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Jacqueline du Pré

Jacqueline du Pré 1945-1987: English cellist

Born in Oxford, England, on January 26, 1945, Jacqueline du Pré is acknowledged as a world talent in cello performing. She led a successful career until her death from multiple sclerosis.

Table of contents
1 Early years
2 Career
3 Awards
4 Marriage
5 The Disease
6 The significance of du Pré's position among cellists

Early years

Du Pré was 4 years old when she heard the cello for the first time. It was on the radio. Since then, the sound of the instrument never left her life. Two years later, she started getting lessons at a London cello school. At 10 years old she won a prize at an international competition, and by age 12 she performed in concerts for the BBC in London. She studied under William Pleeth at the Guildhall School of Music in London, under Paul Tortelier in Paris, under Rostropovich in Russia, and under Casals in Switzerland.


Throughout her career, du Pré performed with prestigious orchestras and soloists. In particular, her recording with the London Symphony Orchestra of the Elgar concerto in 1961 brought her international recognition. For this performance, she used her first Stradivarius, that was given to her by an admirer. The 1965 recording under Sir John Barbirolli is equally esteemed.

In 1965, du Pré played the Elgar concerto at her first appearance in the USA on May 14 at the Carnegie Hall.

Her friendship with musicians Itzhak Perlman, Zubin Mehta, Pinchas Zuckerman and Daniel Barenboim led to the famous film by Christopher Nupen of their Schubert "Trout" Quintet. The friendship with Daniel Barenboim would be of greater importance in her life.


Du Pré received several fellowships from music academies and honorary doctorate degrees from Universities, as an acknowledgment of her talent. 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 created an OBE in 1976.


In the Christmas of 1966, Jacqueline met pianist Daniel Barenboim. Their marriage one year later brought one of the most fruitful relationships in the world of music: some consider it comparable only to that of Clara and Robert Schumann. This was evidenced by the many performances of du Pré with Barenboim as either a pianist or orchestral conductor. She converted to Judaism for the marriage.

The Disease

In 1973, the passionate sound of Jacqueline du Pré's cello started its irreversible decline, when the artist began to lose sensitivity in her fingers. It was the start of multiple sclerosis, the disease that caused her health to deteriorate until her death in London on October 19, 1987 at the age of 42.

The significance of du Pré's position among cellists

Jaqueline du Pré was the first British cellist to play in a full-blooded, flamboyant, emotional manner which brought out many underrated details in the works she championed. The Delius concerto, for instance, benefitted from the intensity of her performance. Against this, it has to be said that her interpretations were not universally admired. Her performance of the Elgar Concerto, though very celebrated, departed from the composer's score in many respects, notable tempo and rhythm. As her recordings continue to be widely available, she appears destined to remain a lively and controversial figure.

See also: Anand Tucker's controversial 1998 film Hilary and Jackie about the life of Jacqueline du Pré.