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3 Tributes to Albert Fuller

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Celebrating the Life of an Extraordinary Musician

Albert Fuller with Aymeric Dupré LaTour, a doctoral candidate in harpsichord, in 2006. (Photo by Peter Schaaf)

 

Barbara Bogatin: The Big Picture, and the Most Essential Truth—That Was Albert

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It’s amazing how many people who had the great pleasure of working with Albert consider him not just teacher, but mentor. Yes, he was an “early-music specialist,” but what he taught was all of music, and not just how to play with others, but how to play with life. To be caught up in his world was to look deep inside the music, to get “the shivers,” to meet an extravagantly colorful cast of characters, to read and think and laugh, and to eat and drink very well. What a stroke of luck to find Albert early in my Juilliard years, when he was just forming Aston Magna, and eager to recruit interested students to come to Great Barrington, exchange our steel strings for gut, and try out his Baroque bows. I spent eight summers there, learning that music is not in a world by itself, but integrally connected to the art, architecture, literature, dance, and historical context of its time. In that musical and scholarly community that he created, we learned to make spaces between the notes, relish the symmetry in the gardens of Versailles, and dance the sarabande.

But it was all of life that Albert cared about, and I find his wisdom so relevant today as I try to guide my own children and students. At a time when I was feeling particularly lost, struggling to find my place in the daunting professional world, I saw Albert dining alone in a café on Columbus Avenue. He waved me in, bought me lunch, and at once tried to sort out my confusion. He told me to “make a list of everything you want to accomplish in the next year … then in the next 5 years … then 10  … then 20 … and now listen to that still, quiet voice inside that’s connected to your heart and your gut, and let it guide you …” The big picture, and the most essential truth—that was Albert.

He once told me that he loved museums because if he got very quiet and looked at great art for a long time, the paintings spoke to him. I had no idea what he meant at the time, but 30 years later, a quiet hour in a museum fills me with a calm joy. So take a few minutes out of your busy day, sit down somewhere, just be still, and listen very carefully—you just might hear, way in the distant heavens, Les Sauvages played on Baroque harp.

Barbara Bogatin (B.M. ’74, M.M. ’75, cello)
Cellist, San Francisco Symphony

 

James Roe: Albert's Very Life Was a Class in Style, and His Style Was in a Class by Itself

I met Albert Fuller at Juilliard in 1990 as a student in his graduate seminar, “Performance Problems in 18th-Century Music,” which he affectionately referred to as his Style Class. Anyone who spent any time with Albert knew that his very life was a class in style, and his style was in a class by itself.
His seminar didn’t follow the usual or expected linear format—usual, expected, and linear were never his abiding interests—rather it wended its way, equal parts Socratic and rhapsodic, through issues important to him: the power of self expression, the development of an individual voice, and the recognition of historical music’s vernacular power. This last point energized his exploration of period performance practice; the stripping away of layers of interpretive build-up on centuries-old music could reveal audacious power in the original.

Visiting Albert one day, he handed me a nearly blank piece of paper and asked, “What do you think of my new final exam?”  On it was only one question: “What have you learned from this class during the year?” Recently, I found a file full of exam answers from 1998. Reading them, I was struck at the intimacy of the responses and the touching picture they painted of Albert as a teacher. Here are three excerpts:

You didn’t once say, “You must agree with this interpretation,” you said, “this moved me, does it move you?” In the past, I would pick up a new piece and look for the hardest lick, now I think, “Why did the composer write this? And what does it mean?”  You got me to confront getting on stage and saying something outrageous, something dark, something much more wild than the audience expects. This class made me want to stop being a student and start being an artist.

I think this class should be required for all Juilliard students. Everyone knows about music history and theory, but so few musicians know about themselves.

I grew up in Communist China and was taught early on to think like everyone else and to play the violin like everyone else. But you asked me to become the artist of my own life and to listen to my own heart. When I walked out of Juilliard after your class, I felt the sun shining on my face for the first time in my life.

Over the next months and years, while considering what you learned from Albert’s class and from his style, don’t give much heed to self-doubt, do not censor yourself. Remember, fantasy precedes fact, and your most precious possession is your own creativity.

James Roe (M.M. ’92, oboe)
Artistic Director, The Helicon Foundation

Andrew Appel: For Albert, Life Was About Interaction. Music Was About Interaction

I first heard Albert Fuller in a recital of French harpsichord music (he was a pioneer in the repertoire) at Hunter College in 1967. A series of concerts by the world’s leading players presented him alongside Gustav Leonhardt and a few other American colleagues.  I was 16 and from his first notes I was seduced by vitality and luxury. I thought, “I want to do that!”

When I returned to New York from studies abroad in 1973, my route was to Juilliard and to Fuller’s studio. Albert asked me to meet him for tea at his apartment, which was then on West 54th Street. I arrived with the attitude of a boy who had moved through the disciplined and socially structured world of a European conservatory. I had never addressed a professor by his first name. The boundaries were clear, the education wonderful and focused.

I rang Mr. Fuller’s bell and was dumbstruck when he opened the door wearing only his white underwear. Just out of the shower, he ushered me in to the living room and asked me to wait, to look around, to play his harpsichord.

That evening he invited me to join friends after one of his concerts and introduced me to Szechuan cuisine at Sheila Chang’s, one of the city’s best Chinese restaurants. From that moment on, encounters, lessons, voyages with Albert always introduced and challenged. He demanded reaction and he gave catalyst, he required balance but offered constant opportunities for growth. Life was about interaction. Music was about interaction and needed to elicit a reaction from the listener. Short of that, our performances were banal, roughage, waste.

He moved me away from over-sophistication and inaudible subtlety in my playing yet invited me to events where I could drink fine Champagne and look at Rembrandts and Monets. He helped teach me that the experience of golden and precious art must be married to our experience of being animals, natural, primal. He showed me how to talk to an audience about the most distant aesthetics and moments in history without ever insulting them with condescension. He taught me that the glass of Champagne and the Rembrandt were to be there for everyone and that it was our mission to make this possible, to open hearts and minds and opportunities.

It may be the case that even before I began my work with Albert, I was this type of musician and person. It may be that Albert and I found each other and coincided in a way that will always make me feel filial gratitude and love, and with his loss, a large open space that can never be filled. But ask his other students. Ask the harpsichordists from James Richman and Ray Erikson to Charlotte Mattox. Ask the instrumentalists who worked with him in those early adventures into repertoire and instruments (gut strings and light old bows, wooden flutes and early oboes) like Ryan Brown, Linda Quan, David Miller. Ask the singers who enjoyed the cantatas and arias worked out together. 

Albert left a trail of committed, inspired, intelligent, engaged artists and for each of them, Albert Fuller represents a moment or many moments of light.

Before he died, I went to visit Albert on his deathbed, hospice care in place at home, and cared for by two dedicated and loving friends, Patrick Rucker and Jim Rowe. It was painful to see a man of his vitality no longer in life. I held both of Albert’s hands and hoped that he could feel that the blood running through him also ran through me. I hoped that I would continue, if not nearly as well, the work he did so beautifully and generously in his life. And then I noticed that he was wearing only his white underwear.

Andrew Appel (D.M.A. ’83, harpsichord)
Director, Four Nations Ensemble
Manager of Performing Arts, Wave Hill

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