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'Beethoven of Japan' apologizes for 'causing trouble with my lies'

By Elaine Lies

TOKYO (Reuters) - A composer once known as the "Beethoven of Japan" said on Friday that tests had shown he was not legally deaf and apologized to people throughout the country for lying by using a ghost writer for his popular symphonies and other music.

Mamoru Samuragochi, a classical musician who became known as an inspirational genius for composing music despite losing his hearing, bowed deeply before a packed news conference, his first public appearance since the scandal broke last month.

"I have caused a great deal of trouble with my lies for everyone, including those people who bought my CDs and came to my concerts," Samuragochi, 50, said, his trademark flowing hair now trimmed in a typical businessman's cut.

A statement distributed to reporters said hearing tests had shown that while Samuragochi's hearing was impaired, it did not meet the requirements for legal deafness.

"I can hear sounds, but the sounds are twisted," he said. "Hearing conversations is extremely difficult and I still need an interpreter."

German composer Ludwig van Beethoven began suffering hearing loss from about age 30 and withdrew from public performances while continuing to write music. He was almost totally deaf for the last decade of his life.

Samuragochi collaborated with part-time university professor Takashi Niigaki for 18 years to compose his music after suffering hearing loss.

He said on Friday that he and Niigaki would meet in a coffee shop in the Shinjuku entertainment district of western Tokyo and work out how Niigaki would compose the music. Niigaki, he said, kept negotiating for higher fees.

"I wrote out what I wanted and the general plans, then Niigaki wrote the music," he said.

"If ultimately that means I defrauded people who bought my CDs, then yes, I did," he said, biting his lip.

Samuragochi gained international fame for his "Hiroshima Symphony", a tribute to the victims of the 1945 atomic bombing of the Japanese city.

He also apologized to television stations and newspapers which had supported his career as well as figure skater Daisuke Takahashi, who used Samuragochi's music in his short program at the Sochi Winter Olympics just days after the scandal broke.

"I worried that it might have had a bad impact on his skating ... I felt a terrible sense of responsibility," Samuragochi said, adding that he didn't watch the Olympics because it was too painful. Takahashi ultimately finished sixth.

"I know that it was wrong to use a ghost writer, but it is true that I wanted to use my music to bring light to people who were having tough times," Samuragochi said.

The scandal has riveted Japan, with two television stations broadcasting live the first 30 minutes of the news conference, which went on for nearly three hours.

Music industry analysts say part of his popularity was the result of promotion by an industry eager to put a human face to classical music and retain a shrinking market share as Japan ages.

(Additional reporting by Chris Meyers, editing by Ron Popeski)

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