The Diary Review has already published articles on Britten and on his lifelong partner, Peter Pears - see Britten’s firecracker crits and Peter Pears centenary - but Britten’s centenary is excuse enough to reproduce a few more extracts from his diary. The following - covering some early encounters with Pears - are taken from Journeying Boy: The Diaries of the Young Benjamin Britten 1928-1938 published by Faber & Faber in 2009.
The book’s editor, John Evans, says that 1937 began sadly for Britten: ‘In January his sister Beth caught influenza, and infected her mother, who had come to London to nurse her. Weakened by the illness, Mrs Britten died of a heart attack. On 27 April his friend, the writer Peter Burra, was killed in a plane crash. Burra had owned a small cottage at Bucklebury and it fell to Britten and one of Burra’s closest friends, the young singer Peter Pears, to sort out his papers. The two men soon formed a strong friendship and began performing together.’
30 April 1937
‘I have a rehearsal with Boult of H. F. at BBCC at 11:30 - it goes quite well, tho’ he doesn’t really grasp the work - tho’ he is marvellously painstaking. Sophie of course sings well. Lunch after with her & Arnold jun., & John &; Millicent Francis. Then I meet Poppy Vulliamy & have long talks with her. She goes off to Spain very soon to look after the evacuated children from Madrid & Malaga. I have agreed to adopt one & pay for him for a year. Back here in the aft. & then out to dinner with Peter Piers & Basil Douglas - very nice, but sad as we have to discuss what is best about Peter Burra’s things. BBC. Contemporary concert after cond. by Boult - BBC orch They do my Hunting Fathers very creditably - I am awfully pleased with it too, I’m afraid. Some things don’t satisfy me at the moment - but its my op. 1 alright [. . .]’
6 May 1937
‘Sketch another song for Hedli in the morning. Lunch & excessive political arguments with Peter Floud at Baker Street - I am in a damned muddle trying to compromise between Pacifism and Communism. Back here in aft. & then meet & walk Harry Morris - a charming kid - protege of Barbara’s who is very keen on music & very good draughtsboy.
Then after tea Kit takes us round looking for car’s - find a possible Lee Francis in Highgate, Kit stays to dinner - having delivered the child to his home in Hampstead. After dinner general slack & then Kit drops me at Paddington at 10.45 & I meet Peter Pears & travel with him in a packed dirty train to Reading where we arrive about mid-night - & set out for the Behrend’s house (Burclere) on his motor-bike, in the pouring, pouring rain. After wandering helplessly in the maze of roads over the common - very cold & damp, to our skins - & me pretty sore behind, being unused to pillion riding - we knock up people in the only house with a light in we meet at all, & get some rather vague instructions from them. Wander further & quite by accident alight on the house - at about 1.45 or 50. Have hot baths & straight to bed. The Behrends themselves are in town.’
7 May 1937
‘After a 9 o’clock breakfast Peter & I go over to Peter Burra’s house (Foxhold) to spend the day sorting out letters, photos & other personalities preparatory to the big clean up to take place soon. Peter Pears is a dear & a very sympathetic person. - tho’ I’ll admit I am not too keen on travelling on his motor bike! Catch 5.35 up to town, & I have to walk from Kilburn Park Station - but it’s all for the good of the cause & so far there’s no likelihood of an immediate settlement. Spend evening writing letters & sketch another song for Hedli.’