Popularity soars for ‘Japan’s Beethoven’ even as he apologises

Believers in the adage that there is no such thing as bad publicity may have a supportive new data point in Mamoru Samuragochi, the disgraced Japanese classical music star.

The man who was hailed as “Japan’s Beethoven” until he acknowledged last week that another musician had composed most of his works – and his ghost writer subsequently accused him of faking being deaf – issued a qualified mea culpa on Wednesday, claiming his hearing had partially returned over the past several years.

The controversy has generated massive news coverage in Japan and, it seems, attracted Mr Samuragochi new fans – or at least some curious listeners who want to hear what the fuss is about. Symphony No 1: Hiroshima, his best-known work, became the number-one selling classical music CD in the country during the week of Feb 3-9, according to Oricon, a music-sales tracker.

The work was Japan’s 27th-best-selling CD overall, storming up the chart after having fallen out of the top 300 ranked by Oricon.

Mr Samuragochi released an eight-page handwritten letter through his lawyer on Wednesday in which he apologised for “betraying and hurting many people” with a deception that lasted for nearly two decades.

But he denied an assertion made by Takashi Niigaki, the man who composed some 18 works released under his name, including Hiroshima, that he had never suffered from the deafness that earned him his comparison to Beethoven.

“Recently, I’ve started to be able to hear a little,” he said, adding his hearing began to return about three years ago. “If someone speaks slowly and clearly right into my ear, I can make out the words, though the sound is muffled and distorted.”

He offered to undergo a medical examination to prove that his hearing was still significantly impaired.

The description conflicted with the account given by Mr Niigaki, a lecturer at a prestigious music academy who revealed himself last week as what he called Mr Samuragochi’s “accomplice”. “From the time I met him until now, I have never once had the feeling that he could not hear,” Mr Niigaki said.

Mr Samuragochi began his career creating music for video games and his apparent transition to classical music in the late 1990s, combined with the compelling story of his deafness, earned him a profile in Time magazine in 2001. He rose to further prominence in Japan last year after he appeared in a television documentary touring the area devastated by the 2011 tsunami and comforting the homeless.

Hiroshima, which was originally released in 2003 and dedicated to victims of the 1945 nuclear bombing, was adopted as the unofficial theme of the tsunami recovery effort. Altogether it has sold around 100,000 copies, a large number for a domestic Japanese classical work.

The controversy has been amplified by a connection to Japan’s Olympic squad. Daisuke Takahashi, the 2010 men’s world figure-skating champion and a medal hopeful at the Sochi games, is to perform his short programme to another Samuragochi-Niigaki composition, Sonatina for Violin in C-sharp Minor. Much public concern has been voiced over whether the piece’s sullied provenance will be a distraction.

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