, and the fusion of right and wrong.
That is how we are, full of contradictions, and it is perhaps our manifest destiny, as a society, to always fall in love with the latest fable,
be deceived, and after we have been painfully hurt by our deception,
eagerly await the next promising deception to take over and give us at least temporary relief,
telling us a story that we desperately want to be true,
but that we quietly know is too perfect to be true.