Albert Fuller, who died on September 22 at the age of 81, was a great and unique artist and human being. His love of life, music, people, cuisine, champagne, Bach, Monteverdi, Schubert, Cole Porter, Noel Coward—you name it—knew no bounds. He was an extraordinary teacher of all that was important in life. Those of us lucky enough to come into his world and share in his friendship found countless new ways to better enjoy our lives, our art, and ourselves. By extraordinary personal example, Albert showed us how truly life-enhancing our gift of music could be.
I met him in 1961—can it be nearly half a century ago?—at the Spoleto Festival in Italy. Throughout the ’60s, ’70s, and ’80s, I sang in myriad concerts with Albert at the helm. I will never forget the glorious operatic performances he arranged and conducted at Juilliard. Of these, a stunning Rameau Platée, radiantly sung by then student Barbara Hendricks under Albert’s direction, is only one of many events that remain burned in my memory. His beautiful apartment on West 67th Street with the two-story living room was the scene of so many wondrous musical evenings. Pianos and harpsichords and viols and lutes were constantly coming in and out of the apartment as young performers took their places for yet another soirée musicale chez Albert.
Albert was born in Washington, D.C., on July 21, 1926. After earning a master degree from Yale in 1954, he joined the Juilliard faculty in 1964 and remained on it until last year, thereby touching hundreds of students with his sense of humor and wisdom. He had a great friendship with Alice Tully, who was in his home so often for dinners and concerts. Through him, young performers got to know and perform for this legendary lady in the most gracious and personal of ways. It was fitting that Albert was to be Alice’s affectionate and perceptive biographer.
In 1985 Albert founded the Helicon Foundation as a forum for intimate music making. Many Juilliard students were introduced to his vision through Helicon. Happily, this legacy continues now under the direction of Juilliard alum James Roe (M.M. ’92, oboe).
I’d like to end this tribute to Albert Fuller with these words from the distinguished British pianist Graham Johnson who, like me and so many others, was devoted to this wonderful man.
“Albert retained voracious interests in all aspects of music-making and he greeted those whom he regarded as talented with an openness of heart that will always be unforgettable. Like all great artists he was capable of being moody and self-absorbed, but he remained to the end someone who respected talent as an utterly sacred thing to be nurtured, helped, advised, and encouraged. He was one of the greatest teachers that I have ever known. After an evening in his company when he was in form, one could be lifted to another place. Whatever our problems, we were artists and part of a family that nothing could destroy. He made one feel part of a blessed community of kindred and supportive spirits.
"He treasured a signed portrait of Mae West that I bought for him after staying with him in 2000. Couperin and Aretha Franklin, Alice Tully and Mae West … that was our incomparably curious, incomparably iconoclastic Albert.”