Ricordi Archive

La boheme autograph

The Archivio Storico Ricordi

“The Archivio Ricordi is a cathedral of music, unique in the world.” (Luciano Berio)

The Archivio Storico Ricordi began and grew with the publishing company Casa Ricordi, founded in 1808. Considered one of the most important private musical archives, it preserves the original handwritten scores of 23 of Verdi’s 28 operas, all the operas by Giacomo Puccini (except La Rondine), as well as a great many works by composers like Bellini, Rossini and Donizetti and living composers like Nono, Donatoni, Sciarrino and Bussotti.

The Archive has a rich iconographic collection related to many world and local premieres and includes set and costume designs, collections of photographs and letters, and a large amount of business documentation. These documents and images enable scholars to reconstruct the genesis of important operas and the development of the musical publishing industry of the 19th and early 20th centuries.

The iconographic collection also documents the pictorial, scenographic and decorative arts (such as the history of costume, the jewelry design, the stage props), the broader publishing industry (reconstructing the relationship between the publisher and artists of all kinds), and the theatre world. The collection allows scholars to trace the personal and professional lives of many composers, beginning with their first operas, for example Oberto Conte di San Bonifacio by Verdi and Le Villi by Puccini, until their last masterpieces like Verdi’s Falstaff and the unfinished Turandot by Puccini.

The extraordinary importance of the Archive resides in the variety of documents it preserves, which offer a broad panoramic vision of the culture, industry and society over the course of two centuries of Italian history. In the Archive, housed in the Braidense National Library in Milan, are preserved around 8.000 scores, more than 16.000 letters by musicians, librettists, singers and all manner of people connected to these arts, around 10.000 costume and set designs, more than 9.000 librettos, 6.000 historical photographs, and a large collection of Art Nouveau and Deco posters created by some of the main artists of the time.

In 1994 the German media company Bertelsmann acquired Ricordi. In the same year the Archive was placed under the protection of Italy’s cultural authorities. Considerable attention has been dedicated by the new investor to the care and appreciation of the precious Historical Archive of the Company, a unique testament of its own cultural and entrepreneurial history.

The Archivio Ricordi protects, preserves and promotes the knowledge of this artistic and documentary heritage, provides research services, digitization, and spread of the materials among organization with cultural purposes, universities and educational institutions.

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The digitalization of the Historical Archive began as part of a joint agreement between the Italian Ministry of Culture, the National Department of Archives and Libraries, the general supervisory council for libraries and cultural institutions, and Casa Ricordi. Further strategic assistance came from the Biblioteca Nazionale Braidense, where the Historical Archive resides, and the Laboratorio di Informatica Musicale (LIM) of the Università degli Studi di Milano, which furnished the software for cataloguing and content management which was designed and developed expressly for this project. The interest and collaboration of these various institutions are clear confirmation of the importance of properly safeguarding the material in the archive.

Cataloguing and digitally photographing the Historical Archive started in 2006, in accordance with standards established by the National library service, the Servizio Bibliotecario Nazionale (SBN), which in turn responds to the Istituto Centrale per il Catalogo Unico (ICCU) or central unified-catalogue institute. Given the artistic and historic importance of the archive, its patrimony directly responds to the limitations and supervision of the Ministry of Culture. This impressive cataloguing and digitalization project for preserving and advancing the contents of Historical Archive is a veritable model of the latest methods used for the diffusion and promotion of culture and its material legacy.

Ricordi Archive