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Len Mullenger:

Jacqueline du Pré a biography by Carol Easton  Hodder and Stoughton ISBN 0-340-42534-2

The recent interest in Jacqueline du Pré and her sister Hilary's book and the subsequent film which both include details of Jacqueline's affair with Hilary's husband, Christopher 'Kiffer' Finzi, son of the composer Gerald Finzi, lead me to re-read this biography by Carol Easton.

This is a seemingly honest book and for this I am glad. It discreetly reveals that for many years Daniel Barenboim controlled Jackie's life and, while there was an initial physical attraction between them, their marriage became 'little more than a financial arrangement'. Of course, we do not ascribe her Multiple Sclerosis to what he did or did not do. It is clear from the author's perceptive comments that this disease was within her from a very early age.

Her relationship with the pianist, Stephen Bishop, broke up his marriage, or so she believed. Although the author curiously makes the point that Jackie was neither really attractive nor beautiful the fact remains that scores of young men desired her, asked her out and some proposed marriage to her prior to a hopeful first date. She loved and encouraged this.

She had a very sheltered life as a child but upon reaching puberty she had an insatiable interest in boys. All her life she adored dirty jokes and developed a liking for alcohol ... although, I hasten to add, that there is no suggestion of drunkenness. While the author wonderfully captures duPré as gawky and childlike even when an adult, we are presented with a picture of a child prodigy who, all her life, could only do one thing ... play the cello. And then MS struck in the late 1960s.

The book contains some unfortunate mistakes such as the C major Cello Quintet of Schubert, Boccherini being a romantic and the curious description of the opening item of a recital ... "the first selection (!) was Handel's G minor Sonata". On page 91 there is an unforgivable assertion ... "Elgar was the first English composer of stature since Purcell." On the other hand, the author balances this by reminding us that although du Pré often played the Elgar Cello Concerto, it was not her favourite piece. That was the Schumann with the Dvorák a close runner-up. The trouble was that the Elgar became her trademark. The author's most unbelievable remark appears on page 160 ... "there are probably no outright villains in the music business ..." Oh, there are!

There is a glowing account of Jackie's relationship with her teacher, the late William Pleeth. There are revealing accounts of her friendship with the violinist Hugh Maguire, his wife and five children.

The best part of the book contains lengthy quotes from the composer Alexander Goehr who wrote his Romanza for her. His understanding of the situation in the last years of Jackie's life is both exemplary and accurate. The author gives us many quotes from reviews of du Pré's playing. It was self-indulgent and emotional and therefore not always in control; she would attack the cello as if wanting to saw it in half with hormonal intensity. I saw her play the Elgar (which at 28 minutes is far too long); she made it into 34 minutes which was agony. My companion, Alan Rawsthorne, left before it was halfway through, to 'fortify himself at the bar'.

The book omits salient facts. Jacqueline played the Cello Concerto by Priaulx Rainier at a 1964 Promenade Concert. She hated every moment of it simply because it was technically beyond her. In addition, it was a clever, intellectual piece that gave no room for emotional extravagance.

And yet she captured many hearts and will live in them forever. Like Kathleen Ferrier, her success may lie more in the attractiveness of her physical appearance, her personality, the publicity she received and her early death.


David Wright

avid Wright

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