Benjamin Britten and Peter Pears were together from 1939 until Britten’s death in 1976. Yet during Britten’s lifetime, neither spoke publicly about their relationship or sexuality. In some ways, this is hardly surprising given that homosexuality was illegal until it was partially decriminalised in 1967. Yet even after that date, they remained silent on the matter, although not long before he died Britten had urged Donald Mitchell – who had been planning a biography of the composer – to ‘tell the truth about Peter and me’. After Britten’s death, Pears became more open about the true nature of their relationship, giving interviews for documentaries and to the gay men’s magazine The Advocate. Mitchell co-edited a pictorial biography of Britten in 1980 (Pictures from a Life), and Pears remarked that it was not ‘the story of one man. It’s a life of the two of us’.

Their shared life is thoroughly documented in touching and vivid detail by the wealth of material the two men left behind. This short film tells the story of their relationship through archival material (such as receipts and hotel bills), home movie footage, correspondence, and some surprisingly bold statements in Britten’s own music.

Music

To hear more of the music used in this film, follow the Spotify links below or go to recording’s website.

‘Being Beauteous’ from Les Illuminations
Peter Pears (tenor), Benjamin Britten (piano)
(P) NMC 2012
Recording

‘Sonetto XXIV’ from Seven Sonnets of Michelangelo
Peter Pears (tenor), Benjamin Britten (piano)
(P) NMC 2012
Recording

‘Sonetto LV’ from Seven Sonnets of Michelangelo
Peter Pears (tenor), Benjamin Britten (piano)
(P) NMC 2012
Recording

Canticle I: My beloved is mine
Andrew Tortise (tenor), Malcolm Martineau (piano)
(P) Onyx 2011
Recording

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