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.     

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