Pears, Sir Peter (Neville Luard)

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Pears, Sir Peter (Neville Luard)

Pears, Sir Peter (Neville Luard) , renowned English tenor; b. Farnham, June 22,1910; d. Aldeburgh, April 3,1986. He began his career as temporary organist at Hertford Coll., Oxford (1928–29), then was director of music at the Grange School, Crowborough (1930–34). He was a scholarship student at the Royal Coll. of Music in London (1933–34); concurrently sang in the BBC Chorus, and then was a member of the BBC Singers (1934–38) and the New English Singers (1936–38). During this period, he received vocal instruction from Elena Gerhardt and Dawson Freer. In 1936 he also met Benjamin Britten; they gave their first joint recital in 1937, and thereafter remained lifelong personal and professional companions. After singing in the Glyndebourne Chorus (1938), he accompanied Britten to the U.S. (1939); continued his vocal training with Thérèse Behr and Clytie Hine-Mundy. In 1942 he returned to England with Britten, making his stage debut that same year in the title role of Les Contes d’Hoffmann at London’s Strand Theatre. In 1943 he joined the Sadler’s Wells Opera Co., gaining fame when he created the title role in Britten’s Peter Grimes (June 7,1945). In 1946 he became a member of the English Opera Group, and thereafter greatly distinguished himself in operas by Britten; among the roles he created were Albert Herring, the Male Chorus in The Rape of Lucretia, Captain Vere in Billy Budd, Essex in Gloriana, Quint in The Turn of the Screw, Flute in A Midsummer Night’s Dream (was co-librettist with the composer), the Madwoman in Curlew River, Sir Philip Wingrave in Owen Wingrave, and Aschenbach in Death in Venice. It was in the latter role that he made his Metropolitan Opera debut in N.Y. on Oct. 18, 1974. He was one of the founders of the Aldeburgh Festival (1948), serving as a director and as a teacher of master classes until his death. Pears also sang in several first performances of Britten’s non-operatic works, including the Serenade for Tenor, Horn, and Strings, the Michelangelo Sonnets, and the War Requiem. He also excelled in the works of other English composers, among them Elgar, Hoist, Vaughan Williams, and Walton, as well as those by Schütz, Bach, Mozart, Schubert, and Schumann. He was made a Commander of the Order of the British Empire in 1957, and was knighted in 1978. P. Reed ed. and annotated The Travel Diaries of Peter Pears, 1936–1978 (Woodbridge, 1995).


M. Thorpe, ed., P. P.: A Tribute on His 75th Birthday (London, 1985); C. Headington, P. P.: A Biography (London and Boston, 1993).

—Nicolas Slonimsky/Laura Kuhn/Dennis McIntire