Academic journal article Notes

Sir Peter Pears: An Annotated Bibliography

Academic journal article Notes

Sir Peter Pears: An Annotated Bibliography

Article excerpt


There are few operatic or recital voices as unique and recognizable as that of British tenor Peter Pears. His bright timbre and musicality were hallmarks of British operatic and concert stages in the middle part of the twentieth century. Pears premiered several important British operatic roles, most notably those penned by Benjamin Britten, and was known for his intellect as much as his musicianship. He was awarded honorary doctorates from Cambridge, Sussex, and York universities, and received a knighthood in 1977. 2006 marks the twentieth anniversary of his death on 3 April 1986.

Born in Farnham in Southeast Great Britain on 22 June 1910, Pears became renowned for his ability to produce a smooth vocal line while retaining clear diction. A natural and perhaps less refined voice, he was equally at home performing both modern operatic roles with "angular" vocal lines, and the linear, more melodic songs of John Dowland and his contemporaries. He met Benjamin Britten in 1937, and they developed a deep personal and professional relationship that would last until Britten's death. They spent nearly thirty years living together in the Red House, near the Aldeburgh Festival facilities. It was in this house that each of them died, Britten in 1976, and Pears in 1986. Together they created some of the great operatic moments of the twentieth century. They regularly collaborated on musical and textual aspects of Britten's and other composers' works, and many of Britten's vocal and operatic works were written for and dedicated to Pears (Pears also had early ambitions as a composer, but famously claimed that those aspirations disappeared once Britten entered his life). In addition to his operatic success, Pears was a regular on the recital stage, performing works by such composers as Bach, Schubert, and Dowland, and receiving accolades especially for his sensitivity to the text.

Would Pears have had the same success on the operatic and concert stage had he not met Britten? We will never know, but Pears had started a professional vocal career prior to meeting Britten, and he performed a number of standard operatic roles before and after Britten began creating roles for him. One could easily argue that Britten's success as an operatic composer relied directly on Pears, whose voice Britten had in mind when creating many of his operatic roles and other vocal works. Pears's interpretations of Britten's characters are still the benchmark as his operas are produced.

Aside from performing, Pears's other passions involved writing articles and essays, conducting master classes, and offering his artistic and historical expertise to audiences as a lecturer. If one were able to ask Pears what he would consider to be the legacy of his life's work, he might mention his many premieres of operatic roles and stylistically diverse recordings, but it is just as likely that he was most proud of his involvement in the founding of the English Opera Group in 1946, the Britten-Pears School for Young Artists (now known as the Britten-Pears Programme) in 1972, and especially England's Aldeburgh Festival in 1948. Pears and Britten poured their lives into these annual Aldeburgh events and considered the festival to be among their most important vehicles for offering new music as well as classical masterworks to the British audiences. They were both active as performers in festival events, and they were especially influential in the programming of works to be performed. Pears, in fact, spent his last day of life offering a master class on the Evangelist's recitatives in Bach's St. Matthew Passion.



Christopher Headington included a bibliography as part of his 1992 Peter Pears biography which cited some of the works listed below. The present bibliography expands upon his list, especially in terms of published articles and essays written by Pears. It also adds entries for post-1992 publications and incorporates older items not included in Headington's work. …

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