Thursday, February 12, 2009

Great Gay Loves: A Valentine's Week Celebration! Benjamin Britten and Peter Pears

Peter Pears (left) and Benjamin Britten (right)
were together for 40 years,
in a collaboration of life, love, and music

Benjamin Britten was born in England and started composing music when he was 5 years old.

At age 23, he met the Tenor Peter Pears (who was 26.) In 1945, Britten's opera Peter Grimes (starring Peter Pears) was a huge success.

Throughout their lifetimes, Benjamin and Peter collaborated on more operas, church parables, and even Seven Sonnets from Michaelangelo for tenor and piano (1940.)

Check out this recent performance by Christopher Diffey (which I found on youtube) of the third sonnet in the cycle, Sonetto XXX: Veggio co' bei vostri occhi un dolce lume:

This is what he's singing:

I see through your lovely eyes a sweet light
which through my blind ones I yet cannot see;
I carry with your feet a burden
which with my lame ones I cannot;
I fly with your wings, having none of my own;
with your spirit toward heaven I am always moving;
by your will I turn pale or blush,
cold in the sun, warm in the coldest weather.
Within your will alone is my will,
my thoughts within your bosom are born,
in your breath are my words.
I am like the moon, alone,
which our eyes cannot see in the heavens
except that it is illumined by the sun.

The piece's dedication reads:
"To Peter"

Benjamin and Peter lived together for 40 years, established the Aldeburgh Festival of the Arts, and Britten was made a life peer - "Lord Britten of Aldeburgh" in 1976 (he died the same year.) Two years later, Peter Pears was knighted, becoming "Sir Peter Pears."

What's amazing is that throughout their careers, Britten explored
"liberalism, pacifism, and tolerance while exploring gay themes, at first covertly, but with an increasing honesty over the years that influenced and encouraged many younger artists... Of all the many gay twentieth-century composers, it was Britten who most successfully integrated his gayness into his art."
- Paul Russell

Benjamin and Peter lived together, loved each other, and inspired each other to make music...

What a love!

Check out the Britten-Pears Foundation that oversees their legacies, and even gives tours of their home!

Some wonderful information (and the Paul Russel quote above) came from "The Gay 100: A Ranking of the most influential Gay men and Lesbians, past and present" by Paul Russell. (pgs. 274-277 in my older edition.)


Anonymous said...

Lee, have you read "February House," by Sherill Tippins? It's about when Britten, Pears, Auden, Gypsy Rose Lee, Carson McCullers, and several others all shared a home in Brooklyn in the WWII era. Quite a story--and a fabulous read.

Lee Wind, M.Ed. said...

"February House" sounds fascinating - thanks for the recommendation!

Anonymous said...

There are several lovely videos of Britten and Pears performing Schubert songs together on YouTube. Unfortunately there's also a person who thinks they were 'ruining' the performances by being in a relationship with each other. When will it ever stop?