Samuragochi’s shameful deception

The supposedly deaf composer Mamoru Samuragochi, a Hiroshima native and son of atomic bomb survivors, moved many people with his music. Among them were survivors of the Hiroshima atomic bombing, their descendants and people who suffered from the 3/11 disasters. The media christened him “a modern Beethoven.”

But at a Feb. 6 news conference, composer Takashi Niigaki stepped forward to disclose that he had ghostwritten more than 20 classical music scores credited to Samuragochi for the past 18 years. The revelation has shocked not only fans of Samuragochi’s music but also musicians who played his compositions before audiences. His deception is all the more serious because his music moved so many people so deeply — in part because of the perception that he was persevering against strong odds.

The deception by Samuragochi is twofold. First, he claimed that he composed pieces when they were actually written by someone else. Second, Niigaki, a lecturer at Toho Gakuen School of Music, cast doubt on Samuragochi’s claim that he is deaf. At the news conference, Niigaki said that he first met Samuragochi in 1996 when the latter was 33 years old. According to Samuragochi’s autobiography, he lost hearing in his left ear when he was 30 and became fully deaf when he was 35 years old. But Niiigaki said that he never felt that Samuragochi was deaf and that he carried on normal conversations with him. He explained that he often composed melody fragments based on ideas provided by Samuragochi, played them on the piano and recorded them. He then let Samuragochi listen to them and choose from among them, then he composed a bigger piece based on the chosen melodies.

Because Samuragochi’s claim to be deaf was a major reason why his music sold so well, it amounts not only to a betrayal of fans but outright fraud. He must consider how to take responsibility for his actions, which now may lead to criminal charges.

Then Hiroshima Mayor Tadatoshi Akiba was one of the many people moved by Sakuragochi’s autobiography. Thinking that Sakuragochi’s 80-minute-long “Symphony No. 1 HIROSHIMA” contained a strong anti-nuclear message, he let the first and third movements of the symphony be played on the occasion of the Group of Eight lower house speakers’ meeting in Hiroshima in September 2008 — the first performance of the symphony. The city of Hiroshima gave Samuragochi the Hiroshima Citizen Prize that year. The prize has now been revoked.

According to Shukan Bunshun weekly magazine, Niigaki had composed the piece in 2003 under the title of “Gendai Tenrei” (Contemporary Liturgy). The content had nothing to do with the Hiroshima atomic bombing. But the CD of the symphony sold some 140,000 copies, a huge hit in the world of classical music.

Among the pieces that made Samuragochi famous are “Requiem for the Piano,” written for sufferers of the 3/11 disasters, and “Sonatina for Violin,” which figure skater Daisuke Takahashi will use in the short program performance at the Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia, on Feb. 13.

Niigaki said that when he met Samuragochi for the first time in 1996, he accepted a proposal to compose a piece for a film based on Samuragochi’s idea without thinking about it deeply. Although he first saw himself as an assistant to Samuragochi, he came to feel guilty because he knew that Samuragochi was deceiving the public. “I’m Samuragochi’s partner in crime,” he said. Now that Niigaki disclosed his version of the truth, at the very least Samuragochi must make a full disclosure to the public.

Niigaki’s revelation revealed that Samuragochi is good at forming and presenting ideas and images of an intended musical piece and that Niigaki has the ability to translate them into scores. If they had come clean with their partnership from the beginning, they would still likely have enjoyed a high degree of success.