Celebrating the English Cellist Jacqueline Du Pre

Posted by on January 26, 2017 in Special Announcements | 0 comments

Jacqueline Mary du Pré was born this date in 1945. After achieving enduring mainstream popularity by the age of 18, her career was cut short by multiple sclerosis, which forced her to stop performing by the age of 27. She battled the illness for many years before subcumbing to the disease in 1987. Following her death, she was the subject of the film, Hilary and Jackie — based on her siblings' memoir, A Genius in the Family — that was criticised for sensationalising her private life.

Du Pré was born in Oxford, England. At the age of four, she is said to have heard the sound of the cello on the radio and asked for "one of those." She began with lessons from her mother, who composed little pieces accompanied by illustrations, before enrolling at the London Violoncello School at age five. In 1956, at the age of 11, she won the Guilhermina Suggia Award, and was granted the award each year through 1961.

From an early age, du Pré was entering and winning local music competitions alongside her sister, flautist Hilary du Pré. In 1959, she began appearing at children's and young musicians' concerts, including an appearance on BBC Television. That same year, she participated in the recording of the Haydn Cello Concerto with the Royal Philharmonic. In 1960, du Pré won the Gold Medal of the Guildhall School of Music and Drama and participated in a Pablo Casals masterclass. She was also unanimously awarded the Queen’s Prize competition for outstanding musicians under 30 years of age.

In 1961, at the age of 16, du Pré made her formal debut, at Wigmore Hall, London. She played sonatas by Handel, Brahms, Debussy, and de Falla, and a solo cello suite by Bach. Two years later, du Pré performed at The Proms, playing the Elgar Cello Concerto. Her performance proved so popular, Du Pré became a favourite at the Proms, returning every year until 1969.

At age 20, du Pré recorded the Elgar Concerto with the London Symphony Orchestra, which brought her international recognition. This recording has become a benchmark for the work, and one which has never been out of the catalog since its release. Du Pré also performed the Elgar Concerto for her United States début at Carnegie Hall.  She then studied with Mstislav Rostropovich, who was so impressed with his pupil that at the end of his tutorship he declared her "the only cellist of the younger generation that could equal and overtake [his] own achievement."

In 1971, du Pré’s playing declined as she began to lose sensitivity in her fingers and other parts of her body. Her last recording was made in December 1971, after which she went on sabbatical. Du Pre was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in 1973.  She attempted to perform again that same year, but by then her condition had become severe. For her tour of North America, some of the less-than-complimentary reviews were an indication that her condition had worsened. Her last public concerts took place in New York in February 1973. 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. 

Du Pré died in London on October 19, 1987 at age 42.

The posthumous memoir A Genius in the Family by Hilary and Piers du Pré later became the subject of the 1998 film adaptation Hilary and Jackie. Both the book and film adaptation have been criticised for sensationalising Jacqueline du Pré's personal life.

In 2012, she was voted into the first Gramophone Hall of Fame.

(Excerpted and edited from Wikipedia)

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