Jesse Kornbluth again, mostly of HeadButler.com, here this week to celebrate a classical musician who might be correctly be shelved in the “soul” category.
Her career lasted only 12 years, but if had been only half as long, she’d be considered one of the greatest cellists of the century — her playing was that pure, her personality was that compelling, her story is that intriguing.
Jacqueline du Pré, born in 1945, heard a cello when she was four years old and reportedly asked her mother for “one of those.” Her mother was her first teacher:
She was marvelous, because she has a great talent for teaching small children, and she started off by writing little tunes for me when I could hardly play the thing at all, and she added words to these tunes, and on the opposite side of the page she drew beautiful pictures illustrating the tunes. And she used to do these while I was asleep, and I could hardly wait until the morning came, because in the morning I’d wake up and find this beautiful thing waiting for me. And then we’d rush down and play it together. And that really made me very excited about the cello.
Other teachers followed, but she needed so little — at 17, she made her concert debut, playing the Elgar Cello Concerto at London’s Royal Festival Hall. In her hands, the Elgar sounded as it never had before — she didn’t play the music, she became it.
Jacqueline du Pré didn’t lack ambition, but practice bored her, and she avoided it. Decades later, when she was sick and a well-meaning interviewer praised her accomplishments, she would have none of it: “I’ve achieved nothing at all because I’ve never had to work.”
Her reality check wasn’t reviews or ovations — it was the music. “I have the same feeling when I walk in a very beautiful place that I have when I play and it goes right,” she said.
So it seems absolutely correct that, on New Year’s Eve in 1966, Jacqueline du Pré would meet pianist Daniel Barenboim at a party in London in 1966. ”Instead of saying good evening,” she recalled, ”we sat down and played Brahms.” They married six months later at the Western Wall in Jerusalem.
She was tall, large-boned, a formidable presence. She was also shy and otherworldly — she never knew, for example, what things cost. So her relationships were best when they were about music — Barenboim has described her as “a musical conversationalist.”
According to her sister Hilary, when Jacqueline was nine years old, she shared a vision: “Don’t tell Mum, but… when I grow up, I won’t be able to walk or move.” In 1971, when she was just 26, vision became reality in the form of multiple sclerosis.
She died in 1987, at 42. And that leaves us with her music and some documentary films.
The compilation of her favorite cello concertos is probably the greatest bargain in all of recorded music: half a dozen classics for $17. The Dvorak Cello Concerto is one of my favorites, I’ve been listening to it, with some care, for decades. But to hear du Pré is to hear it as if for the first time. And the others? All at the highest level. [To buy “Favorite Cello Concertos: Boccherini, Dvorak, Elgar, Haydn, Monn, Saint-Saens, Schuman” from Amazon.com, click here.]
Or is it the Elgar, alone? The Elgar is where you start with du Pré and will always return — its beauty goes far beyond the power of words. To buy the Elgar Cello Concerto from Amazon.com, click here.)
Jacqueline du Pré may have had a complicated life, but the story of her real life — her life as an artist — is really very simple. Barenboim summed it up nicely: “I have never come across anybody who was so completely music. Everything was music in her. Brain, heart, intestines — it was her most natural form of expression.”
To buy “Jacqueline du Pré In Portrait” from Amazon.com, click here.
To buy the DVD of Jacqueline Du Pré: A Celebration of Her Unique Enduring Gift” from Amazon.com, click here.
To visit the Jacqueline du Pré web site, click here.