In hindsight, the story was just too good to be true.
Born in Hiroshima to survivors of the atomic bomb, Mamoru Samuragochi was a self-taught, successful classical composer despite losing his hearing in his mid-30s. The comparisons to a certain 19th-century German composer from Bonn were just inevitable.
As it turned out, the Japanese Beethoven didn’t compose his music and perhaps he isn’t even deaf.
The 50-year-old Mr. Samuragochi admitted Wednesday that some of his most famous scores were ghostwritten.
He “says it is totally inexcusable and he deeply regrets [what happened],” his lawyer said, according to the Japan Times. “He is mentally distressed and not in a condition to properly express his own thoughts.”
Shaggy-haired and black-clad and his eyes perpetually shielded by sunglasses, Mr. Samuragochi had been playing the role of the tortured artist, even tearing up before a reporter as he appeared to struggle to hear the drumbeat of his music.
His confession came just as the Shukan Bunshun weekly revealed that the man behind Mr. Samuragochi’s success was an earnest-looking part-time music lecturer, Takashi Niigaki.
In a press conference Thursday, Mr. Niigaki said he decided to go public because he was weary of the deception and because the music he actually penned was going to be used by a Japanese figure skater competing at the Sochi Olympics.
He said he was worried that a later revelation would taint the results of Daisuke Takahashi, a former world champion and bronze medalist at the Vancouver 2010 Winter Olympics.
The skater has set his short program to what used to be known as Mr. Samuragochi’s Sonatina for Violin.
Mr. Niigaki, who teaches at the Toho Gakuen School of Music in Tokyo, told reporters that he had been composing for Mr. Samuragochi since 1996, and he had been paid a total of ¥7-million (about $76,352).
He initially saw himself as an assistant who followed the composer’s guidance because Mr. Samuragochi couldn’t write his own scores.
He also said Mr. Mr. Samuragochi has normal hearing.
“I continued to write pieces under Samuragochi’s instruction, knowing that he was deceiving the public, and releasing the music. I’m Samuragochi’s partner in crime,” Mr. Niigaki said.
Over the years, the story that Mr. Samuragochi presented to his publicists and to the media was that he was a precocious musician who learned to play the piano from his mother and taught himself how to compose when he wasn’t even a teen.
He purported to be an old-fashioned artist who liked harmonies and shunned contemporary atonal music, yet he was hip enough to have contributed to the soundtracks of video games such as Onimusha or Resident Evil.
He said he lost his hearing in 1999, in the midst of composing a symphonic suite for Onimusha.
But he claimed that deafness made his art more genuine so he kept at it, labouring in a small dark room in his Yokohama apartment. “It is like communicating from the heart. Losing my hearing was a gift from God,” he told a Time magazine journalist in 2001.
“As he turns up the volume on an MD player for a visitor, tears fill his eyes as he strains to hear the rhythmic beat of the taiko drums: percussive noises are the only ones he can detect any more,” the magazine reported.
The concept for his most ambititious work, Symphony No. 1 “Hiroshima,” was poignant because he was a child of hibakusha, the Japanese term for survivors of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The work was premiered at a commemoration concert in Hiroshima. It gained great popularity after it was associated with the resilience of the survivors of the 2011 earthquake and tsunami.
The fallout to this week’s revelations was swift.
Mr. Samuragochi’s record company, Nippon Columbia, stopped the distribution of his CDs, DVDs and online downloads. His music publisher, Tokyo Hustle Copy Inc., cancelled the scheduled release of three of his scores and apologized. Hiroshima Mayor Kazumi Matsui said the city would withdraw the citizen’s award it had granted Mr. Samuragochi.