Category: Isham Memorial Library (page 1 of 16)

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.

Ethel Smyth’s Sonata for violin and piano, dedicated to a friend

The Loeb Music Library recently acquired a first edition of Ethel Smyth’s Sonata for violin and piano in A minor, Op. 7, composed in 1887. Born in 1858, Smyth is remembered as an independent and strong-willed woman who studied music against her father’s wishes. She was a leading suffragette, and in later life actively authored polemical writings. For a brief introduction to Ethel, see Five facts about Dame Ethel Smyth on the Oxford University Press blog, and for much more, including a discography and list of her manuscripts, check out the work of Drs. Liane Curtis and Amy Zigler, and Chris Trotman at ethelsmyth.org.

Sonata for violin and piano title page

Sonate (A moll) für Violine und Clavier von E.M. Smyth, Merritt Room Mus 810.6.383, Eda Kuhn Loeb Music Library, Harvard University. The stamp on this copy is from the Glasgow Athenaeum, which closed in 1929.

This first edition was published by J. Reiter-Beidermann, a reputable Swiss music publisher. Founded in 1848, the company was later purchased by C.F Peters in 1917. A subsequent edition of Smyth’s Sonata Op. 7 was printed by Universal Edition in 1923, also held in the Loeb Music Library collection. The manuscript of the work is held at the British Library, Add. MS 45950, as well as an additional manuscript, MS Mus. 1781, with an inscription date of 27/5/[18]87 referring to the date this exact manuscript was delivered for printing.

In the same year as publication, 1887, the Sonata premiered at the Leipzig Gewandhaus. Performers included Fanny Davies (piano) and Adolph Bordsky (violin).

Postcard of Konzerhaus in Leipzig

Leipzig, Germany: Konzerthaus (the second “Gewandhaus”, opened 1884, destroyed 1943/1944). Public domain image from wikicommons.

The performance was praised by The Monthly Musical Record in December 1887, which states, “The work was played by Fraulein Fanny Davies, from London, and Herrn Brodsky, to such a way that the composer had every reason to be thankful.” The same review casts an unfavorable posture on Ethel as a female composer, stating “The sonata for violin and piano by E.M. Smyth…proved to be the clever work of a lady who makes no pretensions to originality, but slavishly follows Brahms, and who possesses but little taste.”

Smyth remembers this common characterization in her memoirs, Impressions that Remained, by acknowledging “the critics unanimously said it was devoid of feminine charm and therefore unworthy of a woman – the good old remark I was so often to hear again.” A listen to the piece will prove just how wrong the reviewers were!

Clipping from The Monthly Musical Record, January 1, 1887.

Clipping from The Monthly Musical Record, January 1, 1887.

Both the 1887 and 1923 published editions include the dedication “Frau Lili Wach geb. Mendelssohn-Bartholdy in alter Freundschaft gewidmet” “Mrs Lily Wach, née Mendelssohn-Bartholdy, dedicated in old friendship” Elisabeth Mendelssohn-Bartholdy Wach (Lili), was the daughter of composer Felix Mendelssohn Bartholdy and Cécile Charlotte Sophie Jeanrenaud. Ethel and Lili first met in 1877 at a musical gathering at the house of Frau Livia Frege, a soprano living in Leipzig. Their friendship can be observed through their letters. For example, Lili concludes a June 21st, 1891 letter to Ethel with “So farewell, my dearest, and remember now and again that no one is fonder of thee than – Thy Old Lili.”

Sources:

Smyth, Ethel. Impressions That Remained: Memoirs. 3rd ed. New York: Longmans, Green, and Company, 1923, p. 170, 290.

“Music in Leipzig (From Our Special Correspondent. Leipzig, December 1887)” The Monthly Musical Record XVIII, no. 205 (January 1, 1888): 9–10.

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