CV of Ralph Richey
The Ormond Hotel in Dublin, 1982 James Joyce: Music in the Novels and Poems
Sketch of Ralph Richey

James Joyce Quote
...luxuriotiating everywhence-
withersoever among skullhollows and charnelcysts of a weedwastewoldwevild when Ralph the Retriever ranges to jawrode his knuts knuckles and her theas thighs...
James Joyce Unquote

[ Finnegans Wake ]

The Pianist

It may be a sign of progress that everyone has become a specialist in something these days; and that the very concept of "polymath" now seems quaint and remote from ordinary contemporary experience. This trend applies as much to musicianship as to any other profession. A good many musicians know one thing exceedingly well — their music — and not much else. Ralph Richey is the exception that proves the rule. As one half of the performing duo featured on the CD Music from the Works of James Joyce, he enhances the programme not just with his virtuosity at the keyboard but also with the breadth and depth of his erudition outside the musical sphere.

Johannes de Perticis
Florentinus Faciebat Anno MDCLXXXIV


From the Ralph Richey collection
(on loan to R.K. Lee)

While compact, this instrument is very successful musically and is pitched in brass wire at A=385 Hz. It is not shown in any Franciolini catalog but is typical of his work. The crudely executed repairs have been replaced by reproductions of the original design. The crude Franciolini rose in the soundboard has been retained as a document of his work (the original may have been taken by Franciolini for his own collection). An identical instrument in Göteborg has a rose that is the same as one found in an octave virginals in the Stearns Collection (Ann Arbor). This 1684 instrument was restored by R.K. Lee, with detailed data collected then and full-sized plans made by stereophotogrammetry.

Of course, when it comes to music he has always been a scholar's scholar. Not just a performer, Ralph is also an accomplished composer, arranger, librettist, lecturer, and teacher. In addition, he is a collector of historical instruments, such as the 1684 virginals shown to the right. Other notable instruments in his collection include:

  • a Clementi six-octave grand piano, ca. 1812;
  • a Viennese grand piano by D. Knierer, ca. 1850; and
  • a 1867 Chickering concert grand, identical to one in the Lincoln White House (donated to the Paramount Performing Arts Association)

Ralph has played concerts on original instruments at the Huntington Galleries, the Boston Museum of Fine Arts, and Sanders Theater in Cambridge, among others, and he has taught master classes on early pianos at Harvard, the New England Conservatory, and Concordia University in Montréal. He also performed live on WGBH national radio playing a copy of a Stein fortepiano made by Frank Hubbard.

Theatrical productions in which he has been involved are almost too numerous to mention. Most recently, in February 2004, he served as musical director at the Folkwang Musikhochschule in Essen for a production of the Ernst Krenek1 opera Der Diktator (1928), a dramatic satire on the rise of fascism in Italy.

Ralph has written and directed stage plays, he is fluent in German, and his myriad interests embrace the minutiae of classical Roman architecture, spelunking, marine paleontology and, needless to mention, the works of James Joyce.

Of Ginger Rogers someone2 once remarked that she did everything Fred Astaire did — except backwards and in high heels. Much the same can be said of accompanists, who often play second fiddle (so to speak) to the singer. Yet to do a proper job of it, the accompanist has to be a finished, complete pianist who can do anything that is required on the instrument; be capable of making first-rate music as a soloist; and then have the knack of knowing exactly what the singer is going to do a split second before he or she does it.

In any collaboration between tenor and piano, it is typical for the voice to garner the lion's share of attention. Yet because of the wide-ranging quality of scholarship and skill that Ralph brings to the Joyce Music concert, his contribution elevates a great performance by Kevin McDermott into the realm of the exceptional. He knows the music inside and out, appreciates and is able to convey in his playing the theatrical nuances inherent in the songs, and understands as well as Kevin does the literary and historical context in which they should be presented.

Ralph is an indefatigable researcher, and he continues to provide advice, guidance, scholarship, and material for this project. He is currently working closely with Kevin to develop a new programme of songs for a planned second volume of "Music from the Works of James Joyce."

To read more about Ralph Richey's background and career as a pianist and musician, be sure to visit his professional c.v. page.

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1German-Czech composer Ernst Krenek (1900-1991) was a polymath humanist with multifaceted gifts, whose extensive output reflects a diverse range of genres, styles, and trends. Working in every major idiom, from neo-romantic to atonal to jazz, he represents a "one-man history of twentieth-century music." His known compositions number 242, including 20 operas, for most of which he wrote the words himself. The Third Reich did not look kindly upon his œuvre, and he emigrated to the U.S. in 1938. As an interesting aside, see the two-part essay in Andante by Edith Eisler, "Under the Iron Heel," about the Nazi suppression of the "degenerate" music of Krenek and others.   (part 1 | part 2).

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2Quote attributed variously to Ginger Rogers herself; former US ambassador to Switzerland Faith Whittlesey; and cartoonist Bob Thaves, creator of Frank and Ernest.
Frank & Ernest Cartoon by Bob Thaves

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