The Archivio Storico Ricordi – A Bertelsmann Project

Falstaff in the archive
Aida by Giuseppe Verdi, Milan, new production, Teatro alla Scala, 1904. Jewellery, prop design by Attilio Comelli
Original covers of handwritten Verdi scores in the archive
Documents in the archive
Otello by Giuseppe Verdi, autograph score, 1887
The Braidense National Library building in downtown Milan

In 1808, Giovanni Ricordi founded a music publisher in Milan that would significantly shape the cultural history of Italy and Europe in the 19th and 20th centuries: Casa Ricordi. It published the works of the “big five” composers of Italian opera - Gioachino Rossini, Gaetano Donizetti, Vincenzo Bellini, Giuseppe Verdi and Giacomo Puccini. From the beginning, all of the company’s documents were meticulously archived. Now the former business archives of the Casa Ricordi publishing company, which was acquired by Bertelsmann in 1994, have become a historical archive: The Archivio Storico Ricordi, one of the world’s foremost privately held music collections, which is now housed in the Biblioteca Nazionale Braidense in Milan.

In 2006, Bertelsmann sold its former music rights business to Universal, but retained the rights to the Ricordi brand and the publisher’s famous archives, which have since operated as an independent legal entity under the name of “Ricordi & C.” based in Milan. All of the revenues generated by Ricordi & C. go to towards making the archive accessible and preserving it for posterity. The Archivio is under the special protection of the Italian Ministry of Culture. As a national heritage, the Archivio Storico Ricordi must remain in Italy.

After having been an integral part of Casa Ricordi for decades and being used primarily for commercial purposes such as the publication of “critical editions,” the archive has recently been undergoing an accelerated transformation into a historical research archive. The idea is to develop the Archivio Storico Ricordi into a best practice case in the field of communicating cultural and historical archive materials in the digital era, both nationally and internationally, and making its unique resources accessible to a wider audience besides the academic community.

The archive’s original scores of numerous operas from the 19th and early 20th century and many other compositions are among the highlights of European music history. Today the name Ricordi primarily stands for 200 years of Italian opera and music history. From Giuseppe Verdi's Aida and Giacomo Puccini’s Madama Butterfly to Luigi Nono’s Prometeo – the Ricordi archive is a true “cathedral of music” (Luciano Berio).

Bertelsmann is aware of the great responsibility that ownership of this unique cultural heritage entails, and continues to uphold the tradition associated with the Ricordi name.