Saturday, June 21, 2008

Tribute by harpsichordist Skip Sempé

LinkSkip Sempé

Pull Out for Handle – Push In for Mozart
Albert Fuller (1926 - 2007)

At the end of the day, and that day is sadly over, Albert Fuller was quite probably the essential American of the Baroque and Classical period instrument / repertoire movement. He died (as he lived) with dignity, at 81, in September 2007, at his New York residence - a home famous for both the music making and the social events which Albert hosted there for decades.

The New York Times obituary referred to Albert as a “Conductor”. Perhaps that is today’s idea of glamor and respectability. But, let’s remember that being a Conductor is a more or less effortless task next to being a Harpsichordist. The “distinction” from the New York Times is indeed a doubtful honor: Conductors are dime-a-dozen, but Harpsichordists are not. And, Albert Fuller was a harpsichordist, in the tradition of Landowska and Kirkpatrick.

I met him on Thursday, December 2, 1971, when I was living in New Orleans. He played a solo harpsichord recital on his William Dowd Boston (one of several that he owned over the years). The instrument flew, via air freight, with Albert for concerts all over the United States, and sometimes even to Europe. When I saw it being loaded back into the packing crate, I noticed a label on the side of the crate, which read “Pull Out for Handle”, next to which someone had hand written “Push In for Mozart”.

For this recital, Albert played Rameau, Couperin and Scarlatti. The result was that I decided that if I worked hard enough, I might one day be able to play those pieces with as much flair as he. Albert left a trace of all three of these composers on recordings: Rameau for Cambridge, Nonesuch, and Reference; Couperin for Nonesuch; Scarlatti for Cambridge and Reference. The Reference titles are currently available on CDs: there is also a Bach CD for Reference, which is not to be missed. If you have not heard these recordings, get a hold of each of them, have a good listen, and hear what was happening in America in the 1960s and 70s - the time when there was “only” Gustav Leonhardt, in Europe.

Albert taught and inspired many. His famous one-liner, “Fantasy precedes fact” particularly attracted those who did need to pose questions on this enlarged but real artistic concept.

Albert loved music and he loved his friends, and he did a remarkable job with both.

Albert engaged Jaap Schroeder to teach everyone in the United States what a Baroque violin and a Baroque bow were, and how to hold them. Not bad for a harpsichord player… The Aston Magna Academies, founded by Albert, were crucially important for the development of Baroque instrumental playing in the United States. Each and every “Baroque” instrumentalist, regardless of generation, who lives in the US and who plays on a Baroque or Classical instrument owes their livelihood to Albert Fuller. Believe me: I have a long and vibrant memory, and I well remember that Albert is the one who created the demand and the work for everyone in the US.

Albert was an outstanding example of the model of individual “no longer made” in America. He was an adventurous and courageous pioneer who went out on a limb because he knew that he was right. His reflections and interpretations were based on critical discernment, information and instinct, not on pedantry or political correctness. He used an incredible brain, he worked, and he was uniquely generous to his students, who treasured him as an “alternative” presence in their learning process.