Friday, September 28, 2012

Ruggiero Ricci 1918–2012

Beethoven: Violin Concerto. Ruggiero Ricci, London Philharmonic Orchestra / Adrian Boult, 1952.

Browsing the programme information of the Yle Ykkönen radio channel I noticed a memorial programme forthcoming tonight dedicated to the American master violinist Ruggiero Ricci.

I had not known he was dead and started to play his interpretation of Beethoven's violin concerto, a precious childhood memory for me. In our childhood home then at Neljäs linja in the neighbourhood of Kallio in Helsinki I lay in bed in a fever and listened to music. One of the selections was an LP record of Ruggiero Ricci playing Beethoven's violin concerto in 1952 with Sir Adrian Boult conducting The London Philharmonic Orchestra. I do not remember these details by heart but I checked from the internet that this is the only recording Ricci had made of Beethoven's violin concerto by then. There are also quite recent cd publications, with him playing all the cadenzas that can be selected at will.

That record was for transformative for me. For the first time I identified with a long-form musical composition, starting to grasp detail and structure. I liked the sense of play in the bombastic story, which is like an adventure romance full of passion and tenderness. The concerto is like a voyage on the high seas with passages of thunderstorms and calms and with a basic sense of confidence in the captain and the crew's command of any calamity.

My school was on Ratakatu in another neighbourhood, and I walked all the way down from Kallio Church along Siltasaarenkatu which continued as Unioninkatu, the end of which is close to Ratakatu. It was a long straight line, ideal for an absent-minded kid like me. Not far, at Eteläranta, was the office of the Finnish Film Archive whose library I started to frequent. I got money from home for the season ticket of bus 17 but kept the money as pocket money instead to buy paperbacks from Kirjavintti at Korkeavuorenkatu. I loved to walk but made life difficult for teachers getting late to classes. I was constantly punished by Saturday detention, serving time after school hours.

My favourite way to spend the hour was to listen in my mind to Beethoven's violin concerto as played by Ruggiero Ricci. I was not and am not a music connoisseur, and I was so ignorant that I thought Ruggiero Ricci was the name of the composition until somebody corrected me. Thanks to Ricci Beethoven's violin concerto still is my favourite piece of music.

About the same time, in 1967, Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band by The Beatles was released. We had a copy of the record at home, but I also visited the Helsinki Main Library, then at Rikhardinkatu, near the school, to listen to the stereo version with headphones. (I did not know then that the mono version was definitive). Listening to Sgt. Pepper in my mind was another splendid way to spend an hour of detention.

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