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Jacqueline (1967)

Courtesy of BBC

Main image of Jacqueline (1967)
For Omnibus, BBC1, tx. 8/12/1967, black and white, 60 mins
DirectorChristopher Nupen
Production CompanyBBC Television
ProducerChristopher Nupen
EditorPeter Heelas
MusicEdward Elgar
OrchestraPhilharmonia Orchestra
ConductorDaniel Barenboim

Interviewees: Jacqueline du Pré, Daniel Barenboim, John Barbirolli, William Pleeth, Iris du Pré

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An intimate portrait of the life and career of the cellist Jacqueline du Pré, culminating in a complete performance of her signature work, the Elgar Cello Concerto.

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Originally broadcast in the BBC's Omnibus arts strand, Christopher Nupen's film has been repeated and reissued under the longer title Jacqueline du Pré and the Elgar Cello Concerto, to distinguish it from many later accounts of the all too brief career of one of Britain's greatest home-grown classical musicians.

Nupen had spent his early BBC career being frustrated by the technical limitations of the available equipment. Live performances with synchronised sound had to be filmed in controlled studio conditions, dissipating any real spontaneity. Since many of his closest friends were professional musicians, Nupen was well aware of the contrast between the impression given by this treatment and their real-life personalities.

So when a lightweight, self-blimping (i.e. genuinely noiseless) 16mm camera came on the market, Nupen immediately realised its potential. After trying it out on the documentary Double Concerto (BBC, tx. 4/4/1966), he made an intimate portrait of a single musician. The cellist Jacqueline du Pré (1945-1987) was an obvious choice. She and Nupen had already been close friends for five years, and her career was very much in the ascendant, helped by her youth (twenty-two), appearance and personality as much as by her formidable musical gifts.

The first half of the programme consists of an account of du Pré's life and musical development. Interviews with her mother, cello teacher William Pleeth, conductor John Barbirolli and pianist husband Daniel Barenboim are intercut with archive footage and newly-shot material. The best example of the latter, exemplifying what Nupen was trying to capture, is the footage of du Pré in a moving train, playing her cello as though it were an oversized guitar.

There then follows a complete studio-shot performance of the Elgar Cello Concerto, du Pré's signature piece. Though this half is outwardly more conventional, Nupen added a personal touch when he insisted that Barenboim conduct the score from memory, as he felt that the presence of a music stand between conductor and soloist would create a distracting physical barrier. In the final version, the chemistry between the newly-married couple is clearly more than merely musical.

In 1981, Nupen shot a new prologue covering du Pré's life and career following her enforced retirement in 1973 after a diagnosis of multiple sclerosis. This sequence concludes with Neville Cardus' description of the Elgar concerto as "a lamenting farewell to beauty" - a phrase that, with hindsight, applies just as much to Nupen's original film.

Michael Brooke

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Video Clips
1. The Davidoff (3:46)
2. Newlyweds (2:45)
3. Elgar Cello Concerto - complete second movement (5:21)
Elgar (1962)