This week BBC one aired a biopic on Joyce Hatto. The British pianist was a promising talent in the 1950s and the ultimately found fame in the following decades, helped by her husband, the British record producer William Barrington-Coupe. When she died, in 2006, claims that many of her works weren’t really hers were brought forward and a fraud was discovered. However, since Hatto had been scarcely healthy and never managed to recover and come back to the music industry, the intentions of her husband were seen under a different light, a compassionate one, one which would somehow serve as a tribute to his wife.
Such complex and controversial events could not leave the world of Literature indifferent. Contemporary author Minh Tran Huy has based her second novel on the events surrounding the pianist, releasing her second novel “La Double vie d’Anna Song” (in English “The Double Life of Anna Song“) in 2007. Literature is inspired by music since the dawn of days, and both arts illuminate each other mutually every now and then: a classic of Russian literature dealing with the world of music is “The Kreutzer Sonata“ by Leo Tolstoy, where music leads to an adulterous love affair between the two musicians. In recent times, tying the worlds of literature and music was Paolo Maurensig‘s ”Canone Inverso“, a story about a violin and its possessors. But Minh Tran Huy’s novel perfectly narrates the shades in between right and wrong when it comes to love: only a few details are changed in the plot, which almost perfectly mirrors the life and troubles of Joyce Hatto and her husband.
In the novel, the French-Vietnamese pianist (an autobiographical feature of Minh Tran Huy’s main character, who is of Vietnamese origins) is already dead when her husband Paul Desroches publishes her whole discography, causing celebratory appraisals from the music industry and attracting the most positive reviews.
There is no doubt that the plot itself, as well as the true story which inspired it, can both cause prejudice and commotion. William Barrington-Coupe and his characterisation Paul Desroches both did something wrong for the right reason: celebrate the genius and talent of their dying wives. The truth is, only literature could come in the help of this true fact: the harshness of report news and the way in which the media portray the facts do not always grasp the nuances of human life and the choices that one makes. Only a book could embrace the idealistic impulse that lies behind what many would simply judge as a scam.