Life and Works
Young and ebullient, the English cellist Jacqueline du Pré touched millions in her short but dazzling career. She communicated the emotions of the music to audiences with a rare joy and intensity, matched by few before or since.
The three-year-old du Pré heard a cello on the radio and immediately demanded to play. She began formal lessons at five, before moving to learn with the renowned cellist William Pleeth when she was 10. Pleeth remained her 'cello Daddy' long after she left him to study with the likes of 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 piece 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.
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. They performed together as much as possible, often joined by friends. Christopher Nupen's video of their 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 and was forced to retire from the stage. Her last 15 years were spent in London, teaching when she was well enough. During and after her lifetime, du Pré's unbridled spontaneity was often criticised as a lack of taste or discipline. But her ability to pour her heart out through her cello is unforgettable, and the raw power of her sound still sends a shiver down the spine.