Magazine article The Spectator

The Price the Goose Pays

Magazine article The Spectator

The Price the Goose Pays

Article excerpt

The price the goose pays

John Boyden

JACQUELINE DU PRE by Elizabeth Wilson Weidenfeld, 20, pp. 466

This book has a shape not unlike that of the concerto most associated with Jacqueline du Pre. In common with Elgar's great work, it opens with the soloist defiantly on her own and ends in her apparent defeat, with a whole world of expressive music lying in between.

So it was with Jackie du Pre. From the isolation of a post-war Croydon household, she was raised by a devoted mother to be her favourite child. No nastiness was allowed to come near her. She would be the outward glory of her mother's stoically borne self-denial. Of course, it was easier to rear one's child in a state of worldly ignorance in the Forties and Fifties than it is now, the only outside force allowed to intrude on the young Jackie's innocence being Reith's radio, with its high moral tone control set alongside the bass and treble.

The infant du Pre was kept from other children, reared as a cellist from the age of four, and eventually taken to the country's greatest teacher of the cello, William Pleeth. He had no intention of filling her mind with half-baked knowledge, not when he could release her genius through a brand of imaginative guidance that more prosaic teachers claimed left the girl short on technique. The truth is she had plenty of technique; it simply wasn't theirs.

Hugh Maguire, a sharp observer of string playing, is spot on when he says, `In her highly original approach it seemed to me that she stepped back several generations.' In other words, when she strode into the limelight, still in her teens, she stood out because of the old-fashioned techniques she used to reveal old-fashioned emotions. It was the uniqueness of her powers of communication which still claims a place in the memories of those who saw her during the six years she spent at the top, and those who continue to buy her recordings sight unseen.

Sometimes she may have overdone her mannerisms. But, as everything she did was spontaneous and directed towards her realisation of the music, few among her audience complained. Those people who analyse her recordings in pursuit of her secrets are fooling themselves. Jackie du Pre remains closed to analysis. She was like a thrush which sits at the top of a tree and sings, indifferent to fashion. Elizabeth Wilson even brings out the endearing fact that du Pre spurned Tortelier's theories and rejected the advice of the incandescent Russian, Rostropovich, by staying loyal to Pleeth and to her own instincts. …

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