Nupen and du Pré: Golden girl


Documentary maker Christopher Nupen made several groundbreaking films with Jacqueline du Pré. Here he shares his memories of the legendary British cellist who tragically died at the age of 42 after battling with multiple sclerosis

Jacqueline du Pré (1945–87) was endowed by nature with the most prodigious gifts. Among them, she was given a truly virtuoso mother, who taught her to tap musical rhythms and to sing in tune before she was two years old. They should have been gifts for a long and happy life in music, as her mother and her teachers expected it to be. But Jackie told me that her perfect pitch was a seriously mixed blessing when she found herself playing with people who did not have the same gift.

She caught the public imagination when she was still in her teens. This happened not only because she was one of the finest performing musicians that Britain has ever produced, but also because she had an artistic power of communication that is given only to a few of the greatest – a quality that meant she touched people in the way that Maria Callas, Enrico Caruso and Lotte Lehmann did. As Risë Stevens so tellingly said of Lehmann, her voice had a ‘heart-tugging’ quality. Jackie had a heart-tugging cello voice.

She was thought of as a golden girl and, because of her inner radiance, was considered to be more beautiful than in fact she was. So far so good. It is one of the happy stories of art reaching beyond the usual boundaries, and so she passed into legend…

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