The Genius: Giulio Ricordi. The period from 1888 to 1912

Giulio Ricordi (1840—1912) officially takes over management of the company after Tito’s death in 1888. In fact, however, Tito had closely involved him in the business much earlier, since his official entry into the company in 1863, and entrusted him with many tasks. Giulio influenced many decisions. Under Giulio’s aegis the other arts — especially graphics and the visual arts — come to play a greater role in the company’s activities. He paints, plays the piano, and his journalistic bent makes him a strong advocate for the company’s periodicals. Above all, however, Giulio is a composer himself, publishing numerous original compositions for the piano, small ensembles and a quite successful operetta, La secchia rapita, under the curious pseudonym of Jules Burgmein.

Giulio’s personality is complex and full of contradictions: he is expelled from his school in 1856 for being rebellious, and makes amends with his father by helping out as a secretary in the company. At barely 20 years of age, he is an ardent patriot for the unification of Italy and volunteers for military service (1859). Much later, he will publish his memoirs from that period under the title Primavera della vita (Springtime of Life). In 1862 he marries Giuditta Brivio; the marriage produces six children. Tito I senses his son’s potential and encourages him where he can. In 1871, he sends him to Germany to study graphic design and typography. Soon after his return he hands over much of the publishing business to Giulio.
In the company Giulio is initially especially devoted to the magazine, the Gazzetta. But above all he becomes the crucial new contact for Casa Ricordi’s “flagship” composer Giuseppe Verdi, in whom he sees his musical and national ideals united. Tito recognizes Giulio’s skill in communicating with Verdi at an early stage and often involves him in discussions 19.
After the takeover of the Fondo Lucca, whereby Ricordi eliminated its biggest competitor, further acquisitions follow under Giulio’s leadership: Orlando in Naples, Bartolo in Rome, Schmidl in Trieste, Pigna in Milan. This is followed by the opening of new branch offices in Germany, Austria, Hungary and Scandinavia and, in 1911, New York. In 1902 the company moves into new premises on Viale di Porta Vittoria (where the “Officine”, the “Workshops”, have also resided since 1884). The Ricordi catalog now comprises 110.000 publications 20. In 1908 Casa Ricordi celebrates its 100th anniversary.

Over the course of 100 years, a small copy workshop has grown into a major music publisher that dominates the market and does business internationally — a symbol of Italian music and all of Italian music publishing.

In his centenary speech, Giulio speaks of the emblem of the publisher, the three linked but independent rings or circles (“tre cerchi”; a pre-Renaissance design known as “Borromean Rings”), which are a symbol of unity and power (“l’unione e la forza”). The logo with the added slogan “ars et labor” had been created around 1875: Giulio Ricordi’s letterhead to Tamplini in London on 10 February 1875 bears the emblem, as does the frontispiece of Rivista Minima (which Antonio Ghislanzoni edited) from the same year. Around the turn of the century, the “three rings” are cleverly used on scores, piano and libretti, each artistically incorporated into the graphics. These graphic works make it easy to understand the success with which Casa Ricordi’s Officine Grafiche continued to develop the design of their products.
When Giuseppe Verdi’s creative energy starts to wane, Giulio puts his good instincts and great knowledge of the music market to use and sets out in search of a new star. As a brilliant publisher impresario, he has by now expanded and secured Ricordi’s preeminence in the field of music publishing. Those who are published by him have good career prospects and are also in good hands, because Giulio selflessly cares for his authors once he has made up his mind about someone. He is the “kingmaker” of the Italian music scene of the time. And with a keen sense for musical talent, he promotes the aging Verdi alongside young Giacomo Puccini, whose rise to world fame is significantly precipitated and shaped by Giulio: “We feel Puccini has this precious quality of having IDEAS of his own: and this is something you either have or don’t have …”. Giulio supports Puccini emotionally and financially, helps him get through personal and professional crises, accompanies him to premières, and corresponds with him extensively. Giulio Ricordi, sophisticated and kind in nature, a brilliant entrepreneur with multiple talents, leads the Ricordi publishing house to the zenith of its success. In 1910 new and larger production facilities and warehouses are constructed on Viale Lombardia (now Viale Campania). 70 percent of La Scala’s business is conducted with Ricordi; the sales volume of contracts signed by the publisher are triple what they were in the 1860s.