Jacqueline Du Pré: Creating The Rainbow

She’s like a rainbow
Coming, colors in the air
Oh, everywhere
She comes in colors.

Have you seen her dressed in blue?
See the sky in front of you
And her face is like a sail
Speck of white so fair and pale
Have you seen a lady fairer?

She shoots colors all around 
Like a sunset going down
Have you seen a lady fairer? 

1949, Oxford, England. The four-year old girl is sitting with her mother in a living room, the radio is on. We presume it is late afternoon, between 5 and 6 p.m. because it is time for the BBC’s ‘’Children hour’’. Her attention is drawn by some unfamiliar sound and without hesitation, she tells her mother: ‘’give me the thing that makes that sound’’. Her mother, a pianist by the way, taking seriously her daughter’s words, very soon brings her a huge cello to which little Jacqueline was a worthy companion. And that is how all began.

When she was 15, Pablo Casals signed her name using the word ‘’genius’’ on the photo of the two of them. She performed the famous Elgar’s cello concerto for the first time when she was 17, and at 18 she managed to draw and hold the attention of the whole artistic world and audience to herself. It was the beginning of the 60’s, the Beatles were conquering the world, Rubinstein and Horowitz were synonyms for serious music, and one young girl was writing her name down in the pages of music history. She recorded the piece in a studio with the London Symphony Orchestra and Sir John Barbirolli in 1965 after which nothing was the same anymore. One of the greatest authorities when it comes to cello, Rostropovich, will take Elgar off his repertoire after listening to his exceptional student’s performance, and many future cellists will musically ‘’grow up’’ taking her recording as a paradigm.

 Although she was not a part of the rock milieu, Jacqueline possessed a certain insurgence which could not be noticed in the appearance of classical artists from that period (Pogorelich and Nigel were yet to come in the 80’s). But she didn’t differentiate from the regular performer with her styling. She alone was completely unique, incomparable with anyone else; while she created living emotions with her ‘’free style’’ interpretation, taming the instrument with a gentle pressure of the string or flaring its bad temper with wide and sharp movements. No wonder Zubin Mehta compared her in youth with a mustang, while watching her running on the shores of the Hebrides.

The mustang girl – untameable while she plays, with eyes that carry the seriousness of elders but only until the curious youthful look appears along with the smile, usually directed to her husband and friends with whom she performed the most. On stage, her fellow musicians appreciated her because of the genuine gift she had, unlimited ease in approach to compositions, often unaware of the challenge she was putting in front of them. In that way, making music was always an adventure with her. Outside of the scene they loved her because of her lovely and cheerful nature, that’s why everyone called her Smiley. And that is probably the reason why even today she is dear to people who never even met her.

The story about her life was beautifully told by Christopher Nupen in the movie that shows Jacqueline du Pré in all her naturalness and ingenuity. One part of the film consists of the live recording of the Elgar’s concerto in 1967. this time with Jacqueline looking at her husband Daniel at the conductor’s desk. From the first cord this dark piece overwhelms us with its obscurity and dark tones, which is not strange since it was the authors state of mind when he composed it in his 60’s. The palette of emotions, the turmoil of the soul and thoughts we confront at the sunset of our lives emerge from every joining of bow and the strings and in the hands of a 22 year old get all the nuances of the rainbow.

A few hours after I got back from Elgar’s world into reality, a popular rock tune comes to my head – She’s like a rainbow, coming colors in the air… However, it’s not the ’67. original, it is the London Symphony Orchestra playing the Stones. Still, the image I see is not in color. There’s a white and black scene in front of my eyes of the peculiar blond girl, walking along the streets of London, piercing through the crowd while changing the position of her cello, leisurely, but with decisive movement, causing interest and turning around of the passers-by.

Ivana Ljubinkovic


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