Jacqueline du Pré Biography

Jacqueline du Pré

Jacqueline du Pré
- , UK

Cello

Cellist whose artistry was cruelly silenced by multiple sclerosis

Life and Works

Young and ebullient, the English cellist Jacqueline du Pré touched millions in her short but dazzling career. She communicated music with a rare joy and intensity. The three-year-old du Pré heard a cello on the radio and immediately demanded to play. At five years she began formal lessons, studying with the renowned cellist William Pleeth from the age of 10. Pleeth remained her 'cello Daddy' long after she left him for further studies with Paul Tortelier, Pablo Casals and Mstislav Rostropovich.

Du Pré's 1961 Wigmore Hall debut recital attracted rave reviews, despite a broken string mid-concert. In 1962, she performed the Elgar Concerto for the first time at the Royal Festival Hall. Her empathy with the music was such that it became her signature piece. She recorded the concerto for the first time in 1965 with John Barbirolli and the London Symphony Orchestra, and it remains one of the iconic performances of the 20th century. But it was in 1967, when she met the pianist and conductor Daniel Barenboim, that du Pré's international career really took off. He became her partner musically and personally, and they became the pin-up couple of classical music.

As husband and wife, Barenboim and du Pré performed together as much as possible, often joined by friends. Christopher Nupen's film of their rehearsals and performance of Schubert's Trout Quintet, with violinists Pinchas Zukerman and Itzhak Perlman and bassist Zubin Mehta, is a souvenir of that heady time. The golden days were not to last. After a series of perplexing symptoms, du Pré was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in 1973. Her last 15 years were spent in London, teaching when she was well enough. During and after her lifetime, the unbridled spontaneity of her music-making was often criticised as a lack of taste or discipline. But her ability to pour her heart out through her playing was inimitable, and the raw power of her sound is still arresting.

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