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Robert Cohen's obituary of the great pedagogue William Pleeth
Guardian


Robert Cohen talks about the extraordinary cellist Jaqueline Du Pré


Robert Cohen's obituary of the great pedagogue William Pleeth

At the age of 9, I was taken to a master-class at the South Bank given by the cellist William Pleeth. The experience was one I shall always remember. William Pleeth's personality - filled with love, passion, warmth and optimism - emotionally and spiritually embraced me. I'm sure everyone present felt the same. I knew within moments that this was the musician I would most like to study with.

Some months later, an audition was arranged and I went to Mr Pleeth's home. Although by all rights I should have been terrified of such a pedagogue, Bill received me with the welcome of a proud father and enthused me with an excitement to communicate my music in away which, in the ensuing 6 years of lessons, I was to appreciate as the generating energy behind his love of teaching and playing music.

As the years passed, I learnt how exceptional a person Bill was; how he stood as a pioneer in his teaching methods, and yet he gave each student individually crafted disciplines to help fulfil their personal potential; how almost uniquely for a teacher, he never sought fame through the exaltations of his students careers.

Bill was an especially complete kind of person; his life with Maggie was mutually unlimited in love and devotion. His family values unspoilt by his musical passions. The selflessness that was so much a part of Bill's way with me, was an ever present quality in his old fashioned English Gentleman persona, complimented by his ability to be caring, supportive and always uplifting.

He will remain an inspiration in my heart and in the hearts of his family and all those who have been blessed with the touch of his life.

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Robert Cohen talks about the extraordinary cellist Jaqueline Du Pré

I knew Jaqueline Du Pre‚ from my childhood as a friend of my parents and as a supreme cellist. We would often meet in Hampstead, she on a jaunt to the shops, I on my way to school struggling with a cello at least as big as I was. Jackie was always bubbling with energy, always happy to see such a young cellist reminding her of her own venture through the exciting early discoveries in music. She was not a person of many words but she exuded warmth, kindness and an obvious love of life as a young woman.

It was not until after the beginning of her illness and towards the end of my cello studies when I asked my teacher Willam Pleeth if I should take some lessons with Jackie. He said that I would always benefit from being with someone who had the depth of love for music that Jackie had. Of course there would also be a natural connection between us as the only two students to start our studies with him at the tender age of 10. I was now 17.

The lessons I had with Jackie were unusual, highly constructive and often disturbing for me - and in some ways for her too. She was at a stage where she was learning to put her natural understanding and expression of music into words. It was a struggle. More often than not, I would understand what she wanted to say from her facial expressions, much to her relief. It was an obvious torture for her to accept that she could no longer simply pick up the cello and play. This was my pain to watch and of course, in a selfish way, an imaginary fear for my own future.

We would often talk about the slight differences in the way William Pleeth had taught us and the influence he had upon us. But if I could sum up what Jackie had to say about music, I would say that she believed every note should be placed in context and played to its emotional limits. She always demanded further commitment to every note, a never ending drive for deeper meaning. Her performing energies were soon transformed into a verbal articulation that was her new outlet. It was an immense pleasure to behold.

Tragically, in the ensuing years, her health deteriorated and these new skills were affected too. Her life, at times became intolerable. Despite her continuing decline, her death was a very great shock to me and to many others. But I would have to say that sadly it was the only relief Jackie had from a most dreadful disease.

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