Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Albert Fuller and Hugues Cuenod

The legendary Swiss tenor Hugues Cuenod died on Friday (Dec. 3rd). I've posted a reminiscence on my blog, but wanted to add some photos of Albert and Huguie here, as well as some words about Huguie by Albert. The photos are either from Huguie's archive, or pictures I took when Albert and I visited Huguie in Morges in 2002 - the Cuenod centenary. Words are from the Translator's Note of Hugues Cuenod with an Agile Voice: Conversations with Francois Hudry, which Albert translated from the French in 1999. 

But first these words about Albert by Huguie, in the fifth of the conversations with Hudry:

The harpsichordist Albert one of my best friends. He is the most French of Americans. He knows Rameau and Lully at the ends of his fingers and lives his life constantly in the culture and the spirit of France. He used to load his harpsichord in a large station wagon and we crossed the country giving numerous concerts in many little and some large American cities. He is a very funny friend with whom I've enjoyed many amusing hours.


(AF) I first heard the riveting voice of Hugues Cuenod in New York in 1945; it was borne to my ear by the 1938 Parisian recording of Francois Couperin's Troisieme Lecon de Tenebres of 1714; it was also my introduction to the vocal works of Couperin. That combination of voice and composer remains to this day one of the unique pinnacles of my experience as a musician. The enduring power of Jeremiah's ancient, finger-wagging words, combined with the communicative musical power of Grand Siecle French classicism, was shocking in the extreme, perhaps especially because the entire experience opened a new door of expression, one I never knew existed.

As a graduate student at Yale in the early 1950s, I purchased Cuenod's Westminster recording of all three of Couperin's magnificent Lecons. These performances...bowled me over once again by their uncanny intensity. And then, Cuenod's bio on the jacket contained a striking sentence of hitherto unconsidered thought, at least by me. It read "Mr. Cuenod explains his artistic goal in these words: 'Though I earn my living by music I am not a professional who thinks primarily of business. I prefer the Epicurean way, to choose what is most interesting and musically rewarding.'" [Italics AF]


Well--this particular, and very personal idea so touched me that I began to understand how it resonated with my own still-green, graduate-student heart. Yet, I hadn't the slightest notion of how to realize such an ambition, or of even quite comprehending what his words had meant. As each of our lives represents in its own way a straight line, beginning with hindsight, it seems clear that the lines of Cuenod's and my life should one day intersect, at least professionally. 

When that happened, it was also clear that we were to become friends, and later, when we toured together as a duo, it was even clearer that our spirits meshed when we were most vulnerable as artists, that is, when we performed together in public. Neither of us did anything the same way twice. Since my part of our performances was all improvised, I could mirror the smallest new ideas that his performance would suggest to me. On the other hand, he, hearing everything I did, was always receptive to the new hints of interpretation that my accompaniments might suggest. Performing thus with him before our various publics resulted in the greatest musical fun, and transports de joie I ever experienced; my memory of that is as strong today as ever.

Albert at Huguie's 100th birthday party, Theatre de Vevey, June 2002


Tuesday, August 25, 2009

EMA laureate Stan Ritchie's remarks on Albert Fuller

Stan Ritchie
Anthony Martin writes: 

Dear Paul, 

I read with interest the acceptance speech of Stan Ritchie for an award from EMA and thought part of it (actually, much of it) should be on your AF blog. 

Keep me posted!


Stanley Ritchie received the Howard Mayer Brown Award for lifetime achievement in the field of early music at the EMA Annual Meeting in Boston on June 12, 2009. Mr. Ritchie, a pioneer in the early music field in America, has been a professor at Indiana University since 1982. 
I’m deeply honoured to be standing before you today as recipient of the Howard Mayer Brown  Award and grateful to the Early Music America board of directors for having chosen me. I’m  told that Howard’s last words, when stricken by a fatal heart attack, were “Don’t worry – this  always happens!” Well, this doesn’t always happen to me! Indeed, this is the first time anything  like this has ever happened, and so, when I received the call from Ron Cook informing me of  the EMA board’s decision I was stunned.  

I also feel humbled because I’m really sharing this honour with the hundreds of young people  whom I have taught at Indiana University, the many colleagues in the world of Early Music with  whom I have been associated in the past four decades, and two very special people who  changed the course of my life. I have learned so much from all of these people, and in accepting this award I am their representative.

The two people to whom must pay tribute today are, in inverse chronological order, Thomas  Binkley and Albert Fuller, both of them visionary leaders in the world of Early Music. When  Tom Binkley wrote to Elisabeth Wright and me in 1982 to ask if we’d like to join the fledgling  Early Music faculty at Indiana University, I remember him saying, “If it can happen anywhere in  this country, it will be at IU.” Remarkable visionary and shrewd politician that he was, Tom  overcame numerous bureaucratic obstacles to create the Early Music Institute, and our  membership in its faculty for the past twenty-seven years has enabled us to work with gifted  and talented students, many of whom are now among America’s foremost Early Music  performers.

(Parenthetically, Elisabeth and I often reflect wryly on how successful we’ve been at creating  our own competition!)

It can often happen that an innocent question is the cause of a significant turning point in one’s  life. In the 1970-71 season, after escaping from the Metropolitan Opera, I joined The New York  Chamber Soloists, a modern-instrument ensemble, whose harpsichordist was Albert Fuller.  One day I mentioned to Albert that I’d like to learn more about Baroque music, and asked him  if we could get together sometime and read some sonatas. No New York freelance violinist  had ever said such a thing to Albert and he grabbed me and said, “When?” During our first  reading session he said, “You know what they’re doing in Europe now?” I said, “What are they  doing?” He said, “They’re tuning their instruments down a half-step and using gut strings and  old bows.” I said, “Why on earth would they want to do a thing like that?” And he said, “Well,  why don’t you try tuning down and find out?” Naturally, tuning a modern, steel-strung violin  down half a tone does not produce the most convincing result, but neither did a recording of  Leonhardt and the Kuijken brothers playing Rameau! Mine was a typical modern violinist’s  reaction: I said, “That doesn’t sound like a violin! It’s like some sort of viol!” However, Albert  was a very persuasive man, and soon I had had an old Tyrolean violin reconverted to Baroque  specifications and a copy made of an old bow and was on my way to becoming a Baroque  fiddler.

Albert Fuller was a remarkable man: an excellent keyboard player, a dedicated humanist, a  fascinating raconteur and a gifted teacher. One of the aspects of his teaching that inspires me  is something he frequently alluded to – he would refer to his teaching as “sharing”. For those of  us who were privileged to work with him there was never a sense of being talked down to, or  criticized for one’s shortcomings, but that he was sharing his ideas and experience and that he  was encouraging us to be ourselves. I try to emulate him in these respects, and he remains my  mentor. 

The late cellist and gambist, Fortunato (Freddy) Arico, and I teamed up with Albert and started  playing concerts in the New York area. Once in the summer of 1972 we played for an elite  audience in western Massachusetts on a property named Aston Magna. That evening the idea  of having a Baroque music workshop on the property was proposed, and the following summer  Aston Magna, the workshop, festival and, subsequently, academy was launched. 

In a very real sense, we, together with other members of the original Aston Magna family such  as Ray Ericson, Steve Hammer, Bernie Krainis, Judy Linsenberg, Anthony Martin, David Miller,  Loretta O’Sullivan, Ed Parmentier, Linda Quan, Jim Richman, Marc Schachman, John Solum,  Mike Willens and Nancy Wilson, and others across the country such as the Caldwells and their  colleagues in Oberlin, Malcolm Bilson, Sonya Monosoff and John Hsu at Cornell, Jim Weaver  at the Smithsonian, Alan Curtis and Laurette Goldberg in California, were “pioneers” in the new  field of Early Music in this country. The OED definition of pioneers is “foot soldiers”, specifically  those whose job it is to go ahead of the main body of troops to dig trenches and erect  fortifications, etc. We - pioneers all - motivated solely by curiosity about early versions of our  instruments and by dissatisfaction with traditional approaches to Baroque music (since there  was at the time no money to be made in this country playing the way we did!) following in the  footsteps of an earlier generation, broke new ground and paved the way for the army that has  followed.

Inasmuch as this is a Handel year, I would point out that, in a way, BEMF and our being here  together this afternoon, four decades after the birth of the Early Music movement in America  as we know it, symbolize Il trionfo del Tempo e del Disinganno, which means literally “the  triumph of time and disillusionment”. What we in America, and others throughout the world,  have managed to achieve in the past forty years is a reshaping of musical taste that has  resonated throughout our profession. Back in the seventies, those wonderful, exciting early  years of our at times tentative, and yet always enthusiastic exploration of the world of  Historically Informed Performance, and the bad old days of New York Times music reviews,  one of their critics snidely predicted, “This, too, shall pass.” Well, was he ever wrong! Whoever  it was who said that must be so disillusioned! Forty years later we’re still here, we’re here to  stay and we’re triumphant. This shall never pass! 

Thank you, EMA, for the honour you have conferred upon me today. This is a very special  moment, and this period in my life is very special for another reason as well – not two weeks  ago I became a grandfather for the first time!  But besides that, now that some of my ex-  students are also teaching, I‘m a musical grandfather as well! And I’m very proud to be both.     

Monday, June 8, 2009

The Legendary First Aston Magna Group Photo

Aston Magna, June 1973 (click pic for larger image)

Courtesy of Anthony Martin, who writes:

Dear Paul, this might be worthy of posting, so that we can get corrective ID’s on the folks I have misremembered or misrepresented. This is from June 1973 after the two-week debauch that was the beginning of Aston Magna. Missing from the photo, among others, Michael McCraw.

[Editor's note: if you have an ID correction, please email me at paulfesta at gmail dot com and I'll update this post.]

Seated in front, left to right:
Deborah Robin
Frances Fitch
Ross Keiser
Mary Wyly
Jane McMahan

Next row, standing:
Nina Stern
James Wyly
Ray Erickson
David Behnke
Hannah Rose
Paula Stone
Judy Linsenberg
Anne Hornbostel
Jane Eston
Randee Berman

Next row, standing
Anthony Martin
Stanley Ritchie
Jay Bernfeld
Leland Tolo
Jaap Schroeder
Albert Fuller
Bernard Krainis
Robert Dunbar

Standing in doorway:
Edward Parmentier
Emily Romney
John Metz

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

The young Albert Fuller in the Washington National Cathedral

Albert Fuller as the angel with flaming feet in John de Rosen's mural 
in the Washington National Cathedral's Chapel of St. Joseph of Arimathea:
"The Entombment of Christ" (photo credit: Moon)

Oct. 31 brought the Washington, DC premiere of Apparition of the Eternal Church, the Messiaen film of which Albert is both star and muse. The following day, I played, with pianist Jerome Lowenthal, the DC premiere of Messiaen's newly published violin and piano Fantaisie along with the other two Messiaen violin pieces - and since all three are short, Jerry and I filled out our hour in the Coolidge Auditorium with ten minutes of his giving a kind of Peter and the Wolf lecture-performance of "The Loriod" from the Bird Catalogue, and my reading from my book based on the film (thus also starring Albert) OH MY GOD: Messiaen in the Ear of the Unbeliever

Because I played the recital on a Library of Congress violin (the "Betts" Stradivarius), I needed to be in DC a few days before the concert to get to know the instrument. I had enough spare time to tour around the city with friends who live there, and the three of us spent one afternoon at the Washington National Cathedral. That's where Albert was a boy soprano and discovered the organ, his "first instrument," within whose swell box he would have, as a young boy, the formative erotic experience he describes so gracefully both in the movie and in his memoir Alice Tully: An Intimate Portrait. The Bishop's Garden of the cathedral is where Albert's ashes are scattered, and so my visit was more of a religious experience than I usually associate with going to church. 

What I'd forgotten about until we got to the cathedral was the presence there of a mural Albert modeled for when he was in high school. Described on page 48 of OH MY GOD, the mural is called "The Entombment of Christ" and features an angel with flaming feet, for whom Albert was the 16 year-old model (an irony he later noted, given his struggle with peripheral neuropathy). The library had sent me xerox images of the mural, but my friend Moon took the above picture, which gives a much better idea of the work. 

Also wonderful to see St. Alban's School, the setting of so many Albert stories, and the Church of the Ascension and St. Agnes, where Albert got fired from his last organ job for playing "oriental and barbaric music" during a service (Bach's chorale prelude "Oh man, now weep for thy great sin").

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Albert Fuller in the Washington National Cathedral

The executors of Albert's estate generously gave me Albert's framed program from his 1950 organ recital in the Washington National Cathedral, in which he gave one of the very first US performances of Messiaen's Ascension Suite. Below find an image of that program, preceded (above this text and below it) by some illustrated background from the just completed second edition of my book OH MY GOD: Messiaen in the Ear of the Unbeliever, which is based on my film Apparition of the Eternal Church, of which Albert is both star and muse.

As usual, remember to click on these images to get a larger and more legible version. Also, the director's commentary at the bottom of page 39, above, continues onto page 40, which isn't included in this blog post. Last, if you're in Dallas, Chicago, Sackville (New Brunswick), Austin, Concord, Washington D.C., Phoenix or London, check this page for screenings between now and the December 10th Messiaen centenary.

Saturday, August 30, 2008

Albert's movie at Library of Congress, the Barbican and beyond

Albert onscreen in New York, accompanied by Bill Trafka at the organ, at St. Bartholomew's Church in February

Apparition of the Eternal Church, the Messiaen film of which Albert is both muse and star, will screen throughout the U.S and twice in Europe between now and what would have been Messiaen's 100th birthday, on December 10th. I'll be attending most of these shows, so if you catch one please be sure to introduce yourself - one of the best things about touring with this film has been meeting other friends and former students of Albert's.

I'm especially excited about this tour because it will take the film to Washington, D.C. That's where Albert gave his early Messiaen premieres in 1950, at the National Cathedral, and it was in the National Cathedral that he had the formative musical and erotic experiences that contribute so vividly both to the film and to his Alice Tully book. I was grateful Albert lived to see the film's New York premiere at St. Bart's in November 2006, but boy do I wish he could have seen it screen at the Library of Congress. Hot shit on toast, honey. That's really wild.

Friday, September 5, 2008, 9 p.m.
Rome premiere of Apparition of the Eternal Church
Rome International Film Festival (one of the finest emerging film festivals in the southeastern United States)
The Clocktower, 2 Government Plaza
Rome, GA
$7.50 general admission
NB - I will not be attending this screening

Friday, September 26, 2008, time TBA
Norway premiere of Apparition of the Eternal Church
With live organ accompaniment
Cinemateket Trondheim
Vår Frue Kirke (The Church of Our Lady)
Free admission

Friday, September 26, 2008, 1 - 3 p.m.
Texas premiere of Apparition of the Eternal Church, with Q&A/reading/remarks
Southern Methodist University symposium "Olivier Messiaen: The Musician as Theologian"
Smith Auditorium, Meadows Museum, 5900 Bishop Blvd.
$15 general admission or $5 for students (contact or 214-768-3515 for more information)

October (dates, times and admission TBA)
Loyola University Museum of Art
820 North Michigan Avenue

Monday, October 4, 2008, 11:15 a.m.
Illinois premiere of Apparition of the Eternal Church, with Q&A
University of Chicago Presents 2008 Messiaen Festival
The Franke Institute for the Humanities
1100 East 57th Street, JRL S-102
Free admission

Friday, October 8, 2008, 7 p.m.
Screening of Apparition of the Eternal Church
With live organ accompaniment, Q&A/reading/remarks
Saint James Cathedral
Wabash and Huron
Free admission

Monday, October 20, 2008, time TBA
Austin premiere of Apparition of the Eternal Church, Q&A/reading/remarks
Texas premiere of Messiaen's Fantaisie for violin and piano (pianist TBA)
University of Texas at Austin
Venue and admission TBA

Friday, October 31, 2008, 8 p.m.
Washington, D.C., premiere of Apparition of the Eternal Church
Library of Congress
Mary Pickford Theater

James Madison Building, 3rd floor
Independence Ave SE, between 1st & 2nd Streets
Free admission; reservations required

NB: (from the LOC website) RESERVATIONS may be made by phone, beginning one week before any given show. Call (202) 707-5677 during business hours (Monday-Friday, 9:00 am to 4:00 pm). Reserved seats must be claimed at least 10 minutes before showtime, after which standbys will be admitted to unclaimed seats. All programs are free, but seating is limited to 60 seats.

Saturday, November 1, 2008, 6 p.m.
Washington, D.C., premiere of Messiaen's Fantaisie for violin and piano, with Jerome Lowenthal, piano
Remarks about the Fantaisie, Messiaen, and Apparition of the Eternal Church; reading from OH MY GOD: Messiaen in the Ear of the Unbeliever
Fantaisie performed on a violin from the Collections of Musical Instruments
Library of Congress
The Coolidge Auditorium
10 1st St, SE
Washington, DC
Free admission

Monday, November 10, 2008, 7:30 p.m.
Arizona premiere of Apparition of the Eternal Church
Beyond Messiaen
Arizona State University
Frank Lloyd Wright's Grady Gammage Memorial Auditorium
1200 S Forest Ave
Tempe, Arizona
Free admission

Monday, December 8, 2008, 5:45 p.m.
U.K. premiere of Apparition of the Eternal Church
In conjunction with the Barbican Centre's 7:30 p.m. BBC Symphony Orchestra concert featuring Messiaen's rarely performed Un sourire
The Barbican Centre
Cinema Three
Silk Street
NB: My appearance at this appearance is uncertain.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Aston Magna tribute to AF

Aston Magna, the music festival in the Berkshires that Albert founded, posted this tribute to him along with the photograph above (with Jaap Schroeder, Fortunato Arico, and Stanley Ritchie).