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Jacqueline du Pré

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Jacqueline du Pré OBE (26 January 1945 - 19 October 1987) was an English cellist. Today she is thought of as one of the greatest cellists of all time. She is particularly remembered for her performances of the Elgar Cello Concerto. She was still quite young when she became ill with multiple sclerosis and had to give up playing her cello.

Early years[change | change source]

Jacqueline du Pré was born in Oxford, England. Her father came from Jersey. His mother was a talented pianist who taught at the Royal Academy of Music. When she was four Jacqueline heard the sound of a cello on the radio and she told her mother she wanted "one of those." She started with lessons from her mother, who composed little pieces with little drawings. Then, when she was five, she went to the London Violoncello School . Her first teacher was Alison Dalrymple.

Soon she and her sister, who played the flute, were winning local music competitions. Du Pré’s main teacher, from 1955 to 1961, both privately and at the Guildhall School of Music in London, was the famous cellist William Pleeth. She took part in a masterclass with Pablo Casals in Zermatt, Switzerland in 1960, and had some lessons with Paul Tortelier in Paris in 1962, and with Mstislav Rostropovich in Russia in 1966. Rostropovich said that she was the only young cellist who could play better than he could.

Career[change | change source]

In March 1961, when she was 16, du Pré gave her first concert at the Wigmore Hall, London, and she played the Elgar Cello Concerto in 1962 in the Royal Festival Hall with the BBC Symphony Orchestra conducted by Rudolf Schwarz. She performed at the BBC Proms in 1963 playing the Elgar concerto again, with Sir Malcolm Sargent. People liked it so much that she was asked to play it every year for three years. Du Pré performed at the Proms every year until 1969.

In 1965, when she was 20, she recorded the Elgar concerto for EMI with the London Symphony Orchestra and Sir John Barbirolli. This made her internationally famous. People still judge every cellist’s performance of this work by this recording by du Pré.

She played with the world’s greatest orchestras and conductors, including the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra, London Symphony Orchestra, London Philharmonic, New Philharmonia Orchestra, BBC Symphony Orchestra, New York Philharmonic, Israel Philharmonic, and the Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra. She regularly performed with conductors such as Barbirolli, Sir Adrian Boult, Sir Malcolm Sargent, Daniel Barenboim (her husband), Zubin Mehta, and Leonard Bernstein.

There were two cellos that Du Pré usually played. One was a Stradivari cellos, the Stradivarius made in 1673, and the other was made in 1712 and was called the Davydov Stradivarius. Both instruments were gifts from her godmother. She performed with the 1673 Stradivarius from 1961 until 1964 when she got the Davydov. Many of her most famous recordings were made on this instrument, including the Elgar Concerto with Barbirolli, the Robert Schumann Cello Concerto with Barenboim and the two Brahms cello sonatas. From 1969 to 1970 du Pré played a Francesco Goffriller cello, and in 1970 she got a modern instrument from the Philadelphia violin maker Sergio Peresson. It was the Peresson cello that du Pré played for the rest of her career until 1973, including a second, live recording of the Elgar Concerto, and her last studio recording in 1971 of the sonatas by Frederic Chopin and César Franck.

She often played chamber music with her husband Daniel Barenboim and her friends Yehudi Menuhin, Itzhak Perlman, Zubin Mehta, and Pinchas Zukerman. In 1969 a film was made when they played Schubert’s Piano Quintet ("Trout"). There were also other films made of her playing.

Personal life[change | change source]

Jacqueline du Pré met pianist Daniel Barenboim on New Year's Eve in 1966. They were married the following June (1967) at the Western Wall in Jerusalem. As her husband was Jewish, she converted to Judaism. They very often performed together, with Baremboim either playing the piano or conducting an orchestra.

Jacqueline’s sister Hilary and her brother Piers later wrote a book about her called A Genius in the Family. This was made into a film Hilary and Jackie. In this film it was claimed that Jacqueline had had an affair with Hilary’s husband. They said that this had helped her at the time she was having a nervous breakdown. Hilary’s daughter later criticized the story and said that her father had made Jacqueline have sex with him.

In the early 1980s, Barenboim began an affair with the Russian pianist Elena Bashkirova, with whom he had two sons. This was kept secret from Jacqueline, who was very ill by that time.

Illness[change | change source]

In 1971, Jacqueline du Pré’s started to suffer from multiple sclerosis. She began to lose feeling in her fingers, as well as in other parts of her body. She stopped playing for a while. Then, in 1973, she started playing again, but she could not play so well. She performed the Elgar Concerto for her last London concerts in February 1973 with Zubin Mehta and the New Philharmonia Orchestra.

Her last public concerts were in New York in February 1973, where she was going to play four performances of the Brahms Double Concerto with the violinist Pinchas Zukerman, and Leonard Bernstein conducting the New York Philharmonic. Du Pré later said she had difficulty in opening the cello case. She was in the middle of a performance when her fingers could no longer perform. The last performance was cancelled.

In October 1973 it was confirmed that she had multiple sclerosis. During her last years she was in a wheelchair. She sometimes gave some masterclasses. She died of multiple sclerosis in London on October 19, 1987, at the age of 42.

Jacqueline du Pré was given many honours. She was made an OBE in 1976. After her death a rose was named after her by the Royal Horticultural Society. The music building of St Hilda's College, Oxford is named after her. She has left us many recordings of her playing.

Other websites[change | change source]