Last night I looked for films of the great cellist, Jacqueline du Pre. I always admired and loved her interpetations of any style of cello music but her majestic yet shimmering performances of English and French impressionistic composers were unsurpassed. Struck down when she was barely 24 years old by multiple sclerocis, her flower had barely begun to open. The loss of this rare talent haunts all cellists.
This documentary was made with her desires and feedback. It is an expression of how she sees herself: a free spirit, an energetic woman who loved nature and loved everyone around her with intense passion. Like Isador Duncan, the spirit of Dionysius gripped her when she was playing and watching her hands move even as she was becoming increasingly paralyzed by her fatal disease, it is remarkable how fluid and full of brilliance her movements are!
This unity of spirit and body is a rare thing. In flamenco dancing, the ability to let go and channel the flames of creativity, to flow with the inner force of the music and the moment, a total surrender to the forces of nature while at the same time, defining them and shaping them---this is the wellspring of all great art.
Jacqueline didn't just play the cello, she embraced it, she merged with it, she felt its history, its pain, its glory. When an anonymous admirer bought her the famous Davidoff cello, one of only a few in the world rated as superb, the 300 year old instrument reached new heights. She actually prefered her own instrument that she had merged with for her entire childhood and youth, the severing of this relationship caused her tremendous pain but the adult in her knew she had to master the more difficult but more expressive instrument. She had barely begun this process which needed great intelligence and sensitivity when her hands began to fail her mind.
I remember how this happened. She had a full, but not too demanding, concert schedule that was carefully mapped out by her husband she just married, the great conductor, Barenboim. We were all hoping for another tour of the USA and our cello class planned to see her perform. Several of us younger women were very excited about her high spirits, her ability to embrace and literally caress the cello yet still speak with authority, her 'singing' was on the level of any of the greatest divas on the operatic stage. At this time, around 1970, she cancelled one engagement after another, first one or two, then suddenly, the entire schedule.
Nothing was said about this. She was, at this point, under SAVAGE attack from hateful people who were in a full throttle battle with all classical music and musicians, trying to kill off any melodic love, poetry that sang and any suggestion of sex! Gads! I had huge battles back then within the music department. 'Music is all about terror, love, pain and glory!' I would shout at professors. If they played souless, 'objective' music that was all intellectual noodlings and no feelings at all except boredom and disgust, I would wail and cover my ears and yell, 'Stop! Stop!'
My teachers would yell at me and I yelled a them, enjoying the battles while they wailed in pain because they wanted to be followed, they wanted us to march into this deadly black hole of modern music, the End of Times. Simultaneously, they would complain the audiences were melting away.
'No, you are driving them away. Why not compose music with melody in it?' I asked. 'Melody???? Are you insane?' I was told. The New York Times music critic hated melody and if some poor composer actually wrote anything delightful, he would snarl and snap and drive the heretic out of the Temple.
Into this mess stepped the world's most astonishing, warm, life-filled, Dionysian Maenad. All the guardians of the new, post-Guerreliederian Schoenberg warriors attacked her for being... too emotional! Not severe enough! She sang! Gah!
The reason I adored her was exactly how she expressed incredible depth of feeling using a mere instrument. The cello is nothing unless someone like her turned it into a voice of the goddesses who live on Parnassus with Pegasus.
I wondered how she could so beautifully express the inner sorrow of the cello which is the mature lady in the firmament of instruments: mellow, generous, deep throated, one of the harder instruments to handle without strong sexual bonding. Watching Jacqueline embracing her cello was as fascinating as watching a dancer who is transported by her art. I am unhappy that we didn't get to film her every time she performed. Anyone wishing to be a great musician or dancer should watch these few films of her. Her face, so animated, so expressive, her arms as limber and fascinating as a flamenco dancer's arms, her thighs clutching and releasing energy: the perfect balance of sex, love, emotion, fear, understanding.
Sigh. And they attacked this incredible woman and tried to make her feel small and useless right at the same time her body was giving up to a terrible disease! One day, we were preparing for cello class where we play for each other. I was tuning up my cello when one of du Pre's fans came running into the room in tears. 'Jackie just announced she has multiple slcerosis!' she gasped and then collapsed in tears. I was stunned. The injustice of this! The cruelty of the gods! We composed a joint letter to her expressing our support and love. It was all we could do at the time.
I will never cease loving her. Watching her play on film filled my eyes with tears yet filled me with happiness, I hope there is some equally blessed young girl out there who will fill this void. For no one has been able to, yet.
And I do pray there will be a cure for this debilitating disease. We should be spending money on this, not war.