Peter Pears


Sir Peter Pears was born in Farnham, in 1910. He was a famous tenor and organist, and studied at the Royal College of Music. Many of Britten's works have parts specifically written for Pears, including Peter Grimes. Pears was the co-librettist for A Midsummer Night's Dream. He was knighted in 1978, and died in Aldeburgh in 1986.

Britten first met Pears in 1934, when Pears was a member of the BBC Singers. They did not become strong friends until a friend of Pears, Peter Burra, died in an air crash. Britten and Pears gave their first recital together in 1937, at Balliol College, Oxford. The concert was part of a Spanish Civil War relief program. As mentioned in the biography page, Britten traveled with Pears to America. Their return home was marked by a performance of the Michelangelo Sonnets at Wigmore Hall. Its success led EMI to record it, which marked Pears and Britten's first recording together.

A picture of Britten and Pears
Britten and Pears

What Pears knew about Britten

The following information about Britten is adapted from the "Peter Pears" section of Alan Blyth's Remembering Britten.

Britten and Pears played very well together during recitals (Britten played the piano). Britten often got nervous before performances, especially during his later years. He would tend to "freeze" up, which he thought impaired his performance, but once he got into the performance he would lose this fear. Britten was an accomplished conductor; he worked well with the English Chamber Orchestra. This was partially due to his belief in efficient rehearsals. He required the musicians to pay attention, and would be somewhat harsh if someone was inattentive. This helped him focus on the music more.

He understood that there existed other interpretations of his works, but often disliked second performances, especially when they weren't faithful to his original intentions. One good example of this was Tony Guthrie's production of Peter Grimes that had sea covering three-fourths of the stage; this caused the performers to be crowded into a small area. Britten wrote pieces for specific people (e.g. Pears) and so the singer's personality was especially important. He would cast the singers before actually writing the piece.

What Britten thought of other composers:

Britten tried to compose every day; if he did not compose, he felt bad. His daily life was very simple. According to Pears, "he could make a cup of tea, boil an egg, and wash up, but not much more..." Britten took cold baths, ate plain food, and observed an early bedtime. Below is his usual daily schedule:

Britten was generally religious, in that he acknowledged the existence of a higher power, but he was not a regular churchgoer. However, he did have a "low church" puritanical attitude. He had a strong conscience, sense of honor, and standards. He did not easily forgive people who violated his moral standards.

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