A revered artist in his maturity, Ruggiero Ricci survived a troublesome custody battle in his childhood to emerge a prodigy of remarkable gifts. Ricci steadily outgrew the child wonder label to go beyond technical security to a more probing brand of musicianship. Although his once suave, sensuous tone roughened somewhat once he was past his middle years, he kept his sense of inquiry, continuing to espouse the cause of new music and proving his expertise as a teacher at several American universities.
Born to parents who valued music despite their modest means, Ricci showed evidence of talent in his childhood. His father, an amateur trombonist, arranged an audition with Louis Persinger, Yehudi Menuhin's patient teacher; Persinger referred the father and son to Mary Elizabeth Lackey for beginning instruction. In November 1928, Ricci's father signed an agreement giving Lackey guardianship. That same year, the young lad made his debut in San Francisco performing Mendelssohn's violin concerto, wresting from critics extravagant words of praise. The phenomenon was repeated in New York in October of the next year in a concert where he performed the same work with the Manhattan Symphony. Samuel Chotzinoff was moved to write of "a technical mastery of the violin and a genius for interpretation which place him in a class with a handful of great living violinists." A New York recital the following month called forth yet another volley of superlatives.
In 1930, Ricci's parents sought to regain guardianship, entangling the 11-year-old in a protracted court process. The strain manifested itself in Ricci's playing, which, for a time, veered from the course of technical proficiency shown earlier. Once he was again in his parents' custody, his playing regained its former assurance and an increasing depth of musicianship was also observed. No doubt he had benefited from studies with the German violinist Georg Kulenkampff. Ricci's first European tour in 1932 included London, Paris, Berlin, Rome, and Vienna and drew attentive audiences including Gerhart Hauptmann and Albert Einstein in Berlin.
Ricci's return to concert activity in the United States came with a November 24, 1934, recital at Carnegie Hall. On the basis of that appearance, several critics pronounced Ricci as having fully recovered from his period of technical and interpretive difficulties. Further studies with Paul Stassevitch and Louis Persinger resulted in a still more penetrating approach to the music he chose to perform. By 1939, The New York Times reviewed his February 25 recital by confirming "Mr. Ricci now gives of a more healthy approach to his music."
Following his youthful days, Ricci presented concerts in many of the world's most important music centers, premiering several concertos (Ginastera and von Einem among them) and remaining an active presence on the concert stage into his seventies and beyond. In 1957, he undertook his first world tour and has also traveled on several extensive concert tours in the former Soviet Union. In addition to his concert career, Ricci's teaching activities included positions at Indiana University, the Juilliard School of Music, and the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor; these three positions alone occupied him, in succession, from 1970 to 1988. The Salzburg Mozarteum honored him by appointing him to a guest professorship in 1989. A prolific visitor to the recording studio, Ricci assembled a lengthy discography, much of it documenting the breadth of his musical interests and including several discs devoted to works by Paganini. Ruggiero Ricci died at his home in Palm Springs, California, in August 2012 at the age of 94.