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Leonard Charles Fullard, MBE

Leonard Charles Fullard MBE was born on 23 March 1907 in Carlton, Melbourne to Charles Herbert Fullard, a grocer, and his wife, Clare Lois Dines.

Initially a thoroughly trained pianist who turned to the pipe organ relatively late, Leonard Fullard studied with the legendary Melbourne organ pedagogue, Dr Arthur “A.E.H.” Nickson. 

In the 1930s, a common rite of passage for young Australian musicians was to travel ‘home’ to England to further their musical education. The young ‘Lennie’ was no exception, and he sailed on the Mongolia for London on Saturday 9 October 1934.  Just prior his leaving, he performed Bach, Beethoven, Brahms, and Chopin at the rooms of the Association of Music Teachers in Kelvin Hall, Melbourne.

Living in England, in 1935 he was appointed Organist and Choirmaster of St. Margaret's Church, Warnham, Sussex.  In May that year he studied choir training with Dr Walter Vale at the Choir School of All Saints’ Church, Margaret Street, London; Sir Sydney Nicholson, founder of the Royal School of Church Music, described The Choir of All Saints’, Margaret Street as one of the finest church choirs in the world.

Fullard was to spend eighteen months in England and continental Europe: in England he studied with the distinguished English pianist and pedagogue Harold Samuel - one of the first pianists in the 20th century to focus purely on the works of Johann Sebastian Bach; in Germany, Fullard was attracted to the “Organ Reform Movement” – the “Orgelbewegung”, then still in its infancy.

Fullard returned to Australia in 1936 and gave his first ‘returning’ piano recital at the rooms of the British Music Society in Melbourne on Wednesday 8 October 1936.

One year later, on 9 September 1937, he married Merlyn Lisle Hughes (1900-1996) at North Brighton, Melbourne. 

In 1938, Fullard was appointed Organist and Choirmaster of St Luke's Anglican Church, Brighton, and subsequently took the position of Organist and Choirmaster of St Paul's Anglican Church, Canterbury; both churches in suburban Melbourne.

An outstanding choir trainer widely recognized for “his genius in training voices", in 1948 Fullard formed the Oriana Madrigal Choir including graduates and students from the Faculties of Music, Architecture, Arts, Commerce, Engineering, Medicine and Science at the University of Melbourne.

In 1949, following the resignation of Norman Kaye, Leonard Fullard was appointed to the position of Organist and Choirmaster of Christ Church, South Yarra, Melbourne.  Fullard held the position for 37 years until his retirement in 1986. 

During his first year at Christ Church, South Yarra, Fullard founded a Bach Festival celebrating the music of Johann Sebastian Bach.  An inspirational leader and pioneer in the ‘early music revival’ in Australia, the Bach Festival was held annually at Christ Church, South Yarra for over three decades from 1950: the duration of Fullard's tenure at Christ Church.  The centrepiece of every Bach Festival was a performance of either Bach's St. John Passion or St. Matthew Passion.

In 1953 it was decided that the Christ Church organ was to be rebuilt under Fullard’s supervision and the profits from the Bach Festival were to be devoted to the Organ Restoration Fund.  One year later the organ was rebuilt and considerably enlarged by the Melbourne organ building firm of Hill, Norman & Beard at a cost of £12,000 – a substantial sum at the time.

Fullard himself was a modest man, and happy for his work to speak for him: the excellence of the Oriana Madrigal Choir and the Dorian Singers, merged as the Bach Festival Choir; concerts and broadcasts by the choirs, and the outstanding programmes of the Bach Festivals and regular choral concerts performed to capacity audiences.

Early ‘period’ instruments were used at the Bach Festival as they became available and many young players, later to become leaders in their respective fields, gave their first important performances under the direction of Leonard Fullard.  He provided a regular platform for Mancell Kirby, Melbourne’s first concert harpsichordist, from 1955, using her Dolmetsch concert harpsichord in the Bach Festivals; from this time Melbourne audiences expected a harpsichord continuo, as well as solos, to be played on the instrument for which they were written.

The work of Leonard Fullard and his fellow pioneers and the audiences they established, especially in the famous Bach Festivals, ensured a strong Australian reception for the world-wide surge of interest in early music which dominated the 1970s and 1980s. Thanks to Fullard, sound foundations were in place and a generation of young musicians and music-lovers stood ready to embrace the diversification and raised performance standards facilitated by the ‘early music revival’.

In the 1970s, Fullard was recognized as “one of the best organists in Australia” and “the Australian authority on Bach”. 

In 1974, after nearly a quarter of a century of Melbourne Bach Festivals, Leonard Fullard was made a Member of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire - MBE for his services to music.

At the time, the Vicar of Christ Church, South Yarra wrote: “Mr Fullard is a genius when it comes to training boys’ voices. He takes them when they can scarcely sing in tune, much less read music, and six months afterwards they are capable of singing anthems and choral settings in that pure tone he is capable of producing par excellence. It is all done with great patience and by insisting that they do not strain their voices on any single note. A carefully selected series of exercises, sung over and over again before they sing, seems to be the secret…Mr Fullard is not always an easy man to work with. He is explosive and has a sharp tongue which he can use with devastating effect. He seldom gives praise…He is a first rate musician, and well deserving of his recent honour.”

Leonard Fullard had a profound influence on the musical life of Melbourne and Australia for over 30 years from the early 1950s. His dedication to excellence, his pioneering of the music of J.S. Bach, his love of music for a cappella choir, frequently demonstrated in the many performances given by the Oriana Madrigal Choir and the Dorian Singers to capacity audiences all contribute to his lasting legacy: his love of music that inspired so many.

Leonard Charles Fullard died at Kooyong in inner-suburban Melbourne on 3 December 1988 and was buried in the Anderson's Creek Cemetery, Warrandyte, Melbourne on 7 December 1988.

From an article by Douglas Heywood OAM