JACQUELINE DU PRE by Elizabeth Wilson


Her Life, Her Music, Her Legend
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This biography of barrier-smashing cellist du PrÇ (1945—87) is the literary equivalent of an Çtude: important for the lessons it teaches, but dry and decidedly lacking in musicality. No one can quibble with the author’s attention to detail. A professional cellist who wrote this biography with the cooperation of du PrÇ’s widower, pianist/conductor Daniel Barenboim, Wilson gives an exhaustive, nearly day-by-day recounting of her subject’s concert life: Elgar’s Cello Concerto here, followed two days later by a performance of the Bach’s C Minor Suite for Unaccompanied Cello there, etc. She relies heavily on contemporary reviews and the comments of today’s classical music stars to explain exactly how du PrÇ fared in each and every performance. All of this is interesting enough, but it hardly captures the flair of one of the most exciting people to hit the classical music scene in the 20th century, not to mention a woman who almost singlehandedly opened up the predominantly male field of cello playing. An exuberant, musical dynamo known for powerful, evocative, and provocative playing, du PrÇ deserves more emotional analysis, especially in light of the unorthodox personal life now widely familiar through her brother and sister’s book (A Genius in the Family by Hilary Finzi and Piers du PrÇ, not reviewed) and the popular new film based on it, Hilary and Jackie. Du PrÇ’s open affair with Hilary’s husband, for example, receives about three pages here, and the author fails to dwell at length on du PrÇ’s battle with multiple sclerosis, which struck her down in the prime of life and career, ultimately killing her at age 42. Wilson would have been better off summarizing du PrÇ’s irrefutable abilities and spending more time analyzing the human relationships and complexities that made her so able to soar via music. Informative but ultimately unsatisfying. (16 pages b&w photos)

Pub Date: April 1st, 1999
ISBN: 1-55970-490-X
Page count: 480pp
Publisher: Arcade
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1st, 1999