edited by William Wordsworth
The dazzling career of Jacqueline du Pré came to a sudden end in 1973 when the cellist, then 28, was crippled by multiple sclerosis, a chronic disease of the central nervous system. Du Pré has never since performed in public.
In this book, her friends and admirers, among them Zubin Mehta, Pinchas Zukerman and Dame Janet Baker, pay tribute to a talent that for 12 short years electrified the music world. Mrs. Derek du Pré, Jacqueline’s mother, writes that when her 4-year-old daughter first heard the cello, she said, “Mummy, that’s the sound I want to make.” Make it she did, to the delight of her principal teacher, William Pleeth. He was astonished when his prodigy, at 13, mastered on her own the first movement of the Elgar Concerto and a fiendishly difficult Piatti Caprice. “The speed at which she could progress,” writes Pleeth, “was so rapid that it was like trying to keep pace with a good thoroughbred that must be given its head.” Du Pré, who made her formal debut at London’s Wigmore Hall in 1961, was quickly recognized by discerning critics and such doting performers as Pablo Casals and Mstislav Rostropovich as one of the world’s great cellists. In the foreword, Prince Charles writes that he took up the instrument after hearing Jacqueline in concert. Following her marriage to the pianist and conductor Daniel Barenboim in 1967, the wunderkind couple performed around the world to ecstatic notices.
Then, in the early ’70s, came the first shadowy hints that something was wrong. Du Pré told her friend Eugenia Zukerman that she felt strong only when playing the cello; otherwise, she barely had strength to open a window or close a suitcase. Since the dark day that du Pré laid down her instrument, her husband has never accompanied another cellist.
William Wordsworth, the great great grandson of the poet, has done a competent job editing these poignant but, by their very nature, limited sketches. He recounts how du Pré, beloved for her sunny disposition, responded when she first learned that he was preparing this book. “Well,” she said, “please don’t just use my first name, in solitary isolation, as the title, otherwise people are bound to think it’s about a Paris streetwalker.” Royalties are being donated to the Jacqueline du Pré Research Fund. (Vanguard, $16.95)