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Music Library

Music Library Special Collections: Acquisition of the Ricasoli Collection

History of the Acquisition of the Ricasoli Collection

The acquisition began in January of 1985 with the purchase of eleven items from catalog no. 20 (Fall 1984) published by Libreria Internazionale C. Caldini di G. Migliorini of Florence. A $725 purchase made by the School of Music was motivated by a desire to add material to the music library appropriate for the enhancement of the library's reputation and for possible graduate students' research. The list of items purchased was limited to keyboard works with or without violin obbligato. At that time the significance of the collection was unknown.

Catalog no. 21 (Spring 1985) contained some startling items including the administrative documents of Gioacchino Rossini's habitation in Florence from 1848 to 1864 and a large collection of keyboard sonatas and concertos by Florentine composers such as Panerai, G. M. Rutini, G. F. Giuliani, and Alessandro Felici. The school, with the assistance of Mr. Charles Grawemeyer, purchased a somewhat more substantial portion.

When the music began to arrive it was apparent that there was only one source, still unknown to us and not mentioned in the catalogs. In May 1985 I went to the Libreria Internazionale to ask the bookdealer what the source was and whether there was more. Perhaps because of a misunderstanding, I returned to Louisville believing that, whatever the source, the music had been exhausted in the preceding two catalogs.

The misunderstanding was dispelled by catalog no. 22 (Fall 1985) which contained not only the small genres but also manuscripts of complete operatic scores including Paer's La virtu al cimento and Paisiello's La Nina. Excitement and consternation mounted simultaneously. Telephone calls prompted fuller information. Dr. Migliorini wrote on October 22:

We can say that you can anticipate that there will be about 200 works in the music archives purchased by us around 10 years ago together with the entire Biglioteca Ricasoli. These will appear in the next catalogs on an average of seventy pieces at a time. We have no difficulty in offering you the lot before the publication of the catalog; but it should be clear that on your part you must try to confirm the order in writing by return post. (Author's translation).

Thereafter, Dr. Migliorini sent us photocopies of the proofs of his catalogs, a procedure that gave us about two to three weeks' advantage over his other clients. No subsequent efforts in writing or by telephone could persuade him to negotiate for the whole collections. No figure could be obtained for estimating the cost. On the basis of what had appeared in the three published catalogs, I guessed at first $20,000, at a time when the dollar was worth nearly 2,000 lire. But this figure did not take into account the number of large works and autographs still unpublished in the catalogs.

Donors were found in Louisville to purchase all of the unsold items in the bookdealer's hands and to enable me to fly to Florence in February, 1986, to survey the some 200 pieces mentioned by Dr. Migliorini. His estimate proved to be understated and I set the cost of the whole more reasonably at $50,000. Mr. and Mrs. David Jones donated one-half of the amount, raised another $20,000 among friends, and persuaded President Swain to provide the remaining $5,000.

In that spring (1986), the dollar began to fall and the $50,000 rapidly became inadequate. We were unable to avoid the effects of the fall because of the rigid schedule of the Libreria Internazionale that stretched at least through all of 1987 and because of the equally rigid financial regulations of the University that made it impossible to convert the money into lire before the purchase was completed. We managed to purchase all items in catalogs 23 (Spring 1986) and 24 (Fall 1986).

In the spring of 1987 after the publication of catalog 25, an unidentified "Englishwoman" challenged Dr. Migliorini's right to sell the collection before the Sovrintendenza Archivistica di Toscana. In June, since I was in Florence, I appealed to Dr. Luigi Borgia of the Sovrintendenza. He confirmed that Dr. Migliorini had complied at least with the letter of the law and that the purchases made from his published catalogs were legitimate. And he agreed that, in view of the fact that the University possessed at that point well over one-half of the collection, the best interests of all concerned would be served by allowing the University to complete the purchase. But he pointed out that a ruling had to be made in Rome.

When the ruling arrived early in July, after I had returned to Louisville, it permitted the sale of the collection but only to persons having Italian addresses. As I understood it, the ruling carried the threat of the loss to scholarship of the remainder of the collection through sales to the general public in Italy. Under what seemed to be a tolerant, flexible interpretation of the ruling by Dr. Migliorini and the officials of the Sovrintendenza, we were allowed to have the spring 1987 order picked up by a professor who had a summer address in Perugia and the remainder by me when I attended the Bologna meeting of the International Musicological Society in September 1987.

I was concerned about two matters; first, the legality of the procedure despite the oft-repeated assurances by the bookdealer. Not entirely satisfactory were the interesting procedures proposed by the Sovrintendenza, i.e., that the bookdealer should apply for permission to export the music. The Sovrintendenza would then take no action until the 90-day limit for such decisions had expired, leaving the bookdealer free to export the music. I rather doubt that Dr. Migliorini did anything of the sort. This first concern remains unanswered to this day and since the Sovrintendenza has not replied to my query nor to my invitation to attend this conference, I must suspect that the affair is an embarrassment they would prefer not to air. The second was the protection of access to the collection by Italian scholars. We are resolving this problem by several steps. First, we will send a microfilm copy of the collection to the Biblioteca Nazionale di Firenze. Second, the contents of the Collection will be catalogued in the OCLC system and in RISM, and, third, a published, annotated catalog will be issued as No. 3 in the fledgling series, University of Louisville Studies in Musicology. The Collection will be encased in acid-free boxes, the pages separated by acid-free paper, and stored in a second-floor temperature and humidity-controlled room of the School of Music Library.

In conclusion, I think it is fair to observe that the Italian laws (written in 1939) governing commerce in cultural materials did not work and that the preservation of the Ricasoli Collection was a matter of pure chance. Consequently, I would like to open at least a discussion of the problems and a consideration of what steps scholars, musicians, merchants, government officials, and private collectors can take to protect their various conflicting interests and access to the cultural resources.