Had another batch of unknown Vivaldi or Telemann concertos turned up, music lovers would have yawned and reminded themselves that there were 300-odd existing ones they had yet to hear. But the possibility of discovering work by one of the really greats is a different matter. Clearly the Haydn hoax, if such it is, has left many red faces, not least in the market-oriented Birtish Broadcasting Corporation - which was to have broadcast the sonatas - and its newsy Music Magazine, which published Professor Robbins Landon's original authentication.
Haydn forgeries were an industry even in his lifetime. Anything with his name on sold well and publishers couldn't get enough - so they simply engaged specialists able to imitate his style, such as the gifted but disreputable Bohemian Franz Kotzwara, who assimilated Haydn's to perfection and helped London publishers to a fortune. Kotzwara was hanged in 1791 - for his own pleasure, and by accident - in a Soho brothel, but that is another story.
November's discovery by Lisa Cox, an antiquarian music dealer, of some Purcell pieces was exceptional in that the composer's actual handwriting could readily be compared and identified. The rule should be writ large on every musicologist's desk: NO ORIGINAL MANUSCRIPT, NO DEAL.
Even where a work is supposedly in a contemporary copyist's hand, it should be possible to decide its authenticity from the way the handwriting was formed. Last year's 'Ripper' diaries were clearly bogus, written by someone who had never learnt copperplate at school, and who was therefore educated after the Thirties. Musical handwriting has equally clear period characteristics.
People know more today about musical style. In the Twenties, Fritz Kreisler passed off some 'Classical manuscripts' he claimed to have found 'in various European libraries' as works by 18th-
century masters such as Cou
perin and Vivaldi. He was never rumbled, and delighted in making fools of experts when he confessed in 1935. Nowadays most people know what real Dittersdorf, Pugnani, Couperin and Vivaldi sound like - and it is nothing like Kreisler supposed.
A celebrated Thirties' Mozart forgery - the so-called 'Adelaide' Violin Concerto - has actually entered the repertoire and is still occasionally played. It was the work of Marius Casadesus, a French musician who, like the Haydn forger, was clearly a gifted imitator. But not quite clever enough. The style is too mature for the boy Mozart (Casadesus introduced devices Mozart could not have known); but he cleverly planted a false trail by alluding to a theme Mozart did write in Paris, in his Les Petits Riens ballet music.
The Frenchman would not let anyone see the manuscript, but said it was dated 'Versailles, 26 May 1766' in Mozart's handwriting. That gave him away, for in fact the Mozart family did not arrive there until two days later.
Nor does the dedicatee, the Princess Adelaide, figure in the Mozarts' diaries (which every other noble person did, they being inveterate snobs). Nevertheless, the concerto was published by Schott, who had no difficulty in persuading Paul Hindemith to write a cadenza for it. Yehudi Menuhin recorded it under the French conductor Pierre Monteux - and EMI found it worthwhile reissuing it recently on CD, though with a frank explanation of its provenance. In 1879 it was Bach's turn. The Musical Times was almost beside itself with excitement when it received a report that a German scholar, Robert Franz (a real person and indeed a distinguished Bach expert), had visited Schloss Witzthun and discovered a gardener 'using some thin paper for tying up young trees in the garden.'
Its account went on: 'On looking closely, he was astonished and delighted to recognise Bach's autograph. Enquiring of the gardener, he was told that the same paper filled several trunks in the attic of the mansion. Hastening thither, he discovered that one trunk at least had not been rifled, and that it was full of manuscript music in the shape of 150 Violin Sonatas. What the other trunks contained we can unhappily only conjecture, but it is too probable that many important and long-looked-for compositions have perished at the hands of the ignorant German gardener.'
Lacking the convenience of long-distance telephone or fax (which, however, singularly failed our Haydn experts) the Musical Times editors were obliged to take their hoaxer's word for it. The next issue carried an apology: 'We regret for Herr Franz's sake, and in the interests of music, that the story was not true. We are sorry also that Herr Franz should have been so pestered with letters that, in his own words, 'the postman never left the house'; and we are sorry still more that the ingenious inventor of the hoax cannot be discovered to receive the reward he deserves.'
In their excitement they had failed to spot a clue in the alleged place name: 'Schloss Witzthun' could be translated as 'Jokemaker's Castle'.
When it comes to avant-
garde music, the forger has an easy task. Hans Keller of the BBC once broadcast a new work which he and a colleague improvised on various percussion instruments they found in a studio. They recorded it - with meaningful pregnant pauses - and called it 'Mobiles II by a contemporary Polish composer Pyotr Zak'. It was given a first and - unusual for avant-garde works - a second performance, both in the same broadcast. No such composer exists, yet the pair fooled Radio 3 listeners as well as critics.
Another BBC producer, Robert Layton, an acknowledged expert on Scandinavian music and contributor to the New Grove Dictionary of Music, 'rediscovered' a Danish composer, 'Dag Hendryk Esrum- Hellerup (1803-1891)' and insinuated him into the 1980 Grove (Vol. 6, page 252). Two planted clues should have given the game away: Hellerup's opera Alys og Elvertoy - Alice in Wonderland - is not recorded in any opera dictionary; and those familiar with Copenhagen suburban railway lines would have suspected his name, being the Danish equivalent of something like 'Clapham-Tooting'.
The editors of Grove were not amused and rushed out a reprint excising the offending article.
The author is compiling the 'Guinness Book of Musical Blunders'.