David R. Fuller, 95, eminent musicologist who brought the famous Fisk Organ to UB | Featured Obituaries
May 1, 1927 – June 19, 2022
When the University at Buffalo held a concert in 1997 to honor eminent musicologist David Fuller after his retirement from the faculty, the centerpiece was Slee Concert Hall’s famed Fisk Opus 95 organ.
Although Mr. Fuller did not play the renowned instrument that afternoon, he was master of its highest rank of pipes at its deepest bass note. Knowing the influential organ builder Charles B. Fisk from his early days as a teacher, he spent more than 20 years collaborating on its design and oversaw its installation in 1989-90.
His innovations served as the model for every concert hall organ that Fisk subsequently built. Buffalo News critic Lynna Sedlak took the measure of Fisk and Mr. Fuller in concert in 1992:
“He is capable of the purity of baroque sonorities in the French and German styles. It can respond to the expressive impulses of the Romantic style. It can combine the two in the wide range of demands of contemporary music. Its tracker action clarifies the most demanding rhythms and phrases.
“David Fuller, curator of the Fisk organ, presented a program demonstrating all the virtues of the organ. His performance was just as sensitive and responsive as the instrument.
Mr. Fuller, professor emeritus of music, organist and director of UB’s organ performance program, died June 19. He was 95 years old.
Born in Newton, Massachusetts, the youngest of four children, David Randall Fuller was the scion of two 17th century colonial families. His father, whose ancestors came to Newton in 1636, was vice president of Bakelite Corp., which produced the first plastic made from synthetic materials.
He began piano lessons at age 8, studied organ, and at age 15 served as substitute organist at one of Newton’s main churches. He entered Harvard University to study music history in 1944 and enlisted in the Navy at the end of World War II. Educated at a radar school in California, he was fired after serving a short time at a research lab in Alexandria, Virginia.
He returned to Harvard, completed bachelor’s and master’s degrees, studied composition with Walter Piston and Paul Hindemith, and took private lessons with leading concert organist E. Power Biggs.
He taught music history and was organist at Robert College, an American school in Istanbul, Turkey, from 1950 to 1953, taught for a year at Bradford Junior College in Haverhill, Mass., and was a professor music assistant and organist from 1954 to 1957 at Dartmouth College, where he began his long friendship with Fisk.
Back at Harvard, he joined a group of musicians and scholars who pioneered the modern study of Renaissance and Baroque music and brought it out of obscurity. He created and hosted a television lecture and recital series, “The Harpsichord”, for WGBH in Boston, Mass., in 1958.
While completing his doctorate in music at Harvard, he spent a year in France on a scholarship and studied with legendary organist André Marchal. His doctoral dissertation, which cataloged seventeenth-century French harpsichord music, was later expanded to include eighteenth-century entries. Simply titled “Musique française pour clavecin”, it became a standard reference work and is still in print.
Professor Fuller came to UB in 1963 as a musicologist, teaching undergraduate and graduate courses in Baroque music. Several of his students have become eminent specialists in music.
He served as executive director of the music department for two years and served two two-year terms as the department’s director of graduate studies. He was honored as Teacher of the Year by the UB Student Union.
“In teaching you had to be completely versed in music theory and the historical context of music,” noted her husband and partner of 40 years, Alan P. Gerstman. “And then in the performance, you play in this universe of rules of the time, but you have to have freedom in the performance.”
In 1996, he inaugurated Eastman Organists’ Day at UB, an annual concert featuring outstanding students from the Eastman School of Music in Rochester playing the Fisk organ. He became professor emeritus in 1998, but continued to teach and mentor graduate students.
Beginning in the 1950s, Mr. Fuller performed around the world. He regularly gives harpsichord recitals, introduces the repertoire to Buffalo audiences, and collaborates with the avant-garde Creative Associates in several programs. Among his performances was ‘HPSCHD’, a composition for harpsichord and computer sounds by John Cage and UB’s Lejaren Hiller.
He and William Christie, a renowned Buffalonian-born baroque music conductor whom he had tutored at Harvard in the 1960s, recorded the previously neglected harpsichord music of 18th-century French composer Armand-Louis Couperin and gave several concerts in Paris on historical instruments.
He made three albums for Seattle-based Loft Records, which wanted to release performances on the Fisk Organ. They included the very first recording of Sonata No. 8 by Hans Fährmann, a German composer of majestic symphonies for organ whose printed music was destroyed in the firebombing of Dresden during World War II.
Previewing a performance of Mr. Fuller’s sonata in 2000, press critic Herman Trotter noted that Fährmann is “so obscure that he sees no mention of it in Grove’s or Baker’s publications. general authoritative musical reference. Nonetheless, Fuller says he has been dubbed “the Richard Strauss of the organ” and claims this performance will be the first in the United States and most likely the first performance in the last 75 years.
“He loved 19th-century organ music,” Gerstman said, “especially the monumental pieces by Reger and Widor, and transcriptions of works by Wagner. In his later years, he played Bach’s six trio sonatas, in daily rotation, from memory as an exercise in memory retention.
He published over 100 articles, essays and reviews, mostly on 17th and 18th century French music, and was noted for his depth of scholarship and witty style of writing.
One of his scholarly projects began when he found an 18th-century mechanical barrel organ in England that played a composition by Handel in the style of the day. He then painstakingly transcribed each note so that the performance could be studied and reproduced.
He was a member of the American Musicological Society, the Society for Seventeenth-Century Music, the American Guild of Organists, the Organ Historical Society, and the Pierce-Arrow Society.
A classic car enthusiast, his first vehicle as a student was a Pierce-Arrow, followed by a pair of Duesenbergs. His prize was a beige 12-cylinder 1936 Pierce-Arrow convertible convertible with red fenders, which he drove for many years for his daily errands. Also a curator, he spent years restoring his Victorian home in the village of Elmwood, which had been built and owned by Buffalo architect Henry Harrison Little.
Survivors include two nieces, great-nieces and a great-nephew.
A funeral service was held June 25 at Forest Lawn. A memorial concert at Slee Hall will be held.