Years of Crisis: Carlo Clausetti and Renzo Valcarenghi. The period between 1919 and 1943

After the departure of Tito II, management of the publishing company is transferred to Renzo Valcarenghi and Carlo Clausetti, who jointly determine the fortunes of the publishing house from 1919 to 1940. Clausetti comes from a Neapolitan family of publishers and has headed the Ricordi branch office in Naples since 1892. He is similarly as extensively gifted as Giulio Ricordi, works as a composer, music critic, poet and librettist and, with his wife Margherita, entertains a musical salon at his home, where he receives Mascagni, Puccini, Giordano, Tosti, and many other artists of his time. He is a music writer, writing analyses of Wagner’s Tristan und Isolde and Götterdämmerung among other works. Much like Tito II, he is interested in the stage direction of operas, and works on productions of Puccini’s La fanciulla del West as “direttore di scena”, making sure that the publisher’s guidelines are put into practice.

Renzo Valcarenghi joined the company in 1880, and ran the Ricordi branch in Palermo from 1888 to 1912, then the one in Naples. In 1919 he moves to Milan to take over the directorate of Ricordi as administrative manager alongside Clausetti. He lives in the company’s headquarters and guides the company through the turbulent years of transition with his calm manner and unconditional loyalty. For many years he serves as president of the Italian Association of Music Publishers and Retailers (Associazione Italiana degli Editori e Negozianti di Musica) and the Publishing Rights Society SIDE (Società Incassi Diritti Editoriali).

It is a time of upheaval in many ways. The “age of technological reproducibility of works of art” (Walter Benjamin) has definitively begun, and radically changes the way music is received. The decline in the practice of amateurs making music in the home as music can be heard on the radio and records, is just one aspect of this. But this also leads to a decline in the demand for piano reductions and individual songs extracted from the scores (arias, duets), and editions for small ensembles. Because the printing of piano reductions has become one of the cornerstones of the company alongside the rental of music material for performance, this development also has implications for the Ricordi publishing house.
Studies of documents in the Archivio Ricordi provide information about Ricordi during the fascist period (1922—1943), for example of correspondence and publishing catalogs before 1931 (the later years no longer exist). Casa Ricordi’s relationship with the fascist regime is gradually formed through its participation in committees (Renzo Valcarenghi represents the publishers in the Consiglio della Corporazione dello Spettacolo [Council of the guild of the theater]), the acceptance of censorship  and, far worse in human terms, the naming of Jewish authors after the introduction of the National Socialist racial laws in Italy in 1938. By cooperating, Casa Ricordi safeguards its opportunities for revenue from music rental fees and collection on authors’ rights.

Despite this cooperation, which appears to be limited to formal aspects, the members of Casa Ricordi have an ambivalent relationship to fascism. For example, Renzo’s son Aldo Valcarenghi is involved in a defense campaign for Arturo Toscanini after the “slapping” affair in Bologna in May 1931. Toscanini had been attacked and beaten by some fascists because he refused to open a concert in Bologna with the fascist anthem Giovinezza. Some students responded by distributing leaflets in his defense. In 1938 the young Pietro Clausetti sets some passages from a speech by Mussolini to music in an Inno all’Impero, which is presented to the Duce 45. However, this “homage” is not well received, as the work is in competition with the Inno imperiale, featuring a text from Achille Starace, secretary of the Fascist Party. Starace has all copies of the Clausetti anthem removed from stores in Rome.

The reading of business correspondence (“copialettere”) from those years has yet to shed more light on Casa Ricordi’s ties to the fascist regimes, which are characterized by making certain concessions to gain autonomy and scope for action.

Another area of change concerns the position of the theaters, and their relationship with the publisher. They have become autonomous institutions, and during the fascist period become increasingly subject to the orders of the responsible ministry (Ministero per la Stampa e la propaganda). While La Scala occupies first place among the subsidized theaters from 1923, the state’s interest in the theater is as a means to spread regime-conformist propaganda and teachings.

The development of musical aesthetics in Italy is subject to these external conditions: The focus is on functionalizing all performances for propaganda purposes in the spirit of an italianità now dominated by fascism. While on the one hand there are backward-looking, neoclassical and neo-romantic tendencies (especially in instrumental music), a musical avant-garde is also active on two levels: on one level, the Futurist movement gives rise to a musical aesthetic direction leaning toward music and technology, and music and noise (e. g. replicating the acoustic settings of cities or factories). On another level, a small group of authors takes up the aesthetics of the Viennese avant-garde and transposes them in a way that is oriented to the Italian primacy of melody. The theater, squeezed between censorship and demands for innovation, takes a “keep a stiff upper lip” approach and produces opera classics and moderately modern works.

Casa Ricordi seems to come to terms with these new conditions. The composers of the popular “scuola giovane” (with Mascagni as the main representative) is published by its competitor Sonzogno, and a “successor” to Puccini has not yet been found. Besides Italo Montemezzi and Franco Alfano, the Ricordi catalogs of the 1920s list the work of other members of the “dell’Ottanta” generation, later followed by composers such as Erich Wolfgang Korngold, Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco and Aldo Finzi. Collaboration with La Scala becomes difficult, but Casa Ricordi retains some influence. From 1921—1929 Arturo Toscanini is the musical director and puts his stamp on the selection. Naturally, he is increasingly struggling with the regime and its ideological dictates. In addition to a classical repertoire, we see — with regard to Ricordi — Boito with Mefistofele and Nerone, Catalani with La Wally, Franchetti with Cristoforo Colombo and Germania (libretto by Illica), Pizzetti with Debora e Jaele, Alfano with La leggenda di Sakùntala, Casella with Le couvent sur l’eau (commedia coreografica), Zandonai with I cavalieri di Ekebù and Francesca da Rimini (D’Annunzio’s version), Wolf-Ferrari with Le donne curiose and Sly, Montemezzi with L’amore dei tre re, an “azione coreografica” entitled Vecchia Milano by Giuseppe Adami (music by Franco Vittadini), Respighi with La campana sommersa (by Gerhart Hauptmann). Wagner’s Ring, Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg, Lohengrin and Tristan und Isolde, and various works by Strauss (Rosenkavalier, Salome) and Humperdinck also appear repeatedly in the repertoire. In the area of “early music” Casa Ricordi successfully stands its ground, for example with the publication of an edition of Antonio Vivaldi’s works (edited by Gian Francesco Malipiero), and efforts to promote a performance of Claudio Monteverdi’s Orfeo in an arrangement by Giacomo Benvenuti.

The tension between Casa Ricordi and La Scala is exacerbated by the appointment of a Scala director loyal to the regime, Jenner Mataloni. The Casa Ricordi representatives have repeated contentious dealings with him, about income from the performances as well as production conditions — such as the publisher’s representatives no longer being allowed to participate in rehearsals — through to outright prohibitions of productions. Mainardi cites the example of the opera La bisbetica domata (The Taming of the Shrew by Shakespeare) by Mario Persico, whose performance Casa Ricordi prepared for the 1937/1938 season, but which founders due to Mataloni’s intervention. Korngold’s Die tote Stadt is performed at the instigation of Ricordi in the 1938/1939 season, however, at the Teatro dell’Opera in Rome.
At the same time, Casa Ricordi manages to strengthen and expand its international network during the Valcarenghi-Clausetti era: overseas branches are set up in 1924 (Buenos Aires, directed by Guido Valcarenghi, one of Renzo’s sons; in 1927 in São Paulo, led by Giuseppe Giacompol), and the company’s volume increases as it buys up various stocks from other publishers in South America. By 1940, the Ricordi catalog comprises 125.000 items. 260 employees work for the Milan sites in eight departments, and six million pages are printed annually.

Another focus of the publisher’s work during these years is the publication of six volumes in a musicological series, the Istituzioni e Monumenti dell’Arte Musicale Italiana between 1931 and 1939, under the direction of Gaetano Cesari and, after his death, Guido Pannain. The series focuses on the music of the 16th century: Andrea and Giovanni Gabrieli, Camerata Fiorentina and Claudio Monteverdi, Carlo Gesualdo and others. Mainardi calls the series “one of the first major products of Italian musicology”. This is uncharted territory for the publisher, and marks its entry into the incipient discipline of musicology in Italy. Given its successful Gazzetta Musicale and subsequent publications — including Musica d’Oggi from 1919 — this is consistent with the publisher’s policy.

In 1940 Carlo Clausetti leaves the company and is replaced by Alfredo Colombo. The dual leadership of Renzo Valcarenghi/Colombo lasts four years. The offices, production facilities, and the warehouses and rental libraries of Casa Ricordi are badly damaged during the bombing of Milan on August 13, 1943: two bombs fall on the publisher’s headquarters in Via Berchet, and incendiary bombs fall into the buildings on Viale Campania. Parts of the archive are destroyed. In 1942 the most valuable documents of the archive had already been moved to secure locations: the autograph music scores, for instance, to the underground air raid shelters of the Cassa di Risparmio bank in Milan and of the Conservatory of Parma, as well as to directors’ houses on Lake Maggiore, Lake Como and near Varese. Duplicates of the printed scores are brought to safety as master copies. The library and much of the rental material, including some editions with unique handwritten changes, are irretrievably destroyed in the attack. As a result, the works of many composers, too expensive (or impossible) to reconstruct after the war, are forgotten.

The scores and letters, the libretto collection and also the picture archive are spared. But shaken by the loss after many years of great crisis, Valcarenghi resigns in 1944. A three-person management is now set up, ensuring family continuity as before — albeit no longer limited to the Ricordi family: Alfredo Colombo, Eugenio Clausetti (another son of Carlo) and Camillo Ricordi (the son of Manolo Ricordi). These three manage the reconstruction and rebuilding of the archive.