Bel canto and beyond

The Eda Kuhn Loeb Music Library has recently acquired the personal collection of Italian accompanist, conductor and vocal coach Luigi Ricci (1893-1981): printed scores containing vocal exercises, opera and other large-scale vocal genres, instrumental music and songs, many of them annotated, some heavily, by Ricci and others. Taken as a whole, the collection illustrates the knowledge and taste of an important figure in the opera world of twentieth-century Italy.

A two-page article by Luigi Ricci outlining the opera singing techniques he learned from Giacomo Puccini. Illustrated by a caricature of the composer.

“Ten Commandments of Puccini,” by Luigi Ricci. Opera News (December 17, 1977). Eda Kuhn Loeb Music Library Mus 15.17

From an early age, Ricci provided piano accompaniment at voice lessons given by baritone Antonio Cotogni, whose performances of several Verdi operas were supervised by the composer himself. Ricci took careful notes throughout his career, eventually publishing several books in which he communicates the nineteenth-century bel canto traditions passed on to him in his teenage years by Cotogni and, subsequently, by the composers with whom he collaborated as an assistant conductor at the Rome Opera House.

A vocal score of Il trovatore by Giuseppe Verdi. The cover is printed in black and blue on white wrappers. Across the top of the cover, Luigi Ricci has boldly written his last name in blue crayon

Ms. Coll. 179, Box 12. Eda Kuhn Loeb Music Library, Harvard University

The impact of Luigi Ricci on twentieth-century opera performance is summarized by Renata Scotto in a 2016 Opera News article: ““When I teach, I’m thinking of my own teachers and of the great conductors I learned so much from. They gave to me so much—and I gave to them a lot, I believe. In the beginning, I had a great teacher—Luigi Ricci, who had been a coach at Teatro di Roma and did Butterfly with Puccini. I got directly what Puccini told him. I feel it’s my duty to pass it on to young singers. Ricci spoke a lot about the words. Puccini was very much interested in the interpretation, the passion, the love. ‘Un bel dì’ is not an aria—you tell a vision. Ricci told me, ‘Don’t sing too much—don’t make a big sound. Have a vision of that nave bianca.’”

He is best known today for interpreting Puccini and Verdi, but Ricci’s collection also includes scores, most of them enthusiastically annotated, of scores by Shostakovich, Wagner, Mozart and many others. This 1945 vocal score of Benjamin Britten’s Peter Grimes bears Ricci’s typical traces of ownership:

Two pages of music: a vocal score edition of Benjamin Britten's opera Peter Grimes (1945). Former owner Luigi Ricci has added Italian translation and several expressive notes.

Ms. Coll. 179, Box 14. Eda Kuhn Loeb Music Library, Harvard University.

The Luigi Ricci collection of scores, 1865-1969 was processed by Émilie Blondin and Christina Linklater. The entire collection is now available; click on Request to Copy or Visit to schedule your appointment or arrange for scans.

Contributed by Christina Linklater, Keeper of the Isham Memorial Library and Houghton Music Cataloger.

Remembering One of Somalia’s Great Poets and Lyricists: Hadraawi (1943-2022)

On August 18, 2022, the renowned Somali poet, Abwaan Mohamed Ibrahim Warsame, also known as “Hadraawi,” which means “Master of Speech,” passed away at the age of 79. Sometimes called the “Shakespeare of Somalia,” Hadraawi penned hundreds of poems and songs throughout his career. His poetry is forever sealed in the legacy of Somali popular music (hees, heello). Sung poetry is an important historical medium for confronting Somali political and social issues. Hadraawi’s oeuvre includes a broad repertoire, from love songs to laments of war. Many of his poems criticized the Barre military regime of Somalia, which led to a five-year prison sentence for the artist beginning in 1973. Several of his most famous songs and epic poems were composed from jail.

Harvard’s Archive of World Music (AWM) holds a collection of over 500 representative tapes of this popular music dating from the 1950s-1990s. Many of the song lyrics in this collection were composed by Hadraawi. In Somali popular music, the lyrics are often considered the most important aspect of the song, and many songs are known less by their title and more by their first poetic line.

Listen to one of Hadraawi’s famous poems, Wayeel dadow, part of the AWM’s Somali Songs Collection, set to music and performed by Mohamed Mogeh Liban in 1972. The first line begins, “Walaac anigoo ku seexday [I worried while I slept]…” a song about two brothers who deceived one another, a metaphor for the ill-fated unity between British and Italian Somaliland territories.  After efforts to join under a single government fell apart in the late 1960s, a military coup led by the Barre regime filled the vacuum of power. The change was initially welcomed by many Somali people, yet killings, mass arrests, corruption, and fascism remained the status quo. Artists like Hadraawi were important in documenting the history and zeitgeist of the Somali people during this tumultuous time.

Read more about his poetry in Somaliland News.

Elderly man in white Islamic skull cap (kufi) and grey and white striped collared shirt pointing up with right index finger.

A recent photograph of the poet, Hadraawi. Image courtesy


Contributed by Joe Kinzer, Curatorial Associate for the AWM

*Thanks to Ismail Hajji for his notes on this post.

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