Peter Pears

From Academic Kids

Sir Peter Neville Luard Pears (June 22 1910April 3 1986) was an English tenor and life-long partner of the composer Benjamin Britten.

He was born at Fanham in Surrey. He studied organ at Keble College, Oxford, serving as organist at Hertford College, but left without taking his degree. He later studied voice for two terms at the Royal College of Music.

He met Britten in 1934, when he was a member of the BBC Singers. Pears and Britten gave their first recital together in 1937 at Balliol College, Oxford University. They then travelled to America together. Upon their return, they performed Britten's Michelangelo Sonnets together at Wigmore Hall, and then recorded them for EMI, their first recording together.

Many of Britten's works contain a main tenor role written specifically for Pears. These include the Nocturne, the Serenade for tenor, horn and strings, the Canticles, the operas Peter Grimes, Albert Herring and Owen Wingrave (the title roles), Billy Budd (Captain Vere), The Turn of the Screw (Quint), Death in Venice (Aschenbach) and the three Church Parables. The roles of Captain Vere in Billy Budd and the title role in Peter Grimes are both extremely conflicted characters, who cause the deaths of innocent young men. He was co-librettist for A Midsummer Night's Dream.

His voice was controversial, the vocal quality being unusual, described as "dry" and "white". (It was cruelly said that he had one good note, E-flat above middle C, which is why the crucial aria of Peter Grimes, "Now the Great Bear and Pleiades", is mainly written on that note!) Its quality did not record well, but there is no doubt that he had unusually good articulation and vocal agility, of which Britten also took advantage.

He made his debut at the Metropolitan Opera in October 1974 as Aschenbach in Death in Venice. He sang regularly at Covent Garden and other major opera houses in Europe and the United States.

He was also a celebrated interpreter of Schubert's Lieder, usually with Britten as accompanist, and a notable Evangelist in Bach's Passions.

He was knighted in 1978. He died at Aldeburgh.


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