Tag Archives: Montagu Slater

Episode 201. Britten – Pears (Pride 2023)

Today’s episode explores the lives and loves of two of the most significant figures in twentieth century music: Benjamin Britten, the dean of British composers and the tenor Peter Pears, his partner, lover, inspiration and muse for nearly forty years. When as a lost young gay boy I first encountered their music-making I intuited that these two men were lovers, that they represented a way forward for me out of a lonely and forlorn childhood. Whether in the many songs and cycles that Britten fashioned for him or the operatic roles, beginning with the title role of Peter Grimes, that were tailor-made for him, Pears remains the ideal interpreter of his partner’s music, possessed as he was of a distinctive (some would say peculiar) voice, supple, reedy yet surprisingly powerful, along with pinpoint musical precision, plangent expressivity and dramatic aptitude. The episode features excerpts from many of Britten’s most explicitly gay compositions, surprising for a man living in Britain while sex between men was still illegal, including the operas Peter Grimes, Curlew River, Billy Budd, and Death in Venice and his settings of poetry by Michelangelo, Shakespeare, Auden, and Francis Quarles. We also hear Pears and Britten in live and recorded performance of songs and arias by other composers, including composers Britten revered (Schumann, Schubert, Tchaikovsky, and Frank Bridge), and those of whose music he was much less fond (including Vaughan Williams and Brahms). The episode contains more biographical information than your typical Countermelody episode, and does not shy away from some of the thorniest questions that one must confront when discussing these two controversial figures. But in the end it is first and foremost a celebration of the music Britten and Pears made together and the love they shared for 40 years. The episode begins with a heartfelt (and heartbroken) tribute to the great Glenda Jackson, who died this week at the age of 87.

Countermelody is a podcast devoted to the glory and the power of the human voice raised in song. Singer and vocal aficionado Daniel Gundlach explores great singers of the past and present focusing in particular on those who are less well-remembered today than they should be. Daniel’s lifetime in music as a professional countertenor, pianist, vocal coach, voice teacher, and journalist yields an exciting array of anecdotes, impressions, and “inside stories.” At Countermelody’s core is the celebration of great singers of all stripes, their instruments, and the connection they make to the words they sing. By clicking on the following link (https://linktr.ee/CountermelodyPodcast) you can find the dedicated Countermelody website which contains additional content including artist photos and episode setlists. The link will also take you to Countermelody’s Patreon page, where you can pledge your monthly support at whatever level you can afford. Bonus episodes available exclusively to Patreon supporters are currently available and further bonus content including interviews and livestreams is planned for the upcoming season.