The Ricordi Archives and the Value of Memory

The Ricordi Archives and the Value of Memory


Achieving successful business models with culture has always been a challenge in all historical epochs, and Bertelsmann, the media corporation which acquired the Ricordi record company in 1994, entrusted Pierluigi Ledda with the task of managing the Ricordi Historical Archive.

A Bocconi class of 2010 graduate in Economics and Management of Arts and Culture (CLEACC), Ledda was hired just when Ricordi was turning its vast collection of private documents, including librettos, composers’ letters, music scores, photographs, sketches of opera sets and costumes into a historical archive officially acknowledged by the Italian Ministry of Culture.

“Since my years at the university, I have had the desire of working in the record industry or in the management of musical events. Bocconi taught me to look at the complexity of situations, observing problems from multiple points of view. I found this approach, which falls somewhere between the holistic and the pragmatic, extremely useful when it came to reorganizing the Ricordi Historical Archive according to a logic of financial sustainability," says Pierluigi Ledda. The collection, hosted by Brera’s Braidense National Library in Milan, is one of the most extraordinary private collections relating to the great opera composers, in particular Giuseppe Verdi and Giacomo Puccini. "It is an incredible heritage that also passes through the letters exchanged between the music publisher and the musicians, the copyright registers, which Ricordi first introduced in Italy, as well as the contracts stipulated for the staging of operas. What emerges out of these documents are exceptional instances of management of the artistic enterprise, well before any theorization of cultural management: the staging of operas, in terms of technical sophistication, was not very far from today's movie productions”.

Ledda oversaw the digitization of the Ricordi archive on easy-to-use platforms, so as to make its contents accessible to the greatest number of users from every part of the world. «Our aim is to offer researchers and musicologists a unique source of knowledge in the world: the history of the music publisher Ricordi and his composers». The archive is also available to the general public, although reaching this target represents a real challenge. «To win it, we have developed a hybrid formula that weaves digital and real-life elements. If the exhibits catalyze attention because the original physical documents have an evocative component that arouses strong emotions, we offer the possibility to deepen and complete this type of experience through online consultation and the use of interactive software: digital and physical can coexist because they serve different functions". Like any archive, the stories of Ricordi’s company and its musicians act as a tool for memory enhancement: by deciphering the facts and ideas of the past, you gain greater awareness of the choices concerning the future".

From Verdi to Puccini, through Luigi Nono and Lucio Battisti, the history of the Ricordi label is marked by music giants. "Today there are no more mass phenomena in popular music, such as, say, Led Zeppelin in 1970s, but we are facing an unprecedented wealth of genres. Contemporary pop music is able to speak to the general public while experimenting at the same time; I’m thinking of artists like Kanye West and Frank Ocean, who have been capable to innovate while retaining pop’s accessibility, by flirting with the worlds of fashion and art”.

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by Ilaria De Bartolomeis
Translated by Alex Foti

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