Jacqueline Du Pre, 42, a cellist of extraordinary brilliance and power who rose in a few brief years to the summit of the musicial world, then had her career cut short by multiple sclerosis, died Monday at her home in London. The cause of death was not reported.

Miss Du Pre was a prodigy who first played in public at the age of 7. By the time she was 20, she had audiences at her feet. When she was 24, illness forced her to retire. Miss Du Pre, a vibrant stage presence who stood 5 feet 9 inches, lost the feeling in her fingers and started using a wheelchair, unable to care for her daily needs. Medication caused her face to puff up.

While the concert-going public bemoaned its loss, Miss Du Pre was undaunted. When she was growing up, she said in an interview in 1978, she was very shy and the cello was her only friend. But in losing the ability to play it she found the gift of growing in other ways, and she went on to enumerate them: books, theater, concerts, friends, teaching.

"I'm very lucky," she said. "My husband {the Argentine-born Israeli pianist and conductor Daniel Barenboim} is my friend, and we haven't lost that. So we're exploring new territory now and that's very rewarding. Whereas in the past we would have sat down and played, now we have to sit down and talk. I guess it has given us time to enlarge our emotional repertoire."

Miss Du Pre was born in Oxford, England, and she first heard the cello on a BBC broadcast when she was 4. She recalled that she immediately declared to her parents: "You're going to have to get me one of those." Lessons began soon after. When she was 12 she appeared on the BBC. She attended the Guildhall School of Music in London and won all of the prizes available to cellists and she also won the Queen's Prize for British instrumentalists younger than 30.

She studied at different times with the legendary Pablo Casals and with Mstislav Rostropovich, the Russian master who is now the conductor of the National Symphony Orchestra. She made her debut on the London concert stage in 1961 and her New York debut in 1965.

Critics and the public immediately embraced her. When Rostropovich heard her play he said he had finally found someone who could carry on his work.

In June 1967, in Israel, at the time of the Six-Day War between that country and its Arab neighbors, Miss Du Pre and Barenboim were married. They often played together and they were hailed as the golden young couple of music. In 1969, with their friends Pinchas Zuckerman, Itzhak Perlman and Zubin Mehta, they made a recording of Schubert's "Trout Quintet" that is acclaimed to this day.

The onset of multiple sclerosis was so quiet that Miss Du Pre hardly noticed it until it was there.

"It happened to me on the concert platform in New York," she said. "I was playing with Pinchas Zuckerman. Suddenly I couldn't feel the cello. I was terrified. To be up on stage and not to know where my fingers were going because I couldn't organize them or my arms either . . . . "

Friends attributed this to "Jacqueline's nerves." In fact, it was MS. The disease attacks the myelin sheath that covers the body's central nervous system. The cells within the sheath, which often are compared to the insulation on electrical wiring, carry messages to different parts of the body. As the sheath deteriorates, the messages become garbled and sometimes they don't get through at all -- thus, the loss of feeling in Miss Du Pre's hands and eventually, the ability to walk.

The cause of MS is unknown and there is no known cure. The disease is characterized by remissions and exacerbations and it is entirely unpredictable. Some patients can live normal lives. A few, like Miss Du Pre, must use wheelchairs.

With her husband, Miss Du Pre established the Jacqueline Du Pre Research Fund to work with the National Multiple Sclerosis Society.

Miss Du Pre's story was made into a play called "Duet for One" by Tom Kempinski. It had a successful London run and appeared briefly on Broadway in 1981 with Anne Bancroft in the lead. In 1986, a film version was made by Soviet film maker Andrei Konchalovsky starring Julie Andrews.

When he heard of her death, Zubin Mehta, the director of the New York Philharmonic, said: "Jacqueline Du Pre was the most phenomenal musical talent on any instrument I have had the privilege to be associated with. Her instinctive ability to communicate with musicians, with audiences and music on the whole was simply miraculous."