The Cosmopolitan: Tito II Ricordi. The period from 1912 to 1919

In keeping with the family tradition, Giulio’s eldest son Tito II (1865—1933) is also involved in the publishing business at an early stage — in 1889, immediately after completing his studies. Tito’s brother Emanuele (known as Manolo) had already taken over as head of the “Officine Grafiche” workshop in 1910. But the working relationship between Giulio and Tito II turns out to be conflict-prone.

The times have changed: after the exuberance of nation building, Europe is facing a crisis, and much is being put to the test in the arts as well. The “New World” of America with its ideas and social systems is increasingly penetrating art and life in Europe. And the European art scene is also reinventing itself to a huge degree. Giulio, a 19th-century man through and through, and a proponent of “italianità”, cannot quite cope with it. His son Tito II is open to the new forms and new media; he travels a great deal and pushes for changes in the company. Under Manolo’s direction the “Officine” achieve a prominent role in commercial art. In his monograph on the 150th anniversary of the publishing house, Claudio Sartori, the well-known musicologist, writes: “The publisher-patron of the 19th century who holds all the reins of the company in his hands is disappearing. People have changed, times have changed, and the company has grown so large that a distribution of tasks would have become unavoidable in any case”.

The reins of the publishing company remain in Giulio’s hands, and this leads to considerable tension between father and son, culminating in a rift in February 1907. Giulio is furious about what he considers to be Tito’s wastefulness, cavalier attitude and willingness to take risks with money. A letter from Giulio to Tito documents in almost operatically dramatic fashion how disappointed Giulio is with his son’s business conduct. He uses language that is reminiscent of a 19th-century libretto.

Tito II’s merits and qualities are perhaps often forgotten because of this row. After all, he lives in a time in which changes in society and art inevitably affect the business practices of a company like Ricordi. Giulio had taken over the company during the upswing after the Risorgimento, and thereafter led it through steady growth to its economic peak. The discovery and commercialization of Giacomo Puccini, whom he supervised and nurtured like a caring father, is both a symptom and cause of this. As an artist, too, Giulio is still a man of the 19th century: his known compositions are a living testimony of how he absorbed and brilliantly transposed the musical idioms he identified with, those of Verdi, Schumann, Schubert and the French late Romantic period. By contrast, Tito II represents the crisis-ridden character of the turn of the century. With him “the nervousness of the new century” enters the company.

In Italy, the agricultural society — especially in the North — is gradually being replaced by the industrial society, followed by transnational political and social changes, the first waves of emigration from Italy to North and South America as a result of the economic crisis (a crisis that was not preceded by any real upswing after the Risorgimento); a weakening of traditional class distinctions and gender roles; and technical innovations, such as the expansion of the railway network which increases opportunities for travel. This leads to the development of new trends in the arts as well, which can be described as the “courage to embrace subjectivity” and which for Italy can be circumscribed using the poles of art and psychoanalysis (Pirandello/Svevo) versus Dannunzianesimo/Futurism (D’Annunzio/Marinetti).

The translated works of Sigmund Freud appear in Italy and influence one group, while the other group pursues poetics based on technology and progress (including human progress).
Does Giulio remain rooted in the 19th century and the foundations of bourgeois society following liberal patriotism? Is Tito too much of a child of his time, becoming incapable of action by personally experiencing the crisis of the modern subject, or is he the one who, by identifying with the new social and artistic impulses, is open to or at least striving to be open to new strategies and developments, including in his own sphere of influence?
Tito II is born in 1865. In 1889 he completes a degree in engineering, but then devotes himself solely to his father’s company. He also plays the piano, is sensitive and witty, and knows how to comport himself in society. Having lost his wife early, he travels a lot: to France, Germany, England and America, where he picks up ideas from the business sector and from theater companies. He reports to his father Giulio on a performance of Die Meistersinger in London, acts as the stage director for Puccini’s Tosca, is responsible for clarifying the rights to the works of Wagner in Italy with Breitkopf & Härtel in Leipzig, which leads to the opening of a branch of Casa Ricordi in that city, and lobbies within the company for its participation in the emerging musical reproduction industry. He introduces new technical and artistic ideas to the company, for example color lithography. Succeeding his father, Tito looks after Puccini: he organizes his trip to the Bayreuth Festival, supports him emotionally after the Madama Butterfly fiasco (1904) and accompanies him to New York in 1910 for the première of La fanciulla del West. But he also adds young composers of his time to the program: Riccardo Zandonai, Franco Alfano and Italo Montemezzi. Like them, Tito is close to the poetics of D’Annunzio, is actively interested in production issues, and later acts as the librettist for Francesca da Rimini (Zandonai, 1914) and La Nave (Montemezzi, 1918).

The discussion of how the company should respond to the invention of wax cylinders, shellac records and the cinematograph and the arrival of these innovations on the Italian market, appears to have been the first reason for the rift between father and son, because Giulio largely refuses to respond entrepreneurially. But sloppy calculations and billing also incited Giulio’s displeasure. Baia Curioni hypothesizes that Giulio is interested primarily in the continuity of the company and its commitment to Italian musical heritage, and that he fails to realize that this very goal could be pursued by taking up the technical innovations. As a consequence of the dispute with Tito, in February 1907 Giulio revokes Tito’s access to the company’s accounts and subjects him to tight monitoring in the company with regard to his expenses — such as for travel. After Giulio’s aforementioned bitter letter to his son dated July 5, 1907, Tito II withdraws from the company until his father’s death. “[…] del figlio Tito non si parla più” — “there is no more talk about the son Tito”,  and so any discussions about technical innovations in the music business are also shelved.

After the death of Giulio Ricordi on June 6, 1912 (an event considered so momentous in the world of music lovers that his obituary received a full column in the New York Times), however, Tito II becomes head of Casa Ricordi, and has the difficult task of leading the company through the crisis of World War I. The spirit of optimism that was triggered by the new directions the publisher had taken in technical production and artistic terms is extinguished. Tito turns his attention, among other things, to getting into the movie business. But the outbreak of the war and possibly his weaknesses as a businessman prevent any concrete results here. In 1919, he steps down as head of the publishing company because of yet another financial inaccuracy that causes concerns on the supervisory board. So, 111 years after the publishing house was founded, the continuous thread of management by the Ricordi family ends.

Various factors that are related to these family problems only to a limited extent probably result in weakening the publisher’s position during the first decade of the 20th century. External circumstances include the political and economic crisis and the war. But the success of a competing publishing house, Sonzogno, founded in 1874, also threatens Casa Ricordi’s position. In 1890 Sonzogno publishes Mascagni’s Cavalleria Rusticana and in 1892 Pagliacci by Leoncavallo. It subsequently promotes Italian Opera Verismo and makes it popular. While Ricordi does celebrate successes with Puccini on the international stage, his work is both traditional and daring, and gets a popular competitor in the lurid modernist Verismo works, which are more imbued with national local color. Giulio’s response is to further intensifying Ricordi’s focus on the country’s musical legacy, while Tito II’s is to set new accents for the young generation by searching for new voices in contemporary art movements: the musical avant-garde, who are beginning to have an impact with the Second Viennese School (Schönberg, Webern, Berg); the Futurism movement (the first Futurist Manifesto by FT Marinetti is published in Le Figaro in Paris in February 1909), which also extends to music; the classically oriented “dell’Ottanta” generation: Alfano, Casella, Malipiero, Pizzetti, Respighi. The musical world is beginning to diversify, and Ricordi’s publishing decisions are no longer as clearly defined and carefully considered as in Giulio’s time. The Archivio Storico Ricordi houses the documents: works, librettos, correspondence, and photographs that document these years of change and shed light on the ambivalent figure of Tito II and Casa Ricordi’s relationship with the international music scene.
In one matter, the Ricordi publishing house developed a whole new line of business through its sister company, the “Officine”: graphic reproduction for advertising. Imaginative cover designs are one of Giulio’s hobbyhorses: depending on the theme of the opera, he has the covers of its scores and librettos designed in a varied way, with rich ornamentation and illustrations including brilliant variations on the famous “three rings” logo. For each opera a specific graphic look is developed, which is consistently used across all print products.
A major new line of business emerges at the beginning of the new century from the Art Nouveau movement, which flowers in Italy under the concept of “Liberty”. Speaking of graphic repro: Officine Grafiche, founded in 1884, develops into a leading European printer. Printing of musical scores, piano reductions and popular editions forms the largest part of its production, but it also develops a standalone graphic arts department: large posters for opera performances, as well as for companies like Campari and major newspapers including the Corriere della Sera, and later for movies such as Cabiria — even such legendary advertising posters as those for Bitter Campari and Birra Poretti. The team of illustrators includes major artists such as Adolf Hohenstein, Leopoldo Metlicovitz and Marcello Dudovich, who today are considered to be among the “fathers of modern Italian poster design”. The Ricordi graphics department is also active in the postcard business. The Archivio Storico Ricordi has an extensive collection from this department.