Photo: from ClassicFM.com
15 October was my father's birthday and to celebrate we all went to the Barbican to hear Simon Rattle conduct the Strauss Four Last Songs, sung by Maria Ewing. Coming home - in those days it was not unreasonable to take the car to the Barbican - we fought through the driving rain, rising wind and fearsome traffic jams.
I woke around 5am to a noise like a jet engine revving up and the house shuddering under us; outside, clouds were scudding at double pace across a tobacco-coloured sky. In the morning everyone in the street was outside staring up at their roofs, asking each other whether for insurance purposes this counted as an Act of God. (That was the only time I ever saw our next-door neighbours actually speak to my parents.) That day I was due to go back to Cambridge to begin a last-minute one-year postgrad course, but trains and roads alike were impassable.
Solution: go a few days later instead. After unpacking, I went off to look for a violinist friend in another college. I found him in the junior common room, alone in front of the TV, sitting absolutely motionless. The room was filled with Elgar and on the screen was Jacqueline du Pré. That moment, I knew she was dead.
I think the image of Jacqueline du Pré found its way to a special place in all our hearts, something that's unique for each of us. For me, she virtually conflated, very early on, with my older sister, who as a teenager had amazing pre-Raphaelite golden-brown hair and played the cello. As horrific irony would have it, she, too, died young, at 45 (of ovarian cancer). Moreover, though I never set eyes on du Pré except on the TV, she was never far away. She and Barenboim lived in Pilgrim's Lane, about 15 mins walk from our place, and the house where the pair first met and played chamber music was the very house where in the late '70s-early '80s I used to go for my piano lessons every weekend. And Christopher Nupen's beautiful films of her, which helped to seal her status as musical icon, were somehow embedded in my psyche as an example of all the fun, warmth and glory that music-making could be. (Here's a piece I wrote about her for The Independent in January 05.)
To mark this 30th anniversary of her death, Nupen has created a new tribute to her, an hour-long documentary called Jacqueline du Pré: A Gift Beyond Words, which will be on BBC4 on Sunday. I asked him to tell us a little about the process and what du Pré means to him all these years on.
JD: What is different about this film from your previous versions?
JD: Any favourite memory you would pick out?
CN: The magics that she made in the sounds that she drew from her cello have not changed at all with the years. Age does not weary them. On the other hand much has changed in the perceptions of the world at large.
JD: What do you think young musicians could learn from Jackie today?
CN: I suggest listening to her playing with an open mind and a generous heart. Then listen to what Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau and the others say about her honesty and her directness— not to imitate but to help find their own individual voice.
Christopher Nupen's Jacqueline du Pré: A Gift Beyond Words is on BBC4 on Sunday 22 October at 8pm, then on the iPlayer for a month afterwards
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