Obituary: Ruggiero Ricci; virtuoso violinist who regularly played the Proms
Born: 24 July, 1918, in California. Died: 6 August, 2012, in San Francisco, aged 94.
Ruggiero Ricci was a child prodigy who became a virtuoso violinist and accepted as one of the great instrumentalists of the last century. There was an authority about his bowing combined with a technical mastery of the music that made his playing in the concert hall or the recording studio exceptional. Those who experienced him in concert recall his ability to communicate the music to the audience through his warm personality and his belief in the works he performed.
Ricci gave many world premieres of new concertos but he mostly played the 18th and 19th century repertory. He became closely associated with the music of Paganini and gave acclaimed solo recitals of his music and transcriptions of composers such as Bartok and Chopin whom he called the “real fiddle-breakers”.
These solo recitals displayed his mastery of the violin. “I always believed in myself and knew I could play the fiddle as well as the next guy” Ricci once said. “I decided the only way I could survive was to refine my technical equipment.”
He had a commanding touch when he played solo Bach pieces balancing their delicacy with his own respect for the music.
In an all-too rare visit to Edinburgh, he gave the second performance of Alexander Goehr’s concerto at the 1970 Festival in the Usher Hall. The New Philharmonia Orchestra was conducted by Daniel Barenboim. The Scotsman critic greeted the concerto in his review and enthusiastically praised Ricci’s playing. “The concerto was warmly, very warmly, received. How much of the long ovation was for Ricci’s superb lyrical account of the solo part one cannot say.” The critic concluded by commenting on “the beauty of Ricci’s playing”.
Ruggiero Ricci was born into an Italian-American family who had anglicised their name to “Rich” and called their son Woodrow Wilson Rich in deference to the US president. They later changed his name thinking Italian more suited a child prodigy. Throughout his life he was known as Roger. His family were all musical – his father played trombone in various symphony orchestras.
At the age of eight Ricci showed a rare proficiency on the violin and two years later played the demanding Mendelssohn concerto in San Francisco and New York. He was immediately hailed as a child prodigy.
He undertook his first international tour at the age of 14 and after London he gave a concert in Berlin. Albert Einstein was in one box and Chancellor Franz von Papen in the next one. A reflection of his world-wide fame was demonstrated on that tour when Ricci was named “one of the most famous children in the world” along with the “seven-year-old Princess Lillibet [now the Queen]”. At the age of 24 he was earning more than the US president.
During the Second World War Ricci served in the US army air force as an “entertainment specialist”, playing to the troops in hospitals and convalescent homes.
He was later a regular at the BBC Proms and saved the concert in 1977 when a colleague fell ill. Ricci altered the programme slightly and then, as an encore, played the Paganini Variations of God Save The Queen. The promenaders went wild.
Ricci was widely known for his performances of music by Paganini and became renowned for his solo recitals of the composer’s works. Ricci recorded them extensively and, indeed, his fourth recording of the Paganini Caprices was made on Paganini’s own Guarneri violin. In 1947, he became the first violinist to record all of the fiendishly difficult 24 Paganini Caprices in the original version.
His discography was extensive in the classical repertory. He made more than 500 recordings including the concertos by Beethoven, Brahms, Mendelssohn, Saint-Saëns, Prokofiev, Khachaturian and Tchaikovsky.
Even after retiring from the concert platform at the age of 85, Ricci continued to give master-classes in New York and Salzburg. He preserved a great love of music and music-making all his life and was popular with conductors and orchestral players for his down-to-earth no-nonsense manner.
He was once asked how he had maintained such a high standard throughout his long career. With a beguiling twinkle he replied, “Fritz Kreisler told me when I was 24, ‘Always play how you feel’.” Then Ricci added: “You have to try for the impossible, just in order to make the possible possible.”
Many who admired Ricci from his discs remember him for his virtuoso style; his enthusiastic interpretation of the score and his love of taking risks in a performance. A live performance from Ricci was gloriously unpredictable.
Ricci was thrice married. In 1978 he married Julia Clemenceau. She and his two sons and three daughters survive him.
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Weather for Edinburgh
Saturday 18 May 2013
Temperature: 9 C to 13 C
Wind Speed: 18 mph
Wind direction: North east
Temperature: 9 C to 18 C
Wind Speed: 8 mph
Wind direction: North east