The history of Casa Ricordi

Giovanni Ricordi is a typical example of realism and the spirit of initiative of the Milanese society in the Napoleonic era. He started his business with a musical copy shop, working for the various theatres of the city. After having learned the techniques of music recording in Leipzig, he opened a small printing office, founding in 1808, that which, shortly afterwards, was to become the main Italian music publisher.

In 1814 Giovanni Ricordi published the first catalogue of his editions and ensured himself the duty of copying orchestra and opera material of the Scala Theatre, where he also worked as a prompter. The publishing house already owned about 800 scores.


In 1825 Giovanni Ricordi managed to buy the whole musical archive of Scala Theatre and all the world of theatre managers depended on him. In his Grand Catalogue of thus same year he was presented as "Editor of the complete and original Imperial Regio Conservatory of the Operas by Rossini and [...] owner of the music of the Imperiali Regi theatres”, in this way underlining his relationship with a leading composer.


In 1839 the first opera of the young Giuseppe Verdi, Oberto conte di San Bonifacio, was discretely successful at the Scala and Giovanni Ricordi bought it for 1.600 lire.

The following year, to protect the authors and with them his own editor rights, Giovanni Ricordi (who already acknowledged rights to his own authors, paying them fixed shares set by  contract) achieved that the Austrian government promulgate a Convention with the King of  Sardinia, to whom also the other Italian States would adhere. With this Ricordi set the foundations of what would have become copyrights, guaranteed in Italy and then on an international level.


In 1842, through an initiative of Giovanni Ricordi’s son, Tito I, the most important musical magazine of the 1800 was founded; the Musical Gazette of Milan, which would continue until 1902. In the 40s Casa Ricordi became the biggest musical publisher in Southern Europe.

In 1864 the first subsidiary was opened in Naples, and later Florence (1865), Rome (1871), London (1878), Palermo and Paris (1888).

In 1880, implementing some of Verdi’s advice, Tito I closed the important contract to incorporate the Milanese musical Casa Lucca.


At the death of Tito I the task was passed on to his son Giulio, with whom the Ricordi family reached the peak. The opera career of Giacomo Puccini is closely connected to Giulio Ricordi, with which the traditional solidarity linking the publisher to the authors was transformed into a psychological and artistic society going beyond a simple work relationship.


Ricordi’s first century of business was solemnly celebrated in Milan in 1908. One hundred years from its foundation the Ricordi editions had reached 112.446.

In 1912 Giulio Ricordi died and Tito II, even more eager than his father to extend the range of the commercial and industrial business of Ricordi, transformed the company into a solid international body spreading worldwide. This momentum was, however, suddenly interrupted by the start of the First World War.


In 1919 Tito II resigned from management of Ricordi, which from then on, would not be no longer directly managed by the family. Tito II was substituted by Renzo Valcarenghi, commercial director of the company and Carlo Clausetti, from the well-known family of Neapolitan publishers. The editorial line was transformed and renovated, giving a strong thrust to the musical didactics. The traditional business of Ricordi continued, supporting Italian music in the field of theatre, and now also in the instrumental and symphonic ones. With the two subsequent performances of Nerone by Boito and Turandot by Puccini, Ricordi solemnly concluded the late romantic period of the Italian melodrama and from the start of the establishment of the Italian school of Montemezzi, Alfano, Zandonai, Pizzetti. However, together with the new collection of small-format symphonic scores, created and spread the taste for the new Italian symphonic literature (Busoni, Casella, Catalani, Falla, Ghedini, Malipiero, Pizzetti, Ponchielli, Poulenc, Respighi, Varèse, Wolf-Ferrari, Zandonai, and Zemlinsky).


In 1943 the two Milanese locations of the company were hit by bombs and the plant was almost completely destroyed. The damage was enormous even if the precious autograph, property acts and documents, transferred elsewhere in time, were saved. Working patiently, the editorial estate and rented material managed to be reconstructed and Ricordi started business again.

In 1944 a triple management was set up, constituted by Alfredo Colombo, already a solicitor of the company since 1905, Eugenio Clausetti, son of Carlo, and Camillo Ricordi, nephew of Tito II, with the task of intervening in the daunting work of reconstruction following the destruction of the Second World War.


The various sectors of Ricordi were reorganized according to the needs of the cultural situation, the public and market in rapid transformation: in 1949 the Officine Grafiche Ricordi was set up as a Joint stock company and in 1950 the shop selling to the public in via Berchet in Milan was opened and in 1952 the company changed from a limited partnership to a  limited liability company, with Alfredo Colombo as President and Guido Valcarenghi (founder, in 1924 of the  Buenos Aires subsidiary, later Ricordi Americana) and Eugenio Clausetti as managing directors, then to finally become a public company in 1956.


While the Italian sites were being renovated and new sites opened overseas, the company’s business plan was changed: in 1957 the new Record Distribution Office was opened in Milan, to which the wholesale marketing of records was assigned. On the same site, the Record Production Office started business, managed by Carlo Emanuele Ricordi, Ricordi’s fifth generation after Giovanni. The opera Medea by Cherubini opened the series of recordings, made in collaboration with the Scala Theatre and performed by Maria Callas. From the consolidation of this Office, Dischi Ricordi S.p.A was born in 1962: in the same years, the so-called Italian songwriter music was born, for which Dischi Ricordi became a fundamental point of reference, publishing, among others, songs by Paoli, Tenco, Gaber, Battisti.

The Ricordi Group now includes, as well as the other companies set up in Italy with specific social objectives (records, editions of pop music etc.), companies set up overseas in recent times: in Europe, the Società Anonime des Editions Ricordi (1913) in Paris, the English Ricordi (1928) in Chesham, the German Ricordi (1966) in Monaco, the Canadian Ricordi in Toronto (1954).


In 1961, Guido Valcarenghi, already chief executive officer together with Eugenio Clausetti became President of Ricordi  . Carlo Origoni took over from Valcarenghi as President of the company and thus, from 1982 Gianni Babini, of the important family of industrial entrepreneurs from Varese.

Guido Rignano was chief executive officer and general manager from 1964 : new energy was given to the traditional sector of classical music, working towards a critic recovery of the great Italian music repertoire of the 1800s, which had started in the 60s, by Ricordi itself, and then extending with the critical edition of the operas by Gioachino Rossini in co-edition with the  Rossini Foundation of Pesaro, the critical edition of the operas by Verdi with the University of Chicago, the critical edition of the operas by Donizetti with the Municipality of Bergamo, that of the operas by Bellini with the Massimo Theatre of Catania and the preparation of operas by  Puccini. Recovery and the critical editions of older music, like the editions of Andrea Gabrieli, Scarlatti, Vivaldi, and the collections Venetian musical dramaturgy and Neapolitan music are included.

Also musical didactics receives great impulse, with editions for mandatory schooling, the Conservatory, the amateur market and the collections of books and magazines on music, among which the feat of the Encyclopaedia of Music (in 4 volumes) stands out .


From the sixties, Ricordi also recovered the hiatus separating the editor from musical research creating a very rich catalogue of contemporary music, focussing on well-known composers as well as new talents. A significant impulse to the development of this catalogue is given by Mimma Guastoni, to whom the editorial management is entrusted in 1982. Among the most famous names of Ricordi’s catalogue of contemporary music there are: Berio, Bussotti, Corghi, Donatoni, Grisey, Guarnieri, Maderna, Manzoni, Nono, Nunes, Pennisi, Sciarrino, Vacchi.

The catalogue of the classical and contemporary repertoire, which has exceeded 137.000 copies, is developed on three fundamental programming criteria: rediscovery of the old repertoire and of the great opera season, according to the philological dictates of modern musicology; the increase in the contemporary repertoire; the development and renewal of musical didactics. 


In 1994, Ricordi was acquired by the German group Bertelsmann, one of the first groups in the world in the publishing and entertainment sector and, together with the record business already owned by Bertelsmann in Italy (BMG Ariola) it becomes part of the BMG division (Bertelsmann Music Group) with a new name BMG Ricordi. In the new company the two souls, editorial and records, maintain their own operative autonomy, concentrating on the editorial activities in the Milan offices and the record ones mainly in the Rome site.


The editorial division experienced a phase of internal reorganization which brings to a reordering of all the activities and the modernising of the creative and production processes carried out and completed by the new chief executive officer, Tino Cennamo, who took over in 1998. In particular, the logistic and production part was reorganized, which brings to the creation of a company , BMG Publications, in 2001 with the mission of producing and commercializing all the  catalogue of printed music belonging to BMG.

The attention towards a more and more important and competitive market brought to the establishment of a new division dedicated to the synchronization of music for cinema, television and advertising.

The new shareholder has dedicated particular attention to the care and revaluation of the precious Historical Archive of the Company, a unique document of its cultural and entrepreneurial history. Besides interventions aimed at improving the storing of material, some events have been promoted, like the exhibition for the 100 years of Verdi in 2001 and several other initiatives, a convention was signed with the Braidense National Library aimed at ensuring an adequate collocation but also a wider use of the Archive itself, until the recent agreement with the Ministry of Culture to start a project to digitalize the material.

            In 2004, with the merger of the record division of Sony and BMG, Ricordi returned to be an exclusively editorial company, even from a formal point of view, with the new name of BMG Ricordi Music Publishing, with Tino Cennamo as President. For the editor it was a sort of return to the origins two hundred years since the foundation: today, like then, Ricordi is a young and determined company, which has a clear vision of its mission to create and spread cultural contents and is ready for the challenges of the third millennium.


            In 2007 all the BMG Music Publishing group was acquired by Universal Music Group, the multinational music company which includes among its labels Decca, Philips and Deutsche Grammophon. Universal Music Publishing Group (UMPG) is the biggest music editor in the world, with offices in 41 countries.