My Search for F. P. Ricci’s Recueil

An email interview with Harriet St. Clair Jones by Marina Riboni, reporter at La Provincia di Como, Italy

Riboni: “When did you listen or play for the first time a piece of the Recueil? Can you tell us this first meeting?”

In the early 1990’s soon after I had started teaching piano, I came across two beautiful “Johann Christian Bach” pieces, “Andante” (No. 22) and another piece titled “Toccata” (No. 69). Believing at the time that he was the composer of this beautiful music, I started looking for his pieces and for books about him in the library.

My first clear memory of listening to the music was when a second year student played the “Toccata” in a recital at the Fiat Music Company where I teach piano. She played it with much excitement, creating a big sound, and I realized for the first time that she would be able to go far. That piece marked the cross-road toward her future as a piano player.

The composer of the piece had been listed in error as being Johann Christian Bach, and for more than a decade, until about 2006, I continued to think this. It was thrilling to me that J. S. Bach’s youngest son could write such beautiful music, and I shared my enthusiasm with my fellow teachers, and at student recitals I would declare that the music was by J. S Bach’s youngest son. Everyone knew that I adored this “Bach.” I became greedy for his music and tried to find more of it, but I had no computer skills so it was a long time before I found the four-volume set titled Introduction to the Piano Method or Collection of Elementary Studies for the Forte-piano or Harpsichord at a music store in San Francisco. The composers were listed on the title page as being J. C. Bach and F. P. Ricci and the editor was Beatrice Erdely. By now it was sometime in the middle of the 1990’s, and I continued to think that the composer was Christian Bach because Erdely and other scholars had said so. The general agreement was that J. C. Bach had written the music and F. P. Ricci had written the music theory part.

My first clear memory of playing this music.

I bought the four volumes. What a discovery! There were not just two or three of these beautiful pieces, but now there were a hundred! I had to share them with my piano friends: Peter Petrini was the first; and it was also time to celebrate our birthdays, both of which were in August. On a Saturday afternoon, we took a trip across the Golden Gate Bridge to the town of Mill Valley where we found a restaurant with a piano where I could demonstrate this music. Peter says that I sat down and with much enthusiasm played many of the “delightful little children’s pieces” one after the other.

He later got Volume Two. Another friend took all four volumes back to Carnegie Mellon University where she was a piano professor. I loaned four volumes to a fellow teacher at Fiat which I had to retrieve because I had destroyed my original four in the process of editing the music.

Riboni: “How do you use this repertoire during your lessons? What can your pupils learn through this music?”

Today, with all the electronic entertainment people are exposed to, even the “Menuet in G” from the Anna Magdalena Bach Notebook or the simplest Czerny will present difficulties. The music from F. P. Ricci’s Recueil de Connaissances Elementaires, however, is for the most part easy to comprehend and to mentally organize. Like J. S. Bach’s Prelude in C, there is often repetition of a musical idea, as, for example, in:

No. 48—It sounds like a dramatic virtuoso tour de force, but what happens is that the same A minor to E 7th broken chords are repeated three times with a closing theme repeated twice. I don’t know why the piece is so beautiful. It is a mystery.

No. 10—This piece recently appeared in Faber and Faber Artist Piano Literature Book One. It has proven to be powerful yet very simple, with notes that cascade from the top to the bottom of the piano. I gave it to my student, Maureen, whose first reaction to it was “Wow!” She is a lady in her early 70’s who doesn’t yet have a real piano, but instead she practices on an electric keyboard. Yesterday,  she played  “No. 10” which she had not been practicing lately. Even so, she played this piece with much freedom.

Thinking about your questions, I asked her how she felt after playing the piece and she said, “When I play well, I feel proud of myself; it feels like I am playing real classical music.” She also said “I don’t need to look at the music, it is easier to remember.”

Another student, a boy of about eleven years, had wanted to play nothing but Christmas music and it was already well into March. He had been avoiding his level one lesson book, so I took a chance and gave him “No. 10.” It was a while, but he learned it well and he is back on track and learning to enjoy playing piano.

No. 25 (Risoluto)—This piece teaches students about the alberti bass. It is easy to make a good sound when both hands are playing the bass, as in the first eight bars; but it is much more difficult to maintain a singing tone in the bass when it serves as an accompaniment to the right hand in the second half. The student is given the opportunity in the first eight bars to hear how the alberti bass should sound in the second.

No. 18 and No. 38—These are the very best possible pieces to train for a light thumb. Again, they are easy to understand, but hard to play well. I had to record these pieces several times before I got them halfway right.

No. 19—This piece is very easy at first sight, but hard to play well if one observes the rests and quarter notes. I would want to show my students mercy with that one and just let them enjoy playing the piece as music.

No. 20 and No. 37—Students who are ready for romantic music would like these pieces.

No.12—This is a pleasant introduction to octaves. My young student, Stephan, plays very well, but he has small hands. He loved this example, playing it faster and faster. He now can play pieces with octaves.

No. 49 (Pastorale)—Trains the left hand to be soft; especially if you have a tape recorder. The middle section is pure drama, and it was especially so until we discovered that the LeDuc and the Erdely editions have a big mistake in the 9th measure: The A flat should be a B flat.

No. 67 (Alla Zoppa a Contretems)—Turns a “C” scale with C, G, and D chords into a piece of sublime, tender beauty. How was this done?

No. 69 (Toccata)—There was another student, a young teen age girl, with no experience of classical music, who had been studying with me for one or two months, who insisted on trying to learn the “Toccata”. She would sit at a piano in the Fiat store, totally focused on it, trying to figuring out that piece.

I could go on forever, but I will stop this part for now.

Riboni: “How did you choose the pieces included in your recording?”

That is a difficult question. I had wanted to play all of the pieces, but it was important that each piece be shown to best advantage, and that the CD not be too long. As it is, this CD probably has more tracks (67) than any CD that I know of. Some of the pieces towards the end are quite difficult, such as “No. 80,” “No. 81,” and “No. 85.” What was hardest of all was that I had first started preparing the recording in 2006, using the Erdely edition which has many errors. In about 2007, Goodwin Sammel found the original F. P. Ricci Dutch edition. I decided I had to re-record many of the pieces in order to correct the mistakes. Several of the pieces were impossible to repair, such as No. 68, so they are not included.

Even so, I will always be grateful to Beatrice Erdely and her edition for introducing me to the 100 Forte-Piano pieces of F. P. Ricci’s Recueil.

Giorgio Cappelli of Como has given an ideal performance on organ on the CD titled Francesco Pasquale Ricci Sacred Works Vol. 2 of “No. 76 Echo,” “No. 89 Siciliana,” “No. 96 Canone,” “No. 95 Elevazione,” and “No. 97 Fuga.”

Download a PDF of the Italian La Provincia article