Requiems For Jackie

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Cellist Jacqueline du Pre was classical music's golden girl. When she performed, her blond tresses flew, her body undulated to the music, and the passion in her playing stirred the hearts of her listeners. Du Pre's marriage in 1967 to the equally charismatic pianist and conductor Daniel Barenboim added the glitter of sex and glamour to her already glowing mystique. Then in 1973, at the age of 28, she was forced to retire by the onset of multiple sclerosis. When she died in 1987, admirers, particularly in her native Britain, canonized her as a musical genius and lamented her premature loss.

But not even saints can rest easy nowadays. Du Pre's memory has recently been rattled by a controversy set off by two divergent biographies. One is by her sister and brother, Hilary and Piers du Pre: Hilary and Jackie (Ballantine; 350 pages; $12.95), which was originally published in Britain under the title A Genius in the Family. The other is by cellist Elizabeth Wilson, written with the encouragement of Du Pre's widower, Barenboim: Jacqueline du Pre (Arcade; 466 pages; $27.95). The release of a new film, also titled Hilary and Jackie and based on the book by Jacqueline's siblings, promises to take Du Pre's story, and the battle over her legacy, to an even larger audience.

Much of the fuss centers on the revelation in the family memoir, re-created in the movie, that Du Pre had a 16-month affair with her brother-in-law and that the relationship was condoned by her sister Hilary. When excerpts appeared in the London Sunday Times, outraged fans and friends of Jacqueline's vilified the book, charging that it sullied one of Britain's greatest virtuosos. Hilary and Piers defend their memoir as an attempt to reveal the personal side of their sister and argue that the excerpts played up the sensational parts of the story. "If people only read those extracts, yes, I can understand how they were upset and disappointed," says Hilary.

Most disenchanted was Barenboim, who was quoted as saying, "Couldn't they have waited until I'm dead?" Barenboim opposed the making of the movie version of the book. The BBC initially agreed to co-produce the film, but when Barenboim balked, it dropped out, citing internal rules that forbade it from making dramatic films about living people unless all those involved approved. EMI, which owns most of Du Pre's recordings, also refused to participate in the project. "We felt that the film focused on the wrong aspect of the Jackie legacy," says Richard Lyttelton, president of EMI Classics. "They were looking for sensationalism and ignoring the fact that she was the greatest soloist produced by Britain in the 20th century." Lyttelton also concedes that his company didn't want to cross Barenboim, Du Pre's artistic executor and an important artist who wields influence in the music community. "We would not want [our current artists] suspicious that we would do anything to make a quick buck," he says.

It is, of course, impossible to know what Du Pre, by all accounts a fun-loving woman with a gift for mimicry, would think of all this. Although the family had its roots in the Channel isles, Du Pre grew up in London. By the age of 18 months, she could sing in tune. Her sister Hilary was a flutist who was talented but could not compete with the young prodigy, who practiced little and memorized easily. "Whatever I tried to do, she always did much better," writes Hilary.

Du Pre's early years seemed charmed. As a teenager, she studied briefly with Pablo Casals and dazzled concertgoers. A patron gave her two Stradivarius cellos, the first when she was just 16. With it, she championed such British works as Edward Elgar's melancholy Cello Concerto, which became her signature piece. By the time Du Pre and Barenboim met and fell in love, she was moving in a circle of musical celebrities that included Arthur Rubinstein and Itzhak Perlman.

The relentless touring life of an elite musician, however, took an emotional and physical toll. And then there was the multiple sclerosis. Hints of her affliction started with sporadic numbness and dizzy spells. At first doctors ascribed them to psychological troubles. Finally came the diagnosis of MS. As the condition ravaged her body and robbed her of the ability to play, it brought on profound personality imbalances that created tremendous friction in her family.

Far from a kiss-and-tell shocker, Hilary and Jackie tenderly portrays Du Pre as a high-spirited sister who adored her siblings, starting letters to them with the teasing salutation "Dear Fart Face." While often melodramatic, the book explains the family's strong affection for and complex relationship with its most talented member. Says Hilary: "We all ran to keep up with her." Hilary also tactfully discusses why she believed that encouraging Jacqueline's affair with her husband would help her sister get over a difficult period in which she was briefly separated from Barenboim.

The Du Pres say they also wrote the book to exonerate their mother, who has been criticized for the way she relentlessly spurred Jacqueline's career. "It was frequently said that the MS was a result of Jackie being pushed by mother," says Hilary of the unfounded claim. Finally, to refute charges that they abandoned Jacqueline at the end of her life, the siblings painstakingly illuminate the difficulties of dealing with a relative who became increasingly belligerent as her health declined. The memoir, Hilary insists, was meant to be not a full biography but a family history. "When I wrote the book, I imagined that Jackie was standing beside me...collaborating with me," she says.

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