A TENOR who was smitten with Britten is the focus of this week’s Peeps into the Past.

As February is LGBT+ History Month, we’re taking a look into the life and times of Sir Peter Pears.

Pears was an English tenor, known for his personal and professional relationship with the composer Benjamin Britten. Born in Farnham on June 22, 1910, to Arthur and Jessie Pears, his loving relationship with the composer is celebrated almost as much as his music.

Pears had a happy childhood and enjoyed his schooldays at his prep school, The Grange, before moving to Lancing College in 1923. It was here that Pears developed a love for music and showed considerable talent in both composing and playing.

He signed up for the chapel choir and developed his piano skills, playing leading roles in school productions of Gilbert & Sullivan operas.

He went on to study music at Kemble College in Oxford and then began teaching at his original school The Grange in Sussex.

Through his teaching he began to appreciate the importance of educating others and in 1934 he enrolled at the Royal College of Music.

His time at the college propelled him into a successful singing career and he sang as a tenor in the BBC Singers and as part of the New English Singers in 1936, touring America and Canada.

Pears met Britten in 1937 following the death of a mutual friend in a plane crash with the pair volunteering to clear up his possessions from the victim’s cottage. It was this time together, coupled with their travels around the United States, that cemented their lifelong romantic friendship.

Describing his relationship, Pears said: “It isn’t the story of one man – it’s a life of the two of us.”

The pair were not a gay couple in public as homosexual acts between men over 21 in England and Wales weren’t decriminalised until the introduction of the Sexual Offences Act 1967.

When World War Two broke out the couple lived in the US and Pear started his own vocal group ‘The Elizabethan Singers’.

They returned to England in 1942 and Pear became a star after performing in Britten’s Peter Grimes’ at the Sadler’s Wells Theatre in 1945.

Pears continued to perform in roles written for him by Britten and together they founded the Festival of Music and the Arts in Aldeburgh, Suffolk which they called home.

The festival, which attracts music lovers from around the world, is still active and will run from June 7 to 23, this year.

Pears would later receive an OBE and a knighthood for his contributions to music and the arts.

In 1972, the couple created the Britten-Pears School for Advanced Musical Studies and Pear continued this legacy even after Britten’s death in 1976.

Pears died in Aldeburgh on April 3 ,1986, and his partnership with Britten is remembered as outstanding to the global music scene and for being a true love story.

He was buried beside Britten in the churchyard of the parish of church of St Peter and St Paul in the small coastal town near Lowestoft.

Indeed, extracts from letters between Britten and Pears that went on display at the Red House in Aldeburgh, the Suffolk home which they shared, in 2017 revealed an “ardent and joyful love” between the pair.

* Thank you to Surrey History Centre and their Exploring Surrey’s Past website for the information used in this article.

For more information about Pears, visit http://tinyurl.com/Peter-Pears or https://www.exploringsurreyspast.org.uk/