Friday, July 24, 2009

Ruggiero Ricci

Ruggiero Ricci is an Italian (some would say American) violinist, writer, and teacher born (in San Bruno, California) on July 24, 1918 (Heifetz was 17 years old.) He is one of the last great living (legendary) violinists of the Heifetz era – Ivry Gitlis, and Ida Haendel being the other two. He was a child prodigy who first studied violin with his father. At age seven, Ricci studied with Louis Persinger (who also taught Isaac Stern, Yehudi Menuhin, and Zvi Zeitlin, among others.) Later on, Persinger was also his piano accompanist for many recitals and recordings. One of Ricci’s other teachers was Adolph Busch. His first public performance took place in San Francisco in 1928, at age 10, playing works by Wieniawski, Vieuxtemps, Mendelssohn, and Saint Saens. At age 11, he made his orchestral debut with the Mendelssohn concerto and later that same year gave his Carnegie Hall debut in New York which solidly established him as a virtuoso concert violinist. A quote from a review of the concert has become famous: "All that great violinists do, he did." As a teenager, he went to Berlin for further study. He toured Europe in 1932 (age 14) and continued his worldwide concertizing until 1942. During the Second World War, he played hundreds of concerts everywhere as an enlisted man (1942-1945.) His repertoire includes over 50 concertos, myriads of solo violin works, sonatas, and showpieces. There are several videos of his playing on YouTube, though some are sound-only uploads. One of them is here. His discography is enormous – over 500 recordings. In fact, he has recorded the complete Paganini Caprices no less than four times, the first one dating from 1947 (he was the first to do so) and the last one from 1988.  On one of his interesting recordings he plays 16 different cadenzas for the Brahms concerto.  Jascha Heifetz, Louis Kaufman, and Steven Staryk might rival him in the recording sphere - they also have enormous discographies.  Ricci has taught at Juilliard, Indiana University, and at the Mozarteum (Austria), among other schools. His book on left hand technique is a classic. Ricci played his last concert in the U.S. in October, 2003, in Washington D.C., having already given over 5000 concerts during his 75-year career.  In all those years, he played many violins - a 1731 Guarnerius, a 1734 Guarnerius, a 1771 Balestrieri, a 1780 Storioni, a 1714 Stradivarius, and a Vuillaume (with double purfling) from an undetermined year.  The 1714 Stradivarius has had at least 18 different owners but only 3 have been musicians.  In 1995, Ricci commissioned a violin from modern luthier Samuel Zygmuntowicz.  The violin was a copy of the famous Plowden Guarnerius Del Gesu.  It was sold in 2012 for about $65,000. 


  1. Ruggiero Ricci died on August 6, 2012, at age 94.

  2. In a 2008 interview, Ricci stated that - despite of his having studied with several teachers - he was largely self-taught. Several other great violinists have made similar statements.