Peter Pears

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Sir Peter Neville Luard Pears CBE (pronounced /ˈpɪərz/ "peerz";[1] 22 June 1910 – 3 April 1986) was an English tenor and the life partner of the composer Benjamin Britten.

He was born at Farnham, and educated at Lancing College. He went on to study music 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 claimed that it was hearing the tenor Steuart Wilson singing the Evangelist in Bach's St Matthew Passion which 'started me off'.[2]

He met Britten in 1936, when he was a member of the BBC Singers.[3] Pears and Britten gave their first recital together in 1937 at Balliol College, Oxford University. In early 1939, Britten and Pears left for America together as conscientious objectors when the outbreak of war between Great Britain and Germany became inevitable. There, in 1940, Britten composed Seven Sonnets of Michelangelo, the first of many song cycles for Pears. Upon their return to England in 1942, they performed this song cycle at Wigmore Hall on 23 September[4], 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 and Albert Herring (title roles), The Beggar's Opera (Macheath), Owen Wingrave (Sir Philip Wingrave), Billy Budd (Captain Vere), The Turn of the Screw (Quint), Death in Venice (Aschenbach) and the three Church Parables.

Pears was co-librettist for A Midsummer Night's Dream, and created one of his few comic roles in it: As Flute the Bellows-mender he performed a drag parody of Joan Sutherland in the mad scene of Lucia di Lammermoor.

His voice was controversial, the vocal quality being unusual, Felix Benson described it as "dry and white" and that "it took some getting used to"[5]. It was cruelly said[who?] that he had one good note, E-natural a third above middle C[citation needed], 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 always record well, but there is no doubt that he had unusually good articulation and vocal agility, of which Britten also took advantage. His delivery, and Britten's compositional style, was mercilessly (and accurately) satirised by Dudley Moore in Beyond the Fringe (Little Miss Muffet).[6]

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