Jacqueline du Pré

 

In Portrait

 
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Note: This DVD contains Two films
1. Jacqueline du Pré and the Elgar Cello Concerto
2. Beethoven Trio - The Ghost
W

hat is it that makes some artists live longer and brighter in the memory? In Jacqueline du Pré's case, she not only surprised and delighted us with her music, she had ways of touching the heart that are given to very, very few but there is even more to it than that.

Nobody really knows the answer to that question, but while you cannot explain it you can feel it and you can film it. That is what we have done. Our DVD contains both a portrait film of Jacqueline du Pré and complete performances of the Elgar cello concerto with the Philharmonia Orchestra, conducted by Daniel Barenboim (a performance that has already passed into legend) and Beethoven's Ghost Trio which she plays with Daniel Barenboim and Pinchas Zukerman. THE GHOST was described by the French opera and film director Jean-Pierre Ponnelle as the most successful translation of musical performance onto the screen that he had ever seen.

Jacqueline du Pré and the Elgar Cello Concerto

Jacqueline du Pré caught the public imagination when she was still in her teens, partly because she had a very unusual and elevated relationship with the Elgar cello Concerto. For critics and public alike, her performances focused new attention on the inherent pathos in Elgar's melancholy masterpiece and had an emotional quality that has never been matched by anyone else.

She played it first at the Royal Festival Hall in London on 21 March 1962 when she was just seventeen years old. On the following morning, Neville Cardus, one of England's most distinguished writers on music, described the work in The Guardian as, "A swan-song of rare and vanishing beauty", and he reviewed her performance of it in such strong and poetic terms as any seventeen year old has ever received from a senior critic. He concluded his review with these words:

"Those actually present were witness, on the first day of spring, to an early blossoming in Miss du Pré’s playing, and such a beautiful blossoming as this year, or any other year, is likely to know for a long time to come."

In the next few years, Jacqueline du Pré won an enthusiastic audience for the concerto, not only in the United Kingdom but in the rest of Europe, in the United States and in the Soviet Union.

She played the work for the last time in 1973, when her brilliant career as one of the finest musicians that Britain has ever produced, was cut short by multiple sclerosis.

After 1973, she could no longer play the cello, but she remained a brave and adventurous spirit, her passion for music undimmed and her attitude in coming to terms with her illness as touching as it was courageous.

This film begins with an account of her activities after the onset of her illness. It ends, at Jacqueline du Pré's request, with a re-edited version of the film which we made with her in 1967, a film which sketches her childhood and the development of her musical talent, her meeting with Daniel Barenboim and their marriage in 1967, her relationship with the Elgar Concerto and, finally, a complete performance of the work with the Philharmonia Orchestra conducted by Daniel Barenboim - a performance that is remarkable by any standards and, for many, quite unforgettable.

There are contributions by Daniel Barenboim, Sir John Barbirolli, Charles Beare (who looked after her cellos throughout her career), William Pleeth, Iris and Derek du Pré (Jacqueline du Pré’s parents) and with music by Camille Saint-Saëns, Iris du Pré , François Couperin, Enrique Granados, Max Bruch, Johannes Brahms and Edward Elgar.

The Ghost

This is almost certainly the finest performance ever filmed of this great work - Beethoven’s Piano Trio Opus 70 No. 1, known as The Ghost.

The work is a masterpiece, the performance spellbinding and the filming, in the words of the French film and opera director Jean-Pierre Ponnelle, the most successful translation of musical performance onto the screen that he had ever seen.

The filming took place in St John’s Smith Square, London on the 12th of May 1970, before the onset of Jacqueline du Pré’s illness and in the early days of the Barenboim/du Pré/Zukerman Trio, which promised to become one of the great Piano Trios of all time.

In 1808, the composer and violinist Louis Spohr was invited to a rehearsal in Beethoven’s house of the D major Piano Trio Opus 70 No. 1, known as the The Ghost, and wrote of the occasion:

“It was not an enjoyable experience. First of all the piano was dreadfully out of tune, which did not trouble Beethoven in the least, since he could not hear it. Little or nothing remained of the brilliant technique which had been so much admired. In loud passages the poor deaf man hammered away at the notes crashing through whole groups of them so that without the score one lost all sense of the melody. I was deeply moved by the tragedy of it all. Beethoven’s almost continual melancholy was no longer a mystery to me.”

Background

Early in May 1970, I booked a converted church in London, known as St John's Smith Square, to film a recital with Andrés Segovia. When we were already very close to the filming date, the American impressario Sol Hurok threw a spanner in the works. He advised Segovia against doing the recital with us because he believed that he could arrange something “better”, meaning more lucrative, in the United States.

In fact he did us a favour because without his intervention neither our film of THE GHOST with Jacqueline du Pré, Pinchas Zukerman and Daniel Barenboim nor our film Andrés Segovia: THE SONG OF THE GUITAR, which was eventually shot in the Palaces of the Alhambra, in Granada, would exist.

In the end, Sol Hurok's project never flew and so, six years later, in 1976, we went with Segovia to Granada and filmed him in the Palaces of the Alhambra, a rather better location which, to use Segovia’s own words, was “the Leitmotif of his life and the place where he opened his eyes to beauty and was born for the second time - and the most important."

Finding myself with a booking at St John's and nothing to shoot, I called Daniel Barenboim and Jacqueline du Pré in Brighton. I had just heard them play Beethoven's Ghost Trio at concerts in Oxford and Brighton. The Oxford concert in particular had left an impression on me that was indescribable, one of those things that music can sometimes do, and which cannot be explained - something extraordinarily elevated which seems to remain forever in the memory.

I asked whether they could come to London to play THE GHOST for our cameras in St John's Smith Square. They came up on the first train in the morning and went back on the last train that night. At the end of it all, we had THE GHOST on film. I am profoundly grateful for having had that opportunity.

Some months later, as soon as we had finished putting the film together, I invited the three of them see it in a London theatre. Before the screening I said that I regretted that film could never capture the extraordinary spirit which they had generated at their concerts in Oxford and Brighton. When the screening ended Jacqueline du Pré, without any prompting and before anyone else had uttered a word, suddenly said, "I don't agree with you. It's much better on the film.".

We were all taken aback and I asked why it was better on the film. She replied "Because you can see what's going on and it adds another dimension".

I disagreed with her because I had been in the hall at those concerts and I had seen, felt and heard what effect they had had on those audiences. I felt that she had been too busily engaged on the stage at the time to know what effect she was having. She insisted nevertheless and it is a measure both of her generosity and of her perception of what film can do that she spoke those words. And so we agreed to disagree.

Twelve years later, I was having supper with her in London when she was already very ill and Daniel Barenboim called from Paris. "What are you doing?" he asked. "Having supper with Kitty" (her nickname for me). "Well tell Kitty that I showed THE GHOST to Jean-Pierre Ponnelle last night and he said that he thinks it is the most successful translation of music onto the screen that he has ever seen". Within two seconds Jackie fired at me. "You see. I told you so".

Nobody, not even her closest friends, would have expected her to remember that after twelve years, but it says something important about what kind of person she really was. She was a blithe spirit, that's for sure, she was definitely otherworldly, but she was not as fay as most people thought. She really was not interested in the daily trivia, but, on music and the things that really matter to the human heart Jackie was a virtuoso. She was also rock solid in her perceptions which ran extremely deep.

It took me some years to realise fully what she was telling me and it was one of the most important lessons in my professional life. I know now that she was right and that something of the magic which those three wondrous artists created on the stage has, after all, been caught in the camera, remains there for the future, and comes across to the perceptive viewer.

  AWARDS: Top-selling classical DVD title of 2004, DVD of the Year Award at Midem in Cannes January 2005  

Related details

This is our first Jacqueline du Pré DVD and we are profoundly grateful that we were there and close to her when she was at the height of her powers, to record something of her glorious qualities, both for those who have already been touched by her gift and for those who will come to know her magic in time.

DVD Extra features

This DVD includes personal introductions by Christopher Nupen and Allegro Molto, a compilation of excerpts from Christopher Nupen films to date.