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Peter Pears off-track

1956 · 1957 · 1961 · 1963 · 1976
Recordings from the BBC archives that illustrate some of the less familiar aspects of Pears's work as a recitalist.
Singer Peter Pears
Instrumentalists Julian Bream, Osian Ellis
Pianist Benjamin Britten
Genre Recital

Peter Pears has a distinctive place as a recitalist, his repertoire focusing on Britten’s songs written for him, on other English song and on the mainstream tradition of German Lieder.  This recording explores some of his work outside these boundaries and is mostly taken from a series of programmes made by the BBC drawing on their archive recordings from the 1950s and 1960s.  The programmes were introduced by Michael Berkeley, Britten’s godson and then a Radio announcer.

Although Pears sang several Mozart operatic roles early in his career and the composer was central to Britten’s work at the Aldeburgh Festival, it is strange that his songs do not feature in Pears’s commercially issued output.  So this recital from 1956 is a rare opportunity to hear him in this repertoire.  He is accompanied by Benjamin Britten on the fortepiano – not an altogether comfortable experience for modern ears, used to a lighter touch!

One does not readily associate Britten and Pears with the composers of the Second Viennese School.  But songs from this tradition did often feature in their recitals in the 1950s and 1960s and this one includes works by Berg, Schoenberg and Webern.  In an interview given to Peter Garvey in 1961, Britten and Pears discuss the challenges this music gave them.

Peter Pears was an active commissioner of music for him to sing.  From his recital with the lutenist Julian Bream, very much an Aldeburgh regular, he performs song cycles by the South African/British composer Priaulx Rainier and by William Walton.

The harpist Ossian Ellis was another regular Aldeburgh collaborator and when Britten was too ill to perform at the end of his life he wrote several pieces for him to accompany Pears, including his final song cycle, A Birthday Hansel, which was commissioned by the Queen.

Also included in this recording is an extract from a recital that Pears and Britten gave in Leningrad in 1963 on their first visit to the Soviet Union.  Here Pears is on more familiar territory, performing a series of songs by Purcell, very much a favoured composer at the Aldeburgh court.


Track 1:

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756 – 1791)

  1. Abendempfindung
  2. Dans un bois solitaire
  3. Sei du mein Trost
  4. An Chloe
  5. Kleine deutsche Cantata

Track 2:

Hugo Wolf (1860 – 1903)

  1. Frühling übers Jahr
  2. Im Frühling

Gustav Mahler (1860 – 1911)

  1. Der Tambourg’sell
  2. Ich atmet einen linden Duft
  3. Um schlimme Kinder artig zu machen

Benjamin Britten and Peter Pears in interview with Peter Garvey

Alban Berg (1885 – 1935)

  1. Die Nachtigall
  2. Im Zimmer

Arnold Schoenberg (1874 – 1951)

  1. Jane Grey

Anton von Webern (1883 – 1945)

Four songs op 12

  1. Der Tag ist vergangen
  2. Die geheimnisvolle Flote
  3. Schein mir’s, als ich sah die Sonne
  4. Gleich und Gleich

Gottfried von Einem (1918 – 1996)

  1. Hafiz Lied – Die Tulpen heben ihre Kelche

Track 3:

Priaulx Rainier (1903 – 1986)

Cycle for Declamation

  1. We cannot bid the fruits
  2. In the womb of the earth
  3. The bell doth toll for him that think it doth

Baruch Bulman

  1. Pavane

Philip Rosseter (1568 – 1623)

  1. Galliard


  1. Kemp’s jig

William Walton (1902 – 1983)

  1. Fain would I change that note
  2. O stay, sweet love
  3. Lady, when I behold the roses
  4. My love in her attire
  5. I gave her cakes and I gave her ale
  6. To couple is a custom

Track 4:

Benjamin Britten (1913 – 1976)

A Birthday Hansel

  1. Birthday Song
  2. My Early Walk
  3. Wee Willie Gray
  4. My Hoggie
  5. Afton Water
  6. The Winter
  7. Leezie Lindsay

Folk songs (arr. Benjamin Britten)

  1. She’s like the swallow that flies so high
  2. A bird-scarer’s song
  3. Waly, Waly

Track 5:

John Jacob Niles (1892 – 1980)

  1. I wonder as I wander (arr. Benjamin Britten)

Henry Purcell (1659 -1695)

  1. I attempt from Love’s sickness
  2. Sweeter than roses
  3. There’s not a swain of the plain
  4. Man is for a woman made
  5. Thou watchful shepherd




The Mozart songs were recorded on June 7 1956.

The Viennese songs were recorded on June 19 1957.

The recital by Peter Pears with Julian Bream was recorded on September 12 1961.

The recital with Ossian Ellis was recorded on June 17 1976.

The recital from Leningrad was recorded on March 17 1963 in the Great Hall of the Leningrad Philharmonic Society.

All items are from the Harewood Collection in Music Preserved>



  • Peter Pears
  • Benjamin Britten
    Piano and Fortepiano
  • Julian Bream
  • Ossian Ellis

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