The letters of Casa Ricordi as a hub to explore a large and varied historical heritage

The music publishing industry is little studied, in part because of a scarcity of primary sources able to shed light on its history and decision-making processes.  The Archivio Storico Ricordi, however, provides a remarkably rich and complete insight into two hundred years of music publishing. The archive is so comprehensive for two main reasons.  Firstly because of the continuity in its history - the Ricordi publishing house was founded in 1808 by Giovanni Ricordi, and until 1919 remained a family business (run by his son, grandson and great-grandson) Even when the leadership passed into its management hands, it kept a remarkable continuity of habits. Secondly, despite two world wars, what was done on a daily basis was accurately stored in the impressive collection of company correspondence, totalling 30,000 original letters and almost 600,000 copyletters. When the decision was made to offer web access to the archival records, this letter collection seemed the ideal access point.

In the nineteenth century, Ricordi was one of the largest music publishing houses in the world, and its network extended over the continents. The music business was a multi-layered enterprise, that actively involved not only the company managers and their skills, but also composers and librettists, stage designers, illustrators, conductors, singers, artists, managers and theatre impresarios, without forgetting private customers who simply wanted to purchase a score or a libretto, and journalists who regularly updated the audience with reviews and information on new releases. Before the invention of the telephone and other communication mediums, writing it on a piece of paper was the only effective way to get anything done. This trove of information – safely stored in the vaults of the archive – provides  invaluable witnesses of how decisions were taken and what were the relations between Ricordi and the rest of the world. Giving access to the collections through the letters will allow generations of scholars to study a forgotten industry that made the history of music.