Japan's Hailed Olympic Composer Admits He Isn't Deaf, And Didn't Write His Own Symphonies Either
The real scandal of the Sochi Olympics? Not the Russian speed-skater who accidentally disrobed, or the Swedish skier whose pants fell down during his qualifying run. Nope — the biggest controversy is happening thousands of miles away, in Japan. On Wednesday, Olympic composer Mamoru Samuragochi, internationally hailed as the "Beethoven of Japan" after losing his hearing at the age of 35, was forced to admit that not only did he not compose most of his pieces, he's also not completely deaf.
At 50, Samuragochi had been hailed as a musical genius for more than a decade, thanks to the remarkable symphonies he "composed" after a degenerative disease left him deaf at 35. One of his pieces was performed by Japanese figure skater Daisuke Takahashi at Sochi Thursday, though the winners of the men's short event won't be announced until Friday. The mortified Takahashi didn't have time to change his performance piece after the scandal broke, but the International Skating Federation omitted the composer's name from the program.
Back in 2001, TIME called Samarugochi a "digital-age Beethoven," since Beethovan also created some of his greatest music after he lost his hearing. "If you trust your inner sense of sound, you create something that is truer," Samuragochi told TIME. "It is like communicating from the heart. Losing my hearing was a gift from God."
After the news of Samuragochi's not-so-deafness broke last week, things went from bad to worse: The "composer" was forced to acknowledge last week that for nearly two decades he'd been paying a ghost-writer, part-time music lecturer Takashi Niigaki, to create his symphonies.
These pieces include Symphony No.1 "Hiroshima," a tribute to the victims of the 1945 atomic bombing of the city where Samuragochi was born, and Sonatina for Violin, the piece that Takahashi is due to perform to in the men's short program at the Sochi Olympics Thursday. Here's Takahashi skating to the music last year.
Ghostwriter Niigaki told Japanese press that Samuragochi approached him with the proposition 18 years ago, and paid him just $70,000 for more than 20 pieces of bestselling music. Oh, added Niigaki, and Samuragochi's not deaf, either.
"I've never felt he was deaf, ever since we met," Niigaki said. "We carry on normal conversations... At first he acted to me also as if he had suffered hearing loss, but he stopped doing so eventually."
And Samuragochi's response? Well, the faux-composer's lawyers released an eight-page, handwritten statement from Samuragochi Thursday, in which the former "musical genius" claimed he regained some of his hearing three years ago.
"My hearing condition, in fact, has gotten better recently," read part of the the statement. "Since about three years ago, my hearing has improved such that I can hear words if they are spoken clearly and slowly next to my ears, although they sound muffled and distorted.
I am deeply ashamed of living a life of lies."
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