To Protest Totalitarianism
Nobody asked me, but Jacqueline du Pré's 1968 performance of the Dvorak cello concerto is the living rebuke to Putin's brutality
One of the most heart-rending musical performances in modern history was by cellist Jacqueline Du Pré at a fundraiser days after the 1968 Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia.
The parallels to today’s Ukraine need not be mentioned.
In January 1968, the Czech leader, Alexander Dubček, started to liberalize the country. But Soviet imperial authorities saw the “Prague Spring” as an attempt to break away.
On Aug. 21, 1968, 500,000 Soviet troops and tanks invaded Czechoslovakia. They arrested political leaders and occupied the capital. The center of protest was Wenceslas Square in the heart of Prague, the same good king we sing about in the Christmas carol Good King Wenceslas, which always makes me cry.
Just as in 1938, the West turned its gaze away from the tragedy.
Five days after the invasion, Daniel Barenboim and Du Pré performed with the London Symphony Orchestra to raise funds for the Czechs. Du Pré, at 23, “was at the height of her powers, finding nuances and colors in the concerto that no one had discovered before or since,” writes Tony Woodcock, the future head of the New England Conservatory for Music, then just 17 years old.
The recording of her performance of Dvorak’s cello concerto stayed buried for 30 years.
Its reemergence reminds us “of a genius who could and still does, inspire us with music that comes to us straight from her soul, her Deep Song,” Woodcock wrote.
May she ever be remembered, and may the heroes of Prague and Ukraine never be forgotten.