For half a century, I have watched happy faces fall as they tell me how pleased thay are to meet me and how much they have enjoyed my recordings, my concerts, and even my books, and I tell them, I’m sorry, you’ve got the wrong Fuller. It happened easily, since we moved in many of the same circles, he was less than a year older, and I even played the harpsichord, sort of. In fact, that was how we met. It was 1953-4. I had come back from three years abroad and had developed enough curiosity about harpsichords to want to get one. Since I was knocking around Boston and Cambridge, I bought one of Hubbard & Dowd’s first four instruments, already second-hand, and joined the little club of which Thomas Dunn and Albert were the principals. Albert had just come through the hands of Ralph Kirkpatrick at Yale, and was willing to give me lessons (like him, I had begun as an organist). The setting of those lessons, spaced out informally over two or three summers, was one of the great shingle-style “cottages” at Manchester-by-the-Sea on Boston’s north shore, belonging to the brilliant and infinitely cultured Gregory Smith and his family, one of Albert’s very closest friends from his Washington days to Gregory’s death. I never spent more than a night or two there for my lessons, but those visits were non-stop party-time with non-stop music. Albert, who spent summers there, christened it “Nerve-Ending-by-the-Sea,” exactly right for bunches of high-powered people living on the edge. He was the Smiths’ window onto the world of professional music, to which in those days their social position decreed that they must ever remain fascinated outsiders. Albert was then playing on and off with the New York Chamber Soloists, and I remember one party that culminated in a couple of Brandenberg Concertos in the living room with both Albert and Tom at their harpsichords (which normally lived in a sort of conservatory they called the “tile pile”), the orchestra, and invited guests. No matter whom the house-guest list included during my visits, it was clear that that it was from Albert that the fun and the life radiated.
This capacity to illuminate whatever he touched reached its culmination in the enterprise that he called “Aston Magna,” after the Berkshire estate of Lee Elman where it began in 1972. An idea of its pioneering importance in the period-instrument movement in this country can be had from the article in The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians (2001). I knew it for the interdisciplinary Academy it spawned in 1978, and at which I lectured on aspects of French harpsichord music in 1979, 1980, and 1982. Why French? Because I had been sufficiently ravished by Albert’s playing of this elegant and elusive music in the old days at Nerve-Ending to make it my career and write my dissertation and a great deal more besides on it—and to dedicate an edtion of music by Armand-Louis Couperin to him (A-R Editions. 1975, and still in print!). The original mix of disciplines and outlooks at Aston Magna was enormously stimulating, but what was so peculiarly “Albert” about life there was the cooking. He managed to find chefs who could turn out three meals a day for weeks, each one different and each one sensational, and this for dozens of people in an institutional setting. He was a first-class cook himself, by the way, and developed a particularly violent passion for Chinese food, becoming a close friend of the New York restaurateur Sheila Chang and even learning a bit of restaurant Chinese to use with waiters. I had a lot of this cooking, since for years I used his apartments at 162 W 54th St. and 27 W 67th St. as my New York hotels. In 1968, I stayed with him a few days in a rented house in Fire Island Pines, whither he had brought a clavichord on which to prepare his recording of Bach’s E-minor partita. I shall never again be able to hear that toccata without the remembered sound of the surf almost drowning out the whisper of the clavichord.
The reader who would like to experience something of the rich, enveloping personality of this extraordinary man can find it reflected in a remarkable and engaging way in his memoir of Alice Tully (Urbana and Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 1999). For the sake of his memory I hope that it, too, is still in print.
David Fuller (no relation), September 23, 2007.