About a year ago I received a package from a friend in Tokyo. It contained a recording which had become a best seller in Japan: The Symphony No. 1 “Hiroshima” by Mamoru Samuragochi. Part of its popularity stemmed from the story of the composer. Born in Hiroshima in 1963 to parents who were hibakusha, or survivors of the nuclear bombing in the city, Samuragochi had learned piano from his mother from the age of 4. He began work on this symphony at the age of 17, being largely self taught as a composer. But he was also a sufferer of migraines and other maladies and had lost his hearing by the age of 35. Despite deafness and ringing in the ears, he had continued to compose relying on his sense of perfect pitch. The symphony, completed in 2003, was performed in part in a concert at the G8 summit in Hiroshima in 2008, and the city gave Samuragochi its Hiroshima Citizens Prize that year. Japanese media declared him a “modern Beethoven” and Japan’s national television network NHK broadcast a documentary about Samuragochi.
Now it has been revealed that the story isn’t quite true. The New York Times headlined an article about Samuragochi “In Japan, a Beloved Deaf Composer Appears to be None of the Above.”
For 20 years Samuragochi has taken credit for works written for him by Takashi Niigaki, a lecturer at Toho Gakuen School of Music in Tokyo. In a press conference Niigaki revealed that he was the composer of the Hiroshima Symphony and other works, including a sonatina for violin and piano which will be used for a figure skating routine at the Winter Olympics. That apparently was what caused him to end the charade of Samuragochi taking credit for works Niigaki had written. The scandal has been regarded as a blow to the classical music world in Japan. The situation has provoked editorials.
Some of the articles have questioned whether the popularity of the symphony came from its own qualities or from the story of the sufferings of the so-called composer. Today you will have a chance to judge. At about 2:25 this afternoon you can hear the first movement of “Gendai Tenrei” (Contemporary Liturgy) by Takashi Niigaki, AKA the Symphony No. 1 “Hiroshima” by Mamoru Samuragochi.