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Jacqueline Mary du Pré OBE (26 January 1945 19 October 1987) was a Britishmarker cellist, acknowledged as one of the greatest players of the instrument. She is particularly associated with Elgar's Cello Concerto in E Minor; her interpretation of that work has been described as "definitive" and "legendary". Her career was cut short by multiple sclerosis, which forced her to cease performing at the age of 28, and led to her premature death. Following her death, her older sister Hilary du Pré and younger brother Piers wrote a book about their family life, A Genius in the Family. It was the basis for the movie Hilary and Jackie, and both aroused fierce controversy.

Early years

Born in Oxfordmarker, Englandmarker, du Pré was the second child of Derek and Iris du Pré. Derek du Pré was born in Jerseymarker, where his family had lived for generations. After having worked as an accountant at Lloyds Bank in St. Helier and Londonmarker for 11 years, he became assistant editor, and later the editor, of The Accountant. Her mother, born Iris Greep, was a talented pianist, and taught at the Royal Academy of Musicmarker in London. At age four du Pré is said to have heard the sound of the cello on the radio and asked her mother for "one of those." She started with lessons from her mother, who composed little pieces accompanied by illustrations, before beginning study at the London Violoncello School at age five. Her first teacher was Alison Dalrymple. She then changed schools, joining Croydon High School, an independent day school for girls in South Croydon.

Before long du Pré was entering and winning local music competitions alongside her sister, flautist Hilary du Pré. Du Pré’s main teacher from 1955 to 1961 both privately and at the Guildhall School of Music in London, was the celebrated cellist William Pleeth. She participated in a Pablo Casals masterclass in Zermattmarker, Switzerlandmarker in 1960, and undertook short-term studies with Paul Tortelier in Paris in 1962 and Mstislav Rostropovich in Russia in 1966. So impressed was Rostropovich with his young pupil that at the end of her study with him, he declared her "the only cellist of the younger generation that could equal and overtake [his] own achievement."


In March 1961, at age 16, du Pré made her formal début, at Wigmore Hallmarker, London. She made her concerto début in 1962 at the Royal Festival Hallmarker playing the Elgar Cello Concerto with the BBC Symphony Orchestra under Rudolf Schwarz. She performed at the Proms in 1963, playing the Elgar Concerto with Sir Malcolm Sargent. Her performance of the concerto proved so popular that she returned three years in succession to perform the work. At her 3 September 1964 Prom Concert, she performed the Elgar concerto as well as the world premiere of Priaulx Rainier's Cello Concerto. Du Pré became a favourite at the Proms, performing every year until 1969.

In 1965, at age 20, du Pré recorded the Elgar Concerto for EMI with the London Symphony Orchestra and Sir John Barbirolli, which brought her international recognition. This recording has become the benchmark reference for the work, and one which has never been out of print since its release. Du Pré also performed the Elgar with the BBC Symphony Orchestra under Antal Doráti for her United States début, at Carnegie Hallmarker on 14 May 1965.

Du Pré performed with the most prestigious orchestras and conductors, including the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra, London Symphony, London Philharmonic, New Philharmonia Orchestra, BBC Symphony Orchestra, New York Philharmonic, Philadelphia Orchestra, Israel Philharmonic, and the Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra. She regularly performed with conductors such as Barbirolli, Sargent, Sir Adrian Boult, Daniel Barenboim, Zubin Mehta, and Leonard Bernstein.

Du Pré primarily played two Stradivarius cellos, the instrument of 1673 (now called the "du Pré Stradivarius"), and the 1712 Davidov Stradivarius. Both instruments were gifts from her godmother, Ismena Holland. She performed with the 1673 Stradivarius from 1961 until 1964, when she acquired the Davidov. 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 acquired a modern instrument from the Philadelphia violin maker Sergio Peresson. It was the Peresson cello that du Pré played for the remainder of her career until 1973, using it for a second, live recording of the Elgar Concerto, and her last studio recording, of Frédéric Chopin's Cello Sonata in G minor and César Franck's Violin Sonata arranged as a cello sonata, in December 1971.

Her friendship with musicians Yehudi Menuhin, Itzhak Perlman, Zubin Mehta and Pinchas Zukerman and marriage to Daniel Barenboim led to many memorable chamber music performances. The 1969 performance at the Queen Elizabeth Hallmarker in London of the Schubert Piano Quintet in A major, "The Trout" was the basis of a film, The Trout, by Christopher Nupen. Nupen made other films featuring du Pré, including Jacqueline du Pré and the Elgar Cello Concerto, a documentary featuring a live performance of the Elgar; and The Ghost, with Barenboim and Zukerman in a performance of the Piano Trio in D Major, Op. 70, No. 1 by Beethoven.

Personal life

Jacqueline du Pré met pianist Daniel Barenboim on New Year's Eve 1966. Shortly after the Six-Day War ended, she cancelled all her existing engagements (to the enormous annoyance of promoters), and they flew to Jerusalem. She converted to Judaism overnight, and they were married on 15 June 1967 at the Western Wallmarker. Their marriage brought about one of the most fruitful relationships in music, with some commentators comparing the pairing to that of Robert and Clara Schumann. This was evidenced by the many performances of du Pré with Barenboim as either a pianist or conductor.

Du Pré’s sister Hilary married conductor Christopher "Kiffer" Finzi, and they had several children. Jacqueline had an affair with Finzi from 1971 to 1972. According to Hilary and her brother Piers in their book A Genius in the Family, which was made into the film Hilary and Jackie, the affair was conducted with Hilary's consent as a way of helping Jacqueline through a nervous breakdown. In 1999, Clare Finzi, the daughter of Kiffer and Hilary, publicly criticized her mother's account and laid out a different version of events. She said her father was a serial adulterer who seduced her emotionally vulnerable aunt in a time of great need to gratify his own ego.

In the early 1980s Barenboim began a relationship with the Russian pianist Elena Bashkirova, with whom he had two sons: David Arthur (born 1982), later a manager-writer for the German hip-hop band Level 8, and Michael Barenboim (born 1985), a violinist.

Multiple sclerosis

In 1971 du Pré’s playing began an irreversible decline as she started to lose sensitivity in her fingers and other parts of her body. She was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis (MS) in October 1973.

She recorded her last studio album of sonatas by Chopin and Franck in December 1971. She went on sabbatical from 1971 to 1972, during which time she performed rarely. In 1973 du Pré resumed her concerts, but by then her symptoms had become severe. In January she toured North America. Some of the less-than-complimentary reviews were an indication that her condition had worsened, although there were brief moments when she played without noticeable problems. Her last London concerts were in February 1973, performing the Elgar Concerto with Zubin Mehta and the New Philharmonia Orchestra.

Her last public concerts were in New York in February 1973: four performances of the Brahms Double Concerto with Pinchas Zukerman, and Leonard Bernstein conducting the New York Philharmonic were scheduled. Du Pré recalled that she had problems judging the weight of the bow, and just opening the cello case had become difficult. As she had lost sensation in her fingers, she had to coordinate her fingering visually. She performed three of the concerts and cancelled the last. Isaac Stern stepped in for her, performing Felix Mendelssohn's Violin Concerto.

Du Pré died in London on 19 October 1987 aged 42.

The Vuitton Foundation purchased her Davidov Stradivarius for just over £1 million and made it available on loan to Yo-Yo Ma. Russian cellist Nina Kotova now owns the 1673 Stradivarius, named by Lynn Harrell the du Pré Stradivarius in tribute. Her 1970 Peresson cello is currently on loan to cellist Kyril Zlotnikov of the Jerusalem Quartet.

Controversial book and film

Anand Tucker's controversial 1998 film Hilary and Jackie is based on A Genius in the Family, with Emily Watson as Jacqueline and Rachel Griffiths as Hilary. Although the film was a critical and box-office success and received several Academy Award nominations, it ignited a furore, especially in London, the centre of du Pre's activities. A group of her closest colleagues, including fellow cellists Rostropovich and Julian Lloyd Webber, sent a bristling letter to The Times. Clare Finzi, Hilary's daughter, charged that the film was a "gross misinterpretation, which I cannot let go unchallenged." Students from the Royal College of Musicmarker picketed the premiere. Barenboim was said to have remarked, "Couldn't they have waited until I was dead?"

Hilary, Jackie's sister and co-author of the book, strongly defends both the book and the film. She wrote in The Guardian: "At first I could not understand why people didn't believe my story, because I had set out to tell the whole truth. When you tell someone the truth about your family, you don't expect them to turn around and say that it's bunkum. But I knew that Jackie would have respected what I had done. If I had gone for half-measures, she would have torn it up. She would have wanted the complete story to be told." The New Yorker reported Hilary as saying, "When you love someone, you love the whole of them. Those who are against the film want to look only at the pieces of Jackie's life that they accept. I don't think the film has taken any liberties at all. Jackie would have absolutely loved it."

Honours and awards

Du Pré received several fellowships from music academies and honorary doctorate degrees from universities in honour of her contribution to music. She was the first recipient of the prestigious Guilhermina Suggia Award, at age 11, and remains the youngest recipient. In 1960, she won the Gold Medal of the Guildhall School of Music in London and the Queen's Prize for British musicians. She was appointed an Officer of the Order of the British Empire in the 1976 New Year Honours. At the 1977 BRIT Awards, she won the award for the best classical soloist album of the past 25 years for Elgar's Cello Concerto.

After her death, a rose cultivar named in her honour received the Award of Garden Merit from the Royal Horticultural Society. She was made an honorary fellow of St Hilda's College, Oxfordmarker, whose music building bears her name.

Selected discography

  • Remembering Jacqueline du Pré (1994), directed by Christopher Nupen
  • Jacqueline du Pré in Portrait (2004), directed by Christopher Nupen
  • The Trout (1970 documentary released on DVD in 2005), directed by Christopher Nupen
  • Hilary and Jackie (1998), dramatised portrait directed by Anand Tucker



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