Benjamin Britten/Peter Pears


I endorse the following letter from Ben Baglio. Please circulate if it is something you also can get behind:


It has recently been announced that the Britten-Pears Foundation, which comprises the estate of the composer Benjamin Britten and his lifelong partner, the singer Peter Pears, is going to merge with Snape Maltings, which comprises Snape Maltings Concert Hall, the Aldeburgh Festival, and the Britten-Pears Young Artist Programme. The new organisation is to be renamed The Benjamin Britten Foundation, thus excising Peter Pears’ name from the title.
Britten and Pears were a couple from 1939 to Britten’s death in 1976. They lived together for decades before homosexuality was partially decriminalised in 1967. Britten composed numerous song cycles for Pears, and all of his many operas were written with Peter Pears’ unique voice in mind; Pears originated the title role of Peter Grimes, Britten’s first international operatic success, Captain Vere in Billy Budd, and Aschenbach in Death in Venice, Britten’s most overtly gay opera. Britten and Pears founded the Aldeburgh Festival with Eric Crozier in 1948, they developed the Snape Maltings Concert Hall together in one of the first examples of repurposing former industrial buildings, toured the world as singer and accompanist, and set up home in Aldeburgh, Suffolk and played host to artists and musicians of international stature. Their final residence, The Red House, is today a museum open to the public and contains the Britten-Pears Library, their extensive archives, and the large collection of artwork Peter Pears acquired during his lifetime (1910-1986). At Britten’s death in 1976, Queen Elizabeth II, who had befriended the couple, wrote to Peter Pears to express her condolences, in much the same way she would have written to a prominent straight couple that had suffered a bereavement. Britten and Pears are buried side by side with matching headstones in the Aldeburgh churchyard.
Both Snape Maltings and the Britten-Pears Foundation have in latter years been very supportive of LGBTQ activities. The London Gay Men’s Chorus performed at the concert hall at Snape in 2017, and the BPF organised a full reading of the Wolfenden Report as part of its 50th anniversary commemoration of the partial decriminalisation of homosexuality, as well as mounting an exhibition on Britten and Pears’ life together.
It is perhaps in light of the support shown to the LGBTQ community that the decision to drop Pears’ name from the new organisation is most concerning. Renaming the new organisation ‘The Benjamin Britten Foundation’ seems to sidestep the issue of Britten’s homosexuality altogether. And while ‘straightwashing’  is not the intended purpose of the rebranding, in effect the new name consigns Peter Pears to the status of an associate of Britten and denies his central role not only in Britten’s life and works, but in the work they did side by side. It seems a regressive step, and certainly one that would have horrified Britten, who viewed Pears as his muse and companion.
The following quotes give some indication of the depth of feeling between the two men:
“….I do love you so terribly, & not only glorious you, but your singing….What have I done to deserve such an artist and man to write for?
….But, I love you, I love you, I love you _ _ _”
Britten to Pears. 17 November 1974
“….it is you who have given me everything, right from the beginning,….I am here as your mouthpiece and live through your music – And I can never be thankful enough to you and to Fate for all the heavenly joy we have had together for 35 years. My darling, I love you P.”
Pears to Britten. 21 November 1974
There is still time to challenge this decision and to encourage the merged organisation to find a name which continues to celebrate this unique and historic partnership. Could you perhaps either do a news feature on this and encourage readers to write to Roger Wright, Chief Executive, Snape Maltings and Sarah Bardwell, Chief Executive, Britten-Pears Foundation. (I can provide contact details and further background if you would like.)
Thank you.
Ben Baglio

Leave a Reply