On the extraordinary cellist Jaqueline Du Pré

I knew Jaqueline Du Pre‚ from my childhood as a friend of my parents and as a supreme cellist. We would often meet in Hampstead, she on a jaunt to the shops, I on my way to school struggling with a cello at least as big as I was. Jackie was always bubbling with energy, always happy to see such a young cellist reminding her of her own venture through the exciting early discoveries in music. She was not a person of many words but she exuded warmth, kindness and an obvious love of life as a young woman.

It was not until after the beginning of her illness and towards the end of my cello studies when I asked my teacher Willam Pleeth if I should take some lessons with Jackie. He said that I would always benefit from being with someone who had the depth of love for music that Jackie had. Of course there would also be a natural connection between us as the only two students to start our studies with him at the tender age of 10. I was now 17.

The lessons I had with Jackie were unusual, highly constructive and often disturbing for me - and in some ways for her too. She was at a stage where she was learning to put her natural understanding and expression of music into words. It was a struggle. More often than not, I would understand what she wanted to say from her facial expressions, much to her relief. It was an obvious torture for her to accept that she could no longer simply pick up the cello and play. This was my pain to watch and of course, in a selfish way, an imaginary fear for my own future.

We would often talk about the slight differences in the way William Pleeth had taught us and the influence he had upon us. But if I could sum up what Jackie had to say about music, I would say that she believed every note should be placed in context and played to its emotional limits. She always demanded further commitment to every note, a never ending drive for deeper meaning. Her performing energies were soon transformed into a verbal articulation that was her new outlet. It was an immense pleasure to behold.

Tragically, in the ensuing years, her health deteriorated and these new skills were affected too. Her life, at times became intolerable. Despite her continuing decline, her death was a very great shock to me and to many others. But I would have to say that sadly it was the only relief Jackie had from a most dreadful disease.


publicationsRobert Cohen