‘The biggest fraud in music history’?

‘The biggest fraud in music history’?


norman lebrecht

October 27, 2014

The Daily Telegraph has posted this headline above an attack by the American violinist Mark O’Connor on the Japanese educator, Sinichi Suzuki.

O’Connor claims Suzuki may have faked some evidence about his education.

That would make him a liar, on a fairly humdrum scale. It does not materially affect his teaching method.

Anyway, there have been far greater frauds in music history. For instance:

1 The encores that Fritz Kreisler ascribed to Baroque composers when they were, in fact, his own.

2 Joyce Hatto’s husband’s success in passing off great pianist recordings as hers. And then getting a film made about his scam.



3 Isaac Nathan’s ‘discovery of the music of Solomon’s Temple, fooling Lord Byron to write words to his tunes.

4 The ‘Japanese Beethoven’ whose scores were written by others.

5 Mozart’s marzipan balls

6 Leonard Cohen’s accountant.

Beside these scams, Suzuki’s is a tiny white lie.


  • Contrarian says:

    1) Andrea Bocelli singing opera
    2) Directors and “interesting” productions will save opera from decadence and will bring new audiences.
    3)Tenors ( now baritones) “conducting” orchestras.
    4) Countertenors

    • Ks. Christopher Robson says:

      I am a countertenor and your remark is news to me. Cheeky 🙂

      • Contrarian says:

        Nothing personal, we are just talking about “fake”, not good or bad.
        Modern countertenors have to many body parts for the music that they are singing.

        • Susan Trexel says:

          The solution obviously is to leave all this music unperformed until we can start castrating little boys again.

          • Contrarian says:

            Nope, it was already common at the time to use female voices.

          • Susan Trexel says:

            Across two centuries and most of Europe you’re willing to make such a generalization? You only reinforce what everyone already knows about anyone who calls himself “contrarian.”

        • Ks. Christopher Robson says:

          If you are talking about music written specifically for castrato voice then I can only agree. However, there is much music from the renaissance and Baroque periods (even in opera & oratorio) which was written for and performed by falsettists, and I seem to have a quite a large rep of music written specifically for my voice and other countertenors like me. So although the voice might be, by it’s very nature, “false”, I find it a bit hard to accept it as fake voice. Today it is accepted as a genuine voice (Fach?) category (indeed has been in the UK for over 500 years). Enough said 🙂

          • Ks. Christopher Robson says:

            Meant to say ” … and I seem to have a quite a large rep of MODERN music written specifically for my voice and other countertenors like me” …

          • Contrarian says:

            Yep, contrarian…did not drink the Kool-aid…
            Did my research..

    • Brian says:

      Hear, hear. Händel never used a male falsettist in lieu of a castrato. He always substituted with a female singer.

    • Gimmeabreak says:

      5: Michael Tilson Thomas’ appointment as LSO Principal Conductor in 1988 (after 11 years of unemployment) was based solely on his merits, and had nothing to do with the concurrent appointment of Bernstein as LSO President for Life and MTT’s CBS recording contract.

    • harold braun says:

      @Contratian.Good choice,especially no.2!!!!

  • Fiddleman says:

    Mr O’Connor has compared himself, in Facebook threads, to the likes of Perlman and Zuckerman. Surely there can be no greater fraud than this. He may be a first-rate fiddler, but he is a tenth-rate violinist.

    I’ve seen Mr O’Connor state that a Suzuki education could take one no further than a tutti position in an orchestra (as if winning a tutti position in, say, the Cleveland Orchestra is something to denigrate). Let me state without equivocation: there is no salaried tutti position in America that Mark O’Connor could have a dream of winning. If he could make it out of the first round of the Toledo Symphony audition, I’d eat my hat.

  • Dennis Marks says:

    If your own children have experienced Suzuki methods then you may feel differently. Both my kids learned Suzuki Piano and were totally alienated by the mechanical, subservient culture it promoted. Eventually my daughter returned to the piano, while my son chose the path of a rock drummer and is now a music producer. No thanks to Suzuki in either case.

    • Alison says:

      I’m a Suzuki violin teacher, and I think it works brilliantly for violin–but to my mind, it does not translate well to piano. One of the strengths of the method is the group class experience, which imparts both the skills and the fun of ensemble playing. That just doesn’t work well in a piano class, or, at least, it didn’t in the class I observed. Perhaps it has worked well in others.

      That said, I think it’s interesting that both your children continued in music, rather than quitting entirely. Perhaps something they learned in those early lessons ended up serving them well after all.

  • Mr. O’Connor’s hatred for Suzuki, and Asians in general is well known. And O’Connor has an agenda in that he has his own method to peddle to the masses. O’Connor speaks with disdain for anyone still playing Bach, Brahms, and Beethoven and blames the Suzuki method for this. But I’ve never heard O’Connor play anything from the violin cannon, perhaps in part because he’s unable to do so. Sure he’s a fine folk fiddler, and there’s nothing wrong with that, but his hatred of Suzuki, and classical music in general is baffling to me. If anything O’Connor is just upset that the Suzuki method has taken off so well, and that Suzuki was a beloved figure. O’Connor is just jealous because he isn’t getting the amount of acclaim and hero worship that he thinks he deserves.

    • Max Grimm says:

      “I’ve never heard O’Connor play anything from the violin cannon, perhaps in part because he’s unable to do so.”

      Here is O’Connor’s take on a Bach partita. If you want to be entertained even more, read some of his comments below the video.


      • I’m not impressed by his playing, and his comments are absurd. So Bach is now an American composer?

        • Max Grimm says:

          One person said that “Bach is so pure, that it lends itself to having different styles placed on top of it,…”. I believe this sums up O’Connor’s reasoning. I wonder if he also thinks that a great Bordeaux can be enhanced by mixing it with bourbon and coke.

        • Dave T says:

          No, I think he is saying that Bach is Canadian… (or Mexican?).

  • Pirkko says:

    What about the operas and string quartets by Kim-Il-Sung?

  • James Lisney says:

    Having huge respect for Suzuki’s teaching philosophy (which was not innovative but drawn from the most successful of previous wisdom), I think it is clear that there is a distinction to be made between the ‘religion’ and the ‘church’ in this case.

    Many people’s criticism of Suzuki results from ignorance or from contact with uninspired teaching. Additionally, there are also examples of mere racial prejudice (against both Asians and Germans).

    The fraud issue is hardly a major story – but I urge the Suzuki ‘church’ to communicate more clearly their strength and flexibility. There are plenty of ways to teach music but it would be a tragedy if the high quality and idealism that Suzuki promoted remains misunderstood due to the effects of this headline.

  • James Lisney says:

    I have just read my post above and fear that it might imply approval of Shinichi Suzuki – but less faith in the Suzuki Corporation; this was certainly not my intention.

    My daughter had three teachers; one was Head of the London Suzuki Group, a second was a fine Russian teacher and the third (and longest) one of the leading artists and Professors in London. There was little difference between any their teaching ‘methods’ in that they chose relevant and attractive repertoire, supervised technical issues as they arose and provided excellent models as players and in their ideals. The Suzuki experience had these aspects at a very high level and had the bonus of chamber music and music workshops to enable camaraderie and engender fun music making.

    There were equivalent values of freedom and discipline, love of music, enhancement of hearing and appreciation of how the body works – all delivered in an apposite form for a growing cellist.

    Good teachers play and teach well – and the results show. The results show with every student – not just the talented ones.

    In our case, music has remained a central activity and now we are looking forward to performing a Beethoven cycle together at London’s Southbank Centre on 1st December. All three teachers enabled this development but the Suzuki teacher must be singled out for her initial and instinctive flexibility of approach, her fostering of enthusiasm, her insistence on ease of physical use and a thorough grounding in musicianship.

  • Harold Lewis says:

    The ‘violin cannon’ (sic) coupled with the name of Bach brings to mind the unfortunate liner note that deliciously mis-translated a reference in the French original to “Bach, un canon enigmatique à la main” as “Bach, holding a mysterious gun”.

  • Neil McGowan says:

    Countertenors? Better tell Fagioli….


    Some of the best singing I’ve heard all year! Technically flawless – and superb musicianship.

  • Rob Haskins says:

    Could not agree with you more, Norman Lebrecht.

  • Boring Fileclerk says:

    To be honest, I believe the biggest fraud in music history to be Philip Glass.

    • MWnyc says:

      Fraud? No.

      Like them or not, neither Philip Glass nor his music claim to be anything they are not.

      I won’t vouch for what marketing departments claim for his music, though.

    • Jorge Grundman says:

      Excuse me, but why Glass is a fraud? Or, perhaps, why not Cage of Stockhausen?

  • John says:

    I don’t know, nor do I care, whether Mr Suzuki didn’t tell the truth about his background. His contribution to music education and teaching in general will be remembered long after this rather tawdry attempt on Mr O’Connor’s part to slime the reputation of this important and great man. Since he’s out there trying to sell himself and his pedagogy as superior to Suzuki’s, I think we know what’s motivating him.

  • Sam Mihailoff says:

    Methods…some get published and some do not. I use a compilation of many as a private teacher…even Nick Laroureux. The group learning idea, may have benefited from “Twinkle” in decades past. Today, unless the student is 3 or 4, boredom sets in like a hard freeze in Alaska and vibrant sources are necessary. Mister O’Connor offers this. As for Mozart’s marzipan balls? Thank-you Wolfie, the best!!!

    • James Lisney says:

      Love those Mozart balls!

      Sorry to be pedantic, but I believe Suzuki’s philosophy was not to ‘teach’ in groups, rather that group activities illuminate and consolidate elements learned in individual lessons.

  • Andrew Condon says:

    To add to the rogue’s gallery lets not forget Rosemary Brown (1916 – 2001), the English composer/pianist who claimed to have psychic links to the great composers of the past – and would write out brand new original compositions dictated to her by the likes of Beethoven, Schubert, Liszt and Rachmaninov.

  • Robert Eshbach says:

    I have no dog in this fight, but wish to point out, in fairness to Mr. Suzuki:
    1) The Modern Review (Calcutta), vol. 40 (1926), p. 322 states: “While a young Japanese violinist was in Berlin, he happened to obtain a violin really made by Guarnerius, and he returned to Japan with it… His father is Masakichi Suzuki, widely known as the owner of the largest violin factory in Japan. This noted violin-maker, Masakichi Suzuki, it was who succeeded in reproducing the violin that his son brought back from Germany. It was in November, 1920 when his son Shinichi went to Germany to study music, In Berlin he was studying under the instruction of a noted German violin teacher. During his stay there one day he happened to obtain a violin from a German widow through the introduction of one of his German friends. The violin he obtained, from the widow proved to be one of the noted violins made by Guarnerius. It is said that this violin had been kept in her family for many years as a family treasure. There were people who wondered whether the violin was really a Guarnerius or not. However finally the instrument was proved to be genuine after careful examination by noted violin players, and experts in Germany.”

    2) The 1936 Nagoya Directory of Manufacturers and Exporters, p. 58: “Mr. Suzuki later on sent one of his sons to Europe to study violin by Prof. Klingler in Berlin.”

    3) In 2000, Eleonore Schoenfeld, who, together with her sister Alice was a protege of Klingler’s during the years that Suzuki claims to have studied with him, told me that Klingler wanted to teach Suzuki because he found the challenge of teaching the Western canon to a young, not very advanced, Japanese man to be interesting. He wanted to see how well he could do it.

    This information is far from conclusive, but it is at least as credible as Mr. O’Connor’s, and it contradicts claims that Mr. O’Connor has made.

    • Andrys says:

      Robert, thanks for that added information.

      And Louise, thanks for linking to the previous thread from the weekend as well, since that was a very informative comments thread.

      • Robert Eshbach says:

        You may also be interested: from “J’anos: The Story of a Doctor,” by János Plesch, A. A. Wyn, (1949), p. 214:
        “Not that Einstein was a virtuoso; he was not — to his everlasting regret. His favourite instrument was the violin, and although he had a whole collection of very fine instruments presented to him by admirers who knew his tastes, his favourite violin was not the work of any famous maker, but a simple instrument made in Japan, and it was on this that he seemed to get the best results.”

  • Louise says:

    Not this again. I thank James Lisney for his comments and refer to my own in the previous thread.

    I have been a fan of Mr. O’Connor’s wonderful fiddle playing for years and am disappointed in his need to disparage another teacher to bolster his own credibility.

  • harold braun says:

    @Contratian.Good choice,especially no.2!!!!

  • Rob van der Hilst says:

    Here some other ‘frauds’:
    – Wolfgang Amadé Mozart’s Requiem in d-minor: only the Introïtus Requiem in aeternam (modelled after G.Fr. Handel) and almost the entire Kyrie are authentic, the rest was written – in Mozart’s ‘late’ style – by F. X. Süssmayr.
    – ‘Adagio by Albinoni’: entirely composed by the Italian Remo Giazotto
    – Gustav Mahler ‘Symphonisches Praeludium’ in c-minor was, according to the sole handwritten source of it, written by Anton Bruckner.
    et cetera

  • Jorge Grundman says:

    Did you know there was a russian composer and lutenist named Vladmir Varilov (1925-1973) which tried to record with the official label Melodiya and did not find all the early music to fill the CD? So he composed several “master works” false attributed to then unknown composers. And now the world is discoveingr these gems. But the world is continuosly forgotting the name of Varilov…

    Take a listen to Ave Maria (false attributed to Giulio Caccini). In my humble opinion beats Schubert and Gounod (or perhaps I am tired to listen them). Here is in the voice of Inessa Galante


    This is a sad history about how a composer try to introduce his music

  • Andrys says:

    Jorge, interesting. How anyone ever believed that could be Caccini’s is beyond me. Definitely modern Russian romantic and even New Age (with echos of Kern’s “All the Things You Are”) , which may explain its popularity. Galante’s rendition is soulful, and her vibrato obviously does not mask any inability to do straighter tone with good intonation when wanted.
    … I also just saw Sumi Jo’s live rendition that is thinner and sung more as a vocalise w/o clear text, but what’s amazing is how she sings the pianissimo high notes with her mouth barely open.
    … Jo’s version of Vavilov’s piece has over 2.4 million views on Youtube. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HIeCthPXJiw

  • Jorge Grundman says:

    Hi Andrys

    In my humble opinion it depends on the arrangement. The original version was for lute. Here is a guitar version which if you listen without known the history bring some reminiscences of early music behind. Due Caccini was also a lutenist, perhaps the history grown like a snowball running down…


    Interesting version of Jo’s!

    For me a touching version is the one that Galante did for her album with London Musici & Mark Stephenson “Arietta” arranged a la baroque. It was my first contact with this gem.This CD was nominated by BBC in 2000 as best in classical music.


    I do not know what Norman thought about it…But Vavilov deserves credit for this. More or less like the famous Adagio by “Albinoni” written by Giazzoto.

    Both of them more BIG FRAUD than the controversy with the Suzuki method.

  • Gustafson says:

    Serialism, atonality, and aleatory / stochastic “music”, charlatanism in their purest form. I remain astounded they fooled anybody.