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
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.