More MS news articles for January 1999

Virtuosity, Thy Name Is Jacqueline

By Tim Page
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, January 17, 1999; Page G06

Cellist Jacqueline du Pre's career lasted barely a decade. Yet she is remembered as one of the most exciting musicians of her time -- as an artist who played with taste, technique, heartfelt personal intensity and a rich, mellow tone.

Du Pre was born in Oxford in 1945 and began her cello studies (on a full-size instrument!) at the age of 4. By the time she was 10, the renowned British cellist and pedagogue William Pleeth had dubbed her "the most outstanding cellistic and musical talent I have met so far." A few years later, Mstislav Rostropovich, then known almost exclusively for his cello playing, heard the teenage du Pre in concert and announced that he had finally found somebody worthy of carrying on his work.

She was concertizing throughout Great Britain by 1961 and made her American debut at Carnegie Hall in 1965. The critic Raymond Ericson, who covered the event for the New York Times, observed that du Pre "looked like a cross between Lewis Carroll's Alice and one of those angelic instrumentalists in Renaissance paintings." "She played like an angel," he continued, "one with extraordinary warmth and sensitivity."

In 1967, du Pre married the pianist and conductor Daniel Barenboim. They were considered a charmed couple, admired for their energy, musicality and youthful glamour. Over the next few years, du Pre made a number of recordings, including several with her husband, which confirmed her status as one of the most exciting interpretive artists before the public.

But the first signs of du Pre's incapacitating illness appeared when she was 26 years old and at the height of her fame. "My hands no longer worked," she recalled later. "I simply couldn't feel the strings." She withdrew from concertizing for one year, then returned briefly, to mixed and often perplexed reviews. A diagnosis of multiple sclerosis followed shortly and du Pre retired from the stage. By the time she was 30, du Pre was virtually paralyzed.

She spent the rest of her life giving master classes, whenever possible, and working for the cause of multiple sclerosis research. Her last recording was as the narrator for Prokofiev's "Peter and the Wolf."

Throughout her illness, du Pre remained sanguine about the future. "Nobody knows if I'll ever regain mobility," she said in 1978. "It could be that next week I'll find myself walking down the road. I believe in realistic optimism but not wishful thinking."

Jacqueline du Pre died on Oct. 19, 1987.

© Copyright 1999 The Washington Post Company