PETER PEARS, English tenor (d. 1986); It used to be said, politely of course, that the English tenor was the “companion” of Benjamin Britten. Since “companion” seems to conjure up an image of two old ladies in shawls, let’s say, no less politely, but more vigorously, that the tenor and the composer were for many years devoted and passionate lovers.
As Francois Poulenc did for Bernac, Britten wrote some of his most wonderful music for Pears, and Pears introduced Britten’s songs and operas throughout the world. Together they worked indefatigably toward the creation of the Aldeburgh Festival, their musical child. It used to be said, politely, of course, that Pears is a “quite unremarkable voice.”
His voice was controversial, the vocal quality being unusual, described as “dry” and “white”. It was said, cruelly, that he had one good note, E-natural a third above middle C, which is why the crucial aria of Peter Grimes, “Now the Great Bear and Pleiades”, is mainly written on that note. His voice 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.
Let’s just admit, no less politely, but more directly, that Pear’s voice was pretty unremarkable, although handled with deft musicianship, and that his place in the annals of music history will rest primarily on his association with Britten.