Media Mix, Feb. 16, 2014

japanese-beethoven-mamoru-samuragochi-not-deaf-but-used-to-beHere’s this week’s Media Mix about the Samuragochi scandal. In the past week all the media that covered the fraud composer have issued apologies, including NHK, which made a fawning documentary about him. As I said in the column people like a good story, but media outlets are expected to be a little more discerning, a bit more skeptical about such things; and while that doesn’t necessitate an apology in this case, you wonder how many people thought the story was phony in the first place. Apparently, Makoto Yamagata at Aera had his suspicions, according to an article he wrote for the magazine last week. He describes how he met with Samuragochi to write a feature about him and all the weird little demands the composer made. During the interview Samuragochi explained how he communed with the spirit of Beethoven at the latter’s grave in Vienna, and how the music he wrote for victims of the 3.11 earthquake and tsunami “came pouring down from heaven” when he visited the area. Yamagata admitted to being suspicious about his hearing problems since Samuragochi often started answering his questions even before the sign translator finished interpreting. But one of the main aspects of the composer that prompted the reporter to abandon the article was his “inordinate concern about money.”

In hindsight, of course, it’s easy to write such an article, and you wonder if, as a reporter, Yamagata didn’t think about changing the original piece into an expose if he was really that suspicious. The thing is, there apparently were people in the music business who wondered about Samuragochi openly. According to the article in Bunshun I cited in the column, Takeo Noguchi, a musician, wrote an article for the monthly Shincho 45 a while ago questioning whether or not Samuragochi really wrote the pieces he claimed he wrote, and then practically eviscerated his body of work, calling some works faux-Bach or faux-Mahler. Even if he had written the pieces, they weren’t any more worthy of a serious music lover’s attention than some composition project by a college student. Or, at least, that’s the impression the article gave. Frauds like this are not uncommon, and certainly aren’t limited to Japan; but usually they are exposed by journalists. Here, they didn’t come to light until one of the principals involved spilled the beans because he just couldn’t stand the guilt any more. It might have helped if some serious journalists had had training in music, but, again in hindsight, you would think reporters are naturally cynical enough to think that Samurgochi’s story was just too good to be true.

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