Albert Fuller (1926–2007) in memoriam vitae bene peractæ et spiritus semper viventis (an article by Anthony Martin from “Early Music America Magazine,” Winter 2007, Latin courtesy of Otto Steinmayer)
Performer, teacher, conductor, thinker, catalyst, eloquent speaker and sympathetic listener, Albert Fuller was mentor, guide, and friend to the generations of students and colleagues he influenced and inspired and brought together. Among his many accomplishments was the creation of Aston Magna, where performers, artists, and scholars would work, play, and eat together—oh! the heavenly meals created by the virtuosi that Albert installed in the kitchen! One memorable summer there he brought forth the first performances and recordings in America of the complete Brandenburg Concertos. His Helicon Foundation will continue that multi-disciplinary exploration in New York. Albert taught at the Juilliard School for over forty years, seeking always to put technique and repertoire into a wider, humanistic context. Many who heeded him are now at the center of early music activities throughout America. His book on Alice Tully is also his own spiritual autobiography.
There is little I could add to Albert’s legacy, except to quote his own words, taken from various sources dating back to the beginning of our friendship. Most touching were his holiday letters, in which he shared his hopes and his fears, readings and poems that had excited him, and his feelings of love and connection with his worldwide family of friends. I hope this selection gives some idea of what moved Albert, who so moved us.
"We know where we have been: in high spirits, on a flight without always knowing where we will land and, with only a few and happily rare exceptions, in a collaborative effort characterized by kind words, hard effort and joyous feelings at the moment of performance." (1978)
"Our desire to contribute to the stylistic discernment of the various musical periods, and hence the true meaning of the music, is unique, strong and revelatory in new and unexpected ways. That you can share this adventure with us is a source of the deepest satisfaction of comradeship in the feelings of which all artistic works are the metaphors." (1978)
"In these hard times I feel that adding anything of good, even whatever little drop we may have of our good feelings and our benevolent aims, adding that to the rampant evil such as the confrontation of nuclear war, is a valuable thing." (1982)
"The love that we all share has been the real glue of our work together. The musical products of that work are themselves the testimony of the power of exercising that love. In addition many other facets of our lives have been illuminated by the brightness of all that loving effort together." (1983)
"To Aston Magna’s musicians as well as to those spiritually close to them, there was an underlying dynamic focus to the effort that was more important than the aural exoticism [of “original instruments”], a focus that was not so apparent to a large segment of the public nor even to many close to the foundation’s support. That was the feeling of newness of discovery or better, re-discovery, that attached itself to each performance. This new feeling derived not so much from the simple exercise of the “original instruments” themselves; rather, and more importantly, the instruments, as the true starting line, were the new tools that beckoned and prodded the players to exercise their art within a further and hitherto unsuspected spectrum of musical expressivity. This new territory was in effect the rediscovered chambers of psychological perceptions and emotional preoccupations of segments of our inherited past, of our own direct 17th- and 18th-century musical ancestors … Those who participated in this expansive growth of physical gestures and psychological conceptions formed into a network of musicians bonded and characterized by the intense camaraderie of initiation. Love for one another was fueled by the effort of new learning, and was fired on a regular basis by the excitement, the thrill, the frisson of participating, each with all, in the living performance results of the work." (1983)
"Although I can’t think of any time when I have been busier, nevertheless, it is almost 1991 and, boy, does that ever cause me to pause and to think over so many years of knowing people and working hard at what I love! I conclude that the work will be here long after I have departed hence and, thus, in the end it is the people who have shared what we love together that matters most to me." (1990)
"Gratitude is on my mind for all the musical experiences that continue to demonstrate the mysterious workings of the human spirit and heart, especially in the manner that only musical art can reveal." (1992)
"As we all hurtle toward the new millennium I suspect, I pray, I may know a little bit more than previously about what to do about each day." (1995)
"My 70th birthday isn’t a surprise; after all, you know I’ve been counting! Nevertheless, I can easily say that it’s the happiest birthday I have thus far celebrated. According to my parents, getting old was a drag. Not so here! I know more, I understand more and I love it more." (1996)
"My own problems over the past year have been far outweighed by the blessings of understanding and experience. In whatever the future brings I pray that our spirits may intertwine in some productive fashion to bring us all the measure of personal freedom that we can use for our benefit and that of our brothers and sisters." (1997)
"The cement that binds us together is our understanding that music holds an almost supreme place in our bodies, in our psyches and in our life’s study and work. What a great joy and comfort it is for each of us, and for those friends with whom we share the precious and unique understanding: the meaning of musical art!" (1998)
"I thank God, whoever she may be, that the Internet is really founded on the network of friendship that has held us all together." (1999)
“'Insanity is when we keep doing the same thing and go on expecting different results.' It turns out that, from my earliest years, this particular dictum has been the major reason for my growth in coming to terms with my own life, and for my success, if I may call it that, in being a teacher. Now, as an old geezer, I’m disappointed that I couldn’t have passed this idea on to more than I have." (2000)
"Sharing the heartfelt beauties of music and the other arts encourages me to continue to cling to my normally optimistic view: good finally triumphs over evil and mankind will one day fulfill the role to which all sages have always pointed us!" (2002)
"Now that the late century is behind us, I pray that each of us will do his/her part in attempting to 'calm the waters,' and pass the word and example of loving one another amongst us all, each in his own way. What else can an individual do except to offer one’s unique and individual energy in an attempt to steer the mass of humanity toward a truly creative and joyous existence?" (2003)
For Albert Fuller, music, the arts, and the sciences were all means to the end of uniting all human beings of the past, present, and future into one continuum of love and understanding. His faith in that project was the foundation of his life and work. Let us each endeavor to carry it on!