More MS news articles for May 1999


By Eugenia Zukerman
Sunday, April 25, 1999; Page X08

By Hilary du Pre and Piers du Pre
Ballantine. 350 pp. Paperback, $12.95

JACQUELINE DU PRE: Her Life, Her Music, Her Legend
By Elizabeth Wilson
Arcade. 466 pp. $27.95

The English cellist Jacqueline du Pre was one of the most stunningly gifted musicians of our time. Tall, blonde and ebullient, du Pre would wrap herself around her cello and play with an intimacy and intensity that transported her audiences. She was a musical lioness, ferocious and playful, uninhibited and passionate. She was married to the powerhouse pianist/conductor Daniel Barenboim, a match that thrilled listeners around the world. But du Pre's dazzling international career was cut short by multiple sclerosis, and she died in 1987 at the age of 42, after a 14-year battle with the disease.

In 1968, Jackie and Daniel formed a trio with my first husband, the violinist Pinchas Zukerman. From the moment we met, the four of us, all newly wed and in our early twenties, spent much of our time together, traveling a world which seemed to be our oyster. I became a close friend of Jackie's, and, like others who knew her well, I have been outraged by reports of a book written by her siblings, Hilary and Piers du Pre, published in 1997 in England as A Genius in the Family: An Intimate Memoir of Jacqueline du Pre. It is being published now in the United States under the title Hilary and Jackie, a change no doubt calculated to capitalize on the mean-spirited movie based on the book. The English public already knew the triumph and tragedy that was Jacqueline du Pre's life, but the du Pre siblings caused a sensation by divulging in their book an affair between Jackie and Christopher (Kiffer) Finzi, Hilary du Pre's husband, an affair condoned by Hilary. Hilary and Piers claim that theirs is "not a biography nor an account of Jackie's career. It is simply what happened." But to read the book rather than the press clippings is to understand that it is not "simply what happened." It is what happened to Hilary du Pre, and it is hardly simple. Although she was complicit, Hilary's rendition of the affair between Jackie and Kiffer is written with the kind of revisionist hindsight that makes Hilary seem to be the sexually betrayed woman. It is in her mix of passivity, hostility, and self-pity that Hilary du Pre gives herself away.

The international appetite for distasteful revelations is insatiable, and Hilary and Jackie is being devoured by those looking for prurient details. There is more to the book, and less. Written with natural ease and narrated in turns by sister and brother, the story is engaging. Hilary du Pre's descriptive voice can be compelling. "The air was warm and balmy and still," she writes about the Cevennes in France. "The only sounds were creaking cicadas, twitching grasshoppers, and our breathing. The intense perfumes of the wild herbs as we trod them underfoot made us feel almost drunk." The du Pres used family archives and documents, including letters from Jackie, and drawings and compositions by their mother that inform us about the cellist's training and early career. We are privy to family baby talk and conversations, albeit remembered from at least a quarter of a century earlier. Jackie's heartbreaking death, which sadly coincided with their parents' illnesses and deaths, is told with a compassion tinged with an odd distance. The central point the du Pres seem intent on making is, as we are told in Chapter One, that Jackie's was "a genius which had been destructive not only to her personally but also to our family." That negative slant stated early on warns the reader that the writers' agenda will be to try to knock their sister off her pedestal.

Jacqueline du Pre was born in 1945, the second child of Derek du Pre, an accountant, and Iris, his pianist/composer/educator wife. Taught by their mother, the du Pre sisters both enjoyed their early training. Hilary, three years older than Jackie, showed musical ability, but when Jackie picked up a cello at the age of five, she quickly exhibited the kind of prodigious gift that would outshine her big sister's.

Throughout these childhood reflections, Hilary lets us know how hard it was for her to be considered second fiddle. "Jackie had higher marks than me," 11-year-old Hilary laments when Jackie, then 8, outdid her in a festival competition. In 1953 both Hilary (then a pianist, now a flutist) and Jackie performed in the same concert. After Jackie's performance, "the audience rose to its feet as the cameras clicked. Why wasn't I there too? . . . I was crying and felt bereft and completely forgotten."

The contribution of Piers du Pre, Jackie's younger brother, who now runs a telecommunications business, is meager and muted compared to Hilary's, but he manages to let the reader know how his sister Jackie's great gifts made him, too, feel very small. "What about me?" he petulantly remarks. The fuss about their sister escalated. Soon Hilary was being greeted with, "Hello Hilary, how's your wonderful sister?" As Hilary writes, "I was becoming acutely aware that I was being bypassed." What Hilary de Pre does not seem to be acutely enough aware of is how sour her recollections of sibling rivalry sound. She gives grand importance to even a simple sandbox battle, for which she thought she was wrongly blamed ("I couldn't believe it. It was Jackie's fault, not mine").

The du Pres do take pains to let us know how proud they were of their sister and that they loved her. Hilary tells us about Jackie's "exuberant personality, her roguish sense of humor, her crazy observations about people and life." She lets us know that "Jackie was at heart an English country girl, gauche and unworldly. She loved nature and walking in the rain, and was at her happiest with simple things."

It was simple things that Jackie longed for when, in 1971, she had an emotional crisis, possibly brought about by the undetected beginnings of her disease. Unhappy and overwhelmed by the whirlwind international traveling and performing schedule, she left husband Danny's side and took refuge with Hilary and Kiffer at their farm. Although Hilary would like us to believe that Jackie instigated the affair, it is Hilary who seems to have pushed a very confused Jackie toward her husband. "How about a quick walk with Kiffer, Jack, while we collect the eggs?" Hilary suggested to her. We are told that Jackie "always did feel better when she'd had a walk and a talk with Kiffer . . . She was able to unburden herself on Kiffer, knowing that he made her feel safe." So safe, in fact, that soon they were in bed together, with Hilary's knowledge and silent acceptance. Having played the victim before the affair even began, Hilary remained passive once it started. When her husband told her, "our aim in all of this is to help make Jackie better," instead of smacking him in the head, Hilary answered, "I know."

No one will know what truly motivated Hilary du Pre to tell her version of the nine months in 1971 when her husband and Jacqueline du Pre were intimate. The disclosure is a violation of the deceased and a sibling betrayal that simply boggles the mind, not to mention that Hilary's grown children cannot feel honored by this damaging confessional. "I loved her so much but had been profoundly hurt by her," Hilary protests. But to read the book is to know that the injured party here is Jacqueline du Pre.

Fortunately an antidote to the offensiveness of Hilary and Jackie has just been published. Its publisher calls Jacqueline du Pre: Her Life, Her Music, Her Legend, by cellist and writer Elizabeth Wilson, "the definitive biography of one of the best-loved musicians of the twentieth century." Whether or not it is definitive is debatable, but it is certainly thorough and comprehensive, filled with substantiated facts and fine observations. When Wilson writes, "unfortunately, it is all too easy for a journalist to misrepresent or readers to misinterpret the words and ideas of another person," it reflects the care she took to tell Jackie's true story. Daniel Barenboim, who "trusted [the author] to undertake the task," is widely quoted throughout the book, as are many friends and musicians, myself included. Information abounds regarding Jackie's personal and professional life, and medical explanations help the reader understand the physical and psychological progression of the disease that sent her spinning from euphoria to lethargy to depression, and finally devastated her.

Elizabeth Wilson writes ably about music and music making. Cellists in particular will find her detailed analysis of Jackie's tone and technique instructive. She also ably chronicles Jackie's concerts, recordings, and musical circle. As for the personal side, there is much more of the Jackie I knew and remember in Wilson's book, but sometimes her almost worshipful tone creates a distance from her subject, and the chronological and linear storytelling is predictable instead of fascinating. The author, who was also a friend of Jackie's, writes about her with great affection and admiration. But it is quotes from Jackie's fellow musicians, like Itzhak Perlman, Pinchas Zukerman, John Williams and Zubin Mehta, that provide the most poignant perspectives about her. "When a cellist is really great, as in Jackie's case," cellist Mischa Maisky says, "the sound emanates not from the instrument and not from the mind, but from something within -- the heart or the soul -- and it is united with the instrument."

Wilson delicately and honestly handles the period that Jackie spent with her sister and brother-in-law in a menage a trois. She describes Kiffer Finzi as "an unorthodox figure, somewhere between a gentleman farmer and a 1970's hippy." Jackie became involved with him because, "having lost faith in her marriage, she now sought male protection elsewhere." Wilson writes that "within a year . . . [Jackie] came to regard her brother-in-law as a man who wielded his authority in a manipulative way and who had taken advantage of a woman in a distraught state."

Later in her life, through psychoanalysis, Jackie was able to understand what Wilson calls "a recurring pattern in her life of dependence and submission followed by rebellion" and to take responsibility for herself. Certainly Jackie always took responsibility for her music-making, and she absolutely loved to play the cello. She was passionate about life and music and nature. "I love the physical thing of being on the earth that bore you," she said in an interview. "I have the same feeling when I walk in a very beautiful place that I have when I play and it goes right. Playing lifts you out of yourself into a delirious place . . ."

That delirious place is where Jackie will be lovingly remembered, wrapped around her cello, playing with joy and abandon. Zubin Mehta best summed up the uniqueness of Jacqueline du Pre when he compared her to "the lightning passage of a comet which, with remarkably intensity -- but all too briefly -- illuminated our lives."

Eugenia Zukerman, a flutist and television arts commentator, is also the author of two novels and co-author of a nonfiction book.