This Day in Jewish History

1967: Music Stars on Solidarity Visit to Israel Spontaneously Marry

Conductor Daniel Barenboim wed cellist Jacqueline du Pre, who had to convert overnight for the pleasure.

iClassical Com/Flickr

On June 15, 1967, Daniel Barenboim and Jacqueline du Pre, the golden couple of the musical world, were married in Jerusalem. The pianist and cellist had arrived in Israel only slightly more than two weeks earlier, not in order to get married, but to show solidarity with the country as the Six-Day War loomed. The spontaneous decision to get married required an overnight conversion to Judaism for the non-Jewish du Pre.

Daniel Barenboim was born in Argentina in 1942. He immigrated with his family to Israel in 1952, two years after his first recital as a pianist.

Two years later, he began studying and conducting in Europe, and ever since, has been a citizen of the world, though always keeping a home in Israel.

Du Pre was born in Oxford in 1945, and first picked up the cello at age four. By age 14, she was traveling the world to study with such teachers as Pablo Casals and Mstislav Rostropovich. Her professional debut came in 1961, at London’s Wigmore Hall.

She and Barenboim actually met in December 1966, at the home of friends, the pianist Fou Ts’ong and his then-wife, Zamira Menuhin, in London. As soon as Barenboim arrived, he and du Pre began playing, and didn’t stop for some four hours.

As Zamira Menuhin (the daughter of the violinist Yehudi Menuhin) told Elizabeth Wilson, author of a 1998 biography of du Pre, “we might just as well not have been in the room

... Not another word was said, they were speaking to each other in their own language.”

Playing with the Israel Philharmonic

The two became instant companions, enough so that by the end of May, when Barenboim decided to return to Israel to do his part in the lead-up to what seemed to be an imminent war, du Pre insisted on canceling several concert engagements in Europe to accompany him.

Daniel and Jackie arrived in Tel Aviv on the morning of May 29. By that evening, they were performing with the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra in a special concert that served as Barenboim’s conducting debut with the orchestra.

The Six-Day War began a week later, on June 5, 1967, and lasted until June 10. Barenboim and du Pre remained in Israel and continued to perform throughout. And when the Six-Day War was over, recalled Barenboim, “we decided to get married then and there, because of the exuberance of the moment. And getting married in Jerusalem was symbolic.”

Overlooking the liberated city

Contrary to many accounts, the couple did not marry at the Western Wall; rather, the ceremony took place in a house in Yemin Moshe, overlooking the newly liberated Old City of Jerusalem, and was followed by a luncheon at the King David Hotel with former prime minister David Ben-Gurion among the guests

British Rabbi Albert Friedlander described the events surrounding the marriage to Elizabeth Wilson. Most notable is that du Pre, who had expressed an interest in becoming Jewish but had only barely begun the process, underwent an overnight conversion immediately prior to the ceremony.

According to Friedlander, “That’s what she wanted. That’s what Ben-Gurion wanted.” And when the rabbinical court expressed its reluctance to grant an instant conversion, said Friedlander, “clever Daniel, with his knowledge of the Talmud, is said to have remarked: ‘which is the greater sin, to get married straight away or to live together straight away?’” Unlikely as it sounds, the Beit Din religious courtpresided over a perfunctory but Orthodox conversion – in which du Pre took on the Hebrew name “Shulamit” – and the marriage was able to proceed.

Du Pre’s career was tragically short and meteoric: In 1973, after several years of incrementally worse neurological symptoms, she was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. But during her years of activity, she won over the world with her prodigious talent and her passionate personality. (A 1998 biopic, “Hilary and Jackie,” based on the recollections of her siblings, Hilary and Piers du Pre, depicted her as emotionally unstable and cruel, a characterization later disputed by many friends and colleagues.) Du Pre’s recordings remain highly prized today, more than 45 years after she stopped playing.

Jacqueline du Pre died on October 19, 1987, at age 42, and was buried at the Jewish cemetery in Golders Green, London.

Two years later, Barenboim married the pianist Elena Bashkirova. Their relationship had started early in the 1980s and they already had had two children when they wed, but Barenboim had managed to keep the affair hidden from du Pre as her physical condition became progressively worse.