Jacqueline du Pré

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Biography of Jacqueline du Pré British artist, one of the most prestigious cellists of the 20th century. Wife and musical partner of the pianist Daniel Barenboim.

In 1976, she was awarded the Order of the British Empire. Her interpretation of Edward Elgar’s “Cello Concerto” is truly sublime.

In a 2017 poll conducted by Belgian television, Jacqueline du Pré was chosen among the three greatest cellists of all time, ahead of Pau Casals and behind Rostropovich.

Oxford, a city in south central England, has a prestigious university. Credit: Wikipedia

Childhood and family of Jacqueline du Pré

Jacqueline Mary du Pré was born in Oxford, England, on January 26, 1945.

The University of Oxford dates from the 12th century. The architecture of its 38 university colleges in the medieval center of the city, makes it a city of dreams.

Born into a cultured family, Jacqueline du Pré was the middle of the marriage’s three children. Her sister is Hilary du Pré and her brother Piers du Pré. Her mother was called Iris du Pré.

When Jacqueline was four years old, she was very impressed when she heard the cello for the first time on the radio. From that moment on, her greatest pleasure was listening to the sound of this curious musical instrument.

Jacqueline du Pré’s first studies and concerts

Jacqueline’s mother appreciated the musical gift that her daughter had, and immediately began to give her music lessons.

Two years later, Jacqueline du Pré began taking lessons at the “Guildhall School of Music and Drama” in London, a school of music and dramatic arts founded in 1880. Her teacher was William Pleeth.

Guild Hall is an academy for leadership in the arts. Credit: Guild Hall website

Her sister Hilary played the transverse flute, and both competed delighted to hear each other.

When she was ten years old, in 1955, Jacqueline du Pré won a prize in an international competition.

In 1960 Jacqueline du Pré won the gold medal from her music school, the “Guildhall School of Music and Drama” and the Queen’s Prize, awarded to British musicians.

Two years later, the quality of her cello performances was so remarkable that she performed her first concert at the BBC in London. She was only 12 years old.

After her studies in London, she continued to perfect herself with the teacher Paul Tortelier in Paris, with the great Rostropovich in Russia and, no less, than with Pau Casals in Switzerland.

Pau Casals
Pau Casals (1876-1973) is one of the best cellists of all time. Credit: Wikipedia

Jacqueline du Pré’s musical career

Throughout her career, Jacqueline du Pré played together with prestigious orchestras and soloists: Zubin Mehta, Itzhak Perlman, Pinchas Zukerman and Daniel Barenboim.

The peak of her musical triumph was reached by Jacqueline du Pré when she was 20 years old, in 1965. It was when she performed the “Elgar Cello Concerto” with the London Symphony Orchestra, under the direction of John Barbirolli.

Jacqueline duPré
Jacqueline du Pré and her cello. Credit: Infobae. Author, Juan Batalla

On that special occasion, she used a Stradivarius Davidov (from 1712) offered to her by Ismena Holland, her godmother and admirer.

Jacqueline du Pré and Daniel Barenboim

At Christmas 1966, Jacqueline met the Argentine pianist Daniel Barenboim. They both fell madly in love and married a year later, in 1967.

Daniel Barenboim called her “Smiley”. Certainly, that nickname suited him like a glove. Jacqueline she was all smiles, discreet and brilliant at the same time.

Barenboim was Jewish and Jacqueline du Pré converted to Judaism so that she could marry him.

Their marriage was a beautiful and fruitful relationship. It could be seen in the numerous concerts she gave with Barenboim on piano or conducting, and Jacqueline du Pré on cello.

The famous documentary filmmaker Christopher Nupen recorded in cinema the happy coincidence, on August 30, 1969, of young Itzhak Perlman, Pinchas Zukerman, Daniel Barenboim and Zubin Mehta, together with Jacqueline du Pré, playing the famous “Quintet with piano, by Schubert “at the “Queen Elisabeth” theater in London.

Jacqueline du Pré received numerous awards from music academies as well as an honorary doctorate from some universities.

Fortunately, in those years it was already possible to keep these musical wonders on records. There are excellent recordings of Jacqueline du Pré, such as:

  • Concerto for cello, by Dvorák with the Swedish Radio Symphony Orchestra, and conducted by Sergiu Celibidache.
  • Concerto for cello, by Edward Elgar, with the London Symphony Orchestra and conducted by John Barbirolli.
  • Sonatas for cello and piano 1 and 2, by Johannes Brahms, with Daniel Barenboim at the piano.
  • Sonatas for cello and piano 3 and 5 by Beethoven, with Stephen Kovacevich at the piano.

Jacqueline du Pré’s Multiple Sclerosis

Happiness did not last long. Four years later, in 1971, Jacqueline du Pré began to lose the sensation and mobility of her fingers, affected by multiple sclerosis.

Physical deterioration was increasing and, in 1973, a young Jacqueline du Pré had to retire from musical activities, when she had just turned 28 years old.

Death of Jacqueline du Pré

Fourteen years later, on October 19, 1987, this great cellist died, when she was just 42 years old. Daniel Barenboim was by her side when she died.

Her famous cello, the Stradivarius Davidov 1712 given to her by her godmother, Ismena Holland, was purchased for just over a million pounds by the “Vuitton Foundation”.

In 1998, the film director Anand Tucker made the film “Hilary and Jackie“, based on the play “A Genius in the Family” written by Hilary du Pré and her brother Piers du Pré.

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