Jacqueline du Pré

January 26, 1945 - Oxford — October 19, 1987 - London

Jacqueline Du Pré © David Farrell / Redferns

Jacqueline du Pré was a legendary musician and a first-class cellist who played with the greatest artists of her time. Find her music on medici.tv


Jacqueline du Pré was born in Oxford (United Kingdom), January 26, 1945. At the age of four she already had a real talent for music. She studied cello at the Guildhall School of Music in London with William Pleeth, then in France with Paul Tortelier, in Switzerland with Pablo Casals and with Mstislav Rostropovich in Moscow. At the age of 13, William Pleeth assigned her to learn the Cello Concerto by Elgar, which she managed to memorize in only four days and could play, in the words of Pleeth, "almost perfectly". 

After she gave her first performance of the Concerto at the Royal Festival Hall in London in 1962 when she was barely 17 years old, the piece became her favorite orchestral work to play during her career. Christopher Nupen captured the relationship between Jacqueline and this concerto in his documentary called Jacqueline de Pré and the Elgar Cello Concerto, which you can find in our archives. In 1965, she made a recording of Elgar’s Concerto with the London Symphony Orchestra conducted by Sir John Barbirolli that became one of the most important performances of her career.

A year prior to her acclaim with Elgar’s Cello Concerto in 1962, Jacqueline du Pré made her public debut  in Wigmore Hall in March 1961, playing with the BBC Symphony Orchestra, when she had already received a gold medal at the Guildhall School and the Queen's Prize of Music. 

In 1967, she married the pianist and conductor Daniel Barenboim, with whom she regularly practiced and recorded chamber music, together with their friends Itzhak Perlman, Zubin Mehta and Pinchas Zukerman. One of their most notable recorded performances in her career is “The Trout”, Schubert’s Piano Quintet in A major, filmed by Christopher Nupen in Perlman, Zukerman, du Pré, Mehta, Barenboim rehearse and perform Schubert’s “Trout” Quintet. In the same style, Nupen also shot a performance of Beethoven’s Piano Trio in D major, “The Ghost". Both of du Pré’s chamber music recordings can be found in the online catalog of medici.tv. 

Du Pré performed with numerous orchestras from her native United Kingdom and throughout the world, including the London Symphony Orchestra, BBC Symphony Orchestra, London Philharmonic, Cleveland Orchestra, New Philharmonia Orchestra, New York Philharmonic, Philadelphia Orchestra, Chicago Symphony, Israel Philharmonic and the Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra. For her debut with the Berliner Philharmoniker, in 1968, she performed Dvořák’s Cello concerto in B minor with Zubin Mehta .

In 1972, at the age of 27, Jacqueline du Pré’s career was tragically cut short by multiple sclerosis. In addition to her extraordinary talent, she demonstrated her strong and courageous character to critics and the greater public. She stopped playing the cello in 1973, and her final studio recording dates back to December 1871, when she performed Frédéric Chopin’s Cello Sonata in G minor and César Franck’s Violin Sonata in A arranged for cello. In 1976, she was awarded the Order of the British Empire, and in 1980 she received the British Oscar for the musician of the year.

She died in London on October 19, 1987 after 14 years of illness with multiple sclerosis. She bequeathed her Davidov Stradivarius (with which she recorded the Elgar Concerto) to the American cellist Yo-Yo Ma. Her life and legacy have been told in many documentaries, such as Jacqueline du Pré: a Gift Beyond Words and Remembering Jacqueline du Pré. In 2012, she was posthumously voted into the first Gramophone Hall of Fame and she was made an honorary fellow of St. Hilda’s College in Oxford, whose music building bears her name.