A Time of Change. The period from 1956

With the conversion of the Ricordi publishing house to a stock corporation in 1956, a period of consolidation begins. Two priorities determine the following period in the publisher’s history: the formation of the generation of “cantautori” (the word is usually translated as “singer-songwriters”, but actually means “bards”) and serious contemporary music. The Ricordi publishing house helps launch the cantautori through the creation of “Dischi Ricordi” in early 1958, under the management of Nanni Ricordi. Much like it did in the 19th century, during the grandfather’s generation, the publishing house now plays a decisive role in establishing and promoting an important part of Italian culture. Perhaps the same familial instinct is at work here?

In his foreword to a monograph with memories of Nanni Ricordi, which is published in 2010 at the instigation of his cousin (3rd degree removed) Claudio Ricordi, he calls this instinct “the right balance between important cultural production and brilliant entrepreneurship […]”. From this volume of memoirs, in which the main cantautori represented by Ricordi also have their say, it is clear that in his grandfathers’ tradition, Nanni embraces a principle that helped the publisher to success and recognition in the 19th century: discovering new authors and providing support in a close publisher-author relationship. But it is above all also a technical innovation that leads to success: the spread of the ‘single record’ developed by RCA Victor, played at 45 rpm instead of 33 rpm.

Nanni is born in 1932 and studies law in Milan and piano on the side, initially as a hobby, but then ever more intensively, so that he finally passes an exam at the conservatory. While working at the SIAE (Società Italiana degli Autori ed Editori) in Rome he gets to know Luchino Visconti, Maria Callas and others during his frequent visits to the theater and opera, and gets a feel for the music scene. Then he and Franco Colombo jointly head Ricordi’s New York branch for several years. Here, he gains important impetus from meeting various artistic figures — including Gian Carlo Menotti, Marilyn Monroe and Leonard Bernstein — which he channels into the establishment of “Dischi Ricordi” after his return to Italy. Above all, the New York scene teaches him to reconsider the strict separation of serious and popular music that has become established in Europe.
In 1957 the first Ricordi record is produced at La Scala: the opera Medea by Cherubini with Maria Callas in the title role. Nanni has equipment brought over from the legendary Mercury company in New York (which today represents Elton John, Mariah Carey and Lionel Richie among others) and devotes himself to the recording technology and production conditions with great expertise. The result is a recording that still has an amazing “presence”, a “tinta scenica” (dramatic mood), “as loved by Verdi”.

After the success of the Medea recording, which was published on the occasion of the 150th Anniversary of Casa Ricordi, Nanni works on profitably expanding record production. He has in mind the popular music that, despite the efforts of Mariano Rapetti, has been rather neglected by the publishing company until now. Inspired by the French chansons that have come into fashion (Brassens, Brel), and the Anglo-Saxon pop-rock wave, he goes talent hunting in Milan. In the central Milan club Santa Tecla he meets a guitarist called Giorgio Gaberscik and encourages him to compose his own songs. Under the name of Giorgio Gaber, he becomes Dischi Ricordi’s first cantautore. Nanni aims to revolutionize the old-fashioned taste of the traditional song festival in Sanremo, and to get away from national styles or genre boundaries: “The difficulty was to find music that would stand the test of time and was exportable, while still being a consumer product like Traviata was in its day”. In the following years Dischi Ricordi publishes the songs of Gino Paoli, Luigi Tenco, Ornella Vanoni, Enzo Jannacci, Lucio Battisti, Fabrizio De André and many others. Nanni and his wife Marisa also continue the tradition of the Ricordi salons in their own way: they receive artists from all disciplines at their house for festive evenings of eating, drinking and playing music.

But despite the success of Dischi Ricordi, the Ricordi publishing house (now with new production offices, which were moved from Viale Campania to Via Salomone) never really embraced popular music, which is why in 1963 Nanni Ricordi leaves to join the Italian branch of the American record company RCA in Rome. In 1964, he runs the Festival dei Due Mondi in Spoleto — the Spoleto Festival — where he establishes a concert series with the programmatic title “Bella ciao”, which presents traditional Italian folk songs — “Bella ciao” is perhaps the most famous song of the Resistenza.

The basically rather left-leaning political cantautori scene around Nanni Ricordi ideologically relates to the second major focus of the Ricordi publishing house’s production in the period from 1958. The Ricordi publishing house becomes the editorial home of leading figures of contemporary music and — after an initially conservative stance — especially for musical theater, which receives crucial impulses for innovation from Italy: Luigi Nono, Bruno Maderna, Luciano Chailly, Luciano Berio, Giacomo Manzoni, Franco Donatoni, Luca Lombardi, Sylvano Bussotti, Azio Corghi, Giorgio Battistelli and Salvatore Sciarrino. It begins its collaboration with festivals in the big cities of Milan, Turin, Bologna and the Music Biennale in Venice, with exchange institutions abroad such as the “International Summer School” in Darmstadt and the Donaueschingen Festival. Casa Ricordi’s international orientation, which already influenced its 19th century history, now comes into play again in a different guise.

The publishing company maintains branch offices in France (Paris), Great Britain (Chesham near London), Germany (first Lörrach and Frankfurt, then Munich), the United States (New York), Argentina (Buenos Aires) and Chile (São Paulo). From 1961, it is led by Guido Valcarenghi, followed by Carlo Origoni and in 1982 Gianni Babini. Guido Rignano becomes the managing director in 1964. Under his guidance, the Ricordi publishing company develops strategies aimed at both the broad public taste and the musical elite.
Four main areas of publishing activity begin to emerge. The first priority is reviving the classic Italian opera tradition. The catalog supplements from 1957 to 1966 list numerous scores, piano reductions and individual editions. For example, arias from Verdi’s Un Ballo in Maschera, Otello, Falstaff, Puccini’s Tosca, Madama Butterfly, Manon Lescaut and Catalani’s La Wally are republished. The proposition of critical works editions based on the original documents, primarily the autograph scores (Rossini, Verdi, Vivaldi) should be seen in connection with the publisher’s attention to tradition. Ricordi’s editorial department, led by Luciana Pestalozza from 1964 to 1991 and by Gabriele Dotto from 1992 to 2001, provides decisive impetus. The critical edition of the works of Rossini begins in 1969 with the publication of Il Barbiere di Siviglia by the Urbino musicologist and conductor of the New York City Opera Alberto Zedda, a Rossini specialist, and continues with the Fondazione Rossini in Pesaro. The complete critical edition of the works of Verdi is produced as a co-edition with the University of Chicago Press, under the overall direction of the Chicago musicologist Philip Gossett. The first volume is Rigoletto, which in 1983 was the basis of a performance at the Vienna State Opera, among others. This is followed by complete editions of the operas of Donizetti (in collaboration with the Fondazione Donizetti of Bergamo and under the direction of Gabriele Dotto and Roger Parker), of the works of Bellini (in collaboration with the Teatro Massimo of Catania and under the direction of Fabrizio Della Seta, Alessandro Roccatagliati and Luca Zoppelli), and of the operas of Puccini (under the direction of Gabriele Dotto), the sonatas of Domenico Scarlatti, and the works of Antonio Vivaldi (in collaboration with the Istituto Italiano Antonio Vivaldi).
Musical education remains another focus of the publishing activity. Many piano tutorials are published, as well as singing guides and introductions to music. In this context the continuation of the Ricordi publishing company’s tradition
of publishing periodicals and books is also worth mentioning. From 1951, the magazine Ricordiana is published (until 1957), Musica d’Oggi is revived (1958 to 1965), the Enciclopedia della Musica is published in four volumes, and there is a small book series (Piccola Biblioteca Ricordi) and a redesigned libretto series.

But serious contemporary music also finds a home in the publishing company, a sector that is mainly promoted by Luciana Pestalozza (who was instrumental in the founding of the influential Milanese concert series “Musica nel nostro tempo” in the mid 1970s) and Mimma Guastoni, who had been an employee of the firm since the 1960s and became a manager in 1981 and managing director from 1995—1998.

Ricordi is still regarded as the leading music publishing company in Italy, especially when it comes to music for the theater: “The theater production market was entirely absorbed by Casa Ricordi”. The publisher retains its European orientation, with a strong presence of UK and French composers in its affiliates in London and Paris, but also remains the primary publishing home of Italian composers. In a business where many publishers rarely saw their role as going beyond that of engraving, typesetting and printing, Ricordi instead established a long tradition of highly qualified editors who ensured an exceptional degree of care in the preparation of the editions and who, in many cases, became trusted advisors and collaborators to the composers themselves. This, together with the extensive distribution network and state-of-the-art printing facilities, became an added advantage in attracting a growing number of composers to the Ricordi catalog. In the 20th century two editors-in-chief (both of them skilled composers, arrangers and edition-curators in their own right) attain almost legendary status among composers and conductors: Raffaele Tenaglia, who worked with Ricordi first as an outside collaborator and then as head of the rental archive and of the editorial and production department from 1913 to 1961 and who was a trusted editor for Puccini. And Fausto Broussard, editor-in-chief from the early 1960s through 1996, whom the young composers of the avant-garde “trusted blindly” (in the words of Luciana Pestalozza), and were “asking for advice while preparing the music and for technical details”.

Support for new works is carried out on a smaller scale and for a specialist audience, and marketing strategies are geared not toward sales volume, but toward qualitative criteria. Maintaining contacts with the leading music festivals in Italy and elsewhere in Europe becomes a priority, as the performance of contemporary music depends on these dedicated events, which have ties to the ensembles and inspire and organize performances of these highly specialized musical works. The Darmstadt International Summer School of Music, which was revived in 1946 by Wolfgang Steinecke, and where courses with composers of international renown alternate with concerts (the holiday courses exist to this day), are an important point of reference for the Ricordi publishing house as well. Its composers are invited as lecturers — and thus as multipliers of a publishing program that is expanding stylistically — and its works are played at the concerts. Among the foreign composers included in the publisher’s program are such respected names as Gerard Grisey, Brian Ferneyhough, Magnus Lindberg, Klaus Huber, Younghi Pagh-Paan, Heiner Goebbels, Rolf Riehm, Peter Eötvös and Olga Neuwirth.

In 1994, Ricordi is sold to the Bertelsmann Music Group (BMG), part of the German media group Bertelsmann. At this time, it is the only independent Italian music company that is still able to stand its ground alongside the dominant international majors, led by Polygram, EMI and Warner. In addition to the Italian companies, among them the Arti Grafiche printing plant and the recording-medium business Dischi Ricordi, the group of companies includes holdings in nine other countries. Casa Ricordi is more international than most other companies in classical music publishing: it has foreign branches in Germany, France, Britain, Canada, Argentina and Brazil. BMG’s strategic activities in the years following the acquisition focus mainly on the lucrative music publishing business and on the high-volume business with recording mediums, which is merged with BMG’s labels (BMG Ariola Italy). The chain of stores and the attached real-estate holdings are sold off.
In 2006, Bertelsmann sells the Ricordi imprint to the Universal Publishing Music Group, a subsidiary of France’s Vivendi Group. It continues the Ricordi publishing program, with offices in Italy. This also opens a new chapter in the history of the Archivio Storico Ricordi. Placed under the protection of Italy’s cultural authorities back in 1994, it remains in Bertelsmann’s possession. A closed corporate archive has now become a historical archive whose function and duties are changing and whose important holdings are preserved, researched and presented as an Italian cultural legacy.