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Peter Pears (1910 - 1986)

Educated at Lancing College, Pears initially studied as an organist at the Royal College of Music and read music at Oxford (where he was also organist at Hertford College for the academic year 1928–1929) but left without taking his degree. He served as director of music at the Grange School, Crowborough, Sussex, from 1930 to 1934 but later said that hearing the tenor Steuart Wilson singing the Evangelist in Bach’s St Matthew Passion was the impetus for his own career as a professional singer. He studied singing in London with Dawson Freer, Lucie Manén and Elena Gerhardt; and was a member of the BBC Singers between 1934 and 1937 and of the New English Singers from 1936 to 1938.

It was while singing with the BBC that Pears first met the composer Benjamin Britten, although it was only after the death in a plane crash of Peter Burra, a friend of Pears, that they became close. They gave their first song recital together as part of a Spanish Civil War relief programme at Balliol College, Oxford, in 1937; as pacifists, they left England for America in 1939. While there Pears continued his vocal studies with Thérèse Schnabel-Behr and Clythie Hine; and in 1940 Britten composed for him the first of many song cycles, the Seven Sonnets of Michelangelo.



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